After 14 months on the project, I have finally crossed the finish line. The new Speedliter’s Handbook is heading to press and will start shipping in early August.

We’ve made five laps around the sun since I wrote the original Speedliter’s Handbook. In those five years, much has changed about the way I use Speedlites. Of course, Canon’s introduction of the 600EX-RT system—with its built-in, two-way communication—was reason enough to update the book. Yet, this new edition is so much more.

Virtually every word, photo, and diagram in the first edition has been evaluated and either polished or cut. Additions/expansions in the second edition include:

  • Coverage of every current Canon Speedlite from the 600EX-RT down to the 90EX along with tips on using older Canon Speedlites and models from other manufacturers
  • A new chapter about maximizing the benefits of on-camera flash
  • An expanded portfolio of portraits made with a single Speedlite
  • A complete update to my survey of light modifiers and gels
  • A greater emphasis on step-by-step workflows
  • A greatly expanded discussion of Canon’s camera-based menu system for Speedlite control
  • And, of course, complete coverage of how to use the radio-enabled 600EX-RT system by itself and with earlier generations of Canon Speedlites.f

The new Handbook is suited for Speedliters at all levels. If you don’t have the 600EX-RT system, rest assured that I’ve completely updated my coverage of earlier generations of Speedlites to incorporate my latest workflows for flash photography. If you don’t shoot Canon, as before, about 60% of the Handbook is non-demonimational (meaning that the concepts apply to all brands of lighting gear).

Pre-order the Speedliter’s Handbook on Amazon

Learn small flash with Syl at Santa Fe Workshops (July 19-24, hurray-just a few spaces still open)

Learn Canon Speedliting with Syl at Maine Media Workshops (August 2-8)


A Detailed Peek At The New Speedliter’s Handbook

There are 24 chapters and 400+ pages in the new Handbook. Here’s how it is organized:

[Note: Click through on the spreads below to read an actual PDF.]


Chapter 0: Quick Start Guide To Speedliting

Chapter 0: Quick Start Guide To Speedliting—A crash course in the basic ideas of creating photos with flash, including how to control your Speedlite from the LCD of your camera (which makes flash photography so much easier!).

Part 1: Before Speedlites, There Was Light

Chapter 1: Learn To See Light

Chapter 1: Learn To See Light

  • Chapter 1: Learn T0 See Light—How to see light, how to describe light (example above)
  • Chapter 2: Exposure Exposed—The fundamentals of camera exposure broken out in ways that relate to flash photography
  • Chapter 3: Mechanics Of Light—Why light behaves in certain ways
  • Chapter 4: Manage The Ambient Light—How to wrangle the ambient (background) light in flash photos
  • Chapter 5: Position Is Relative—Where to position your flash for specific purposes

Part 2: Speedlites Fundamentally


Chapter 6: Meet The Speedlites

  •  Chapter 6: Meet The Speedlites—A detailed buttons-and-dials tour of each of the Speedlites in Canon’s current lineup, from the 600EX-RT down to the 90EX. New to this edition is a discussion of non-Canon E-TTL Speedlites and economy-oriented Manual-only Speedlites (example above).
  • Chapter 7: Control Your Speedlite—A detailed look at the settings found on a Speedlite (mode, sync, etc.).
  • Chapter 8: Flashing Manually—When to shoot and how to maximize the benefit of your Speedlite in Manual mode
  • Chapter 9: E Is For Evaluative—When to shoot and how to maximize the benefit of your Speedlite in E-TTL mode
  • Chapter 10: Specialty Flash Modes—How to use the other Speedlite modes, such as: Multi, External Auto, External Manual, and Group

Part 3: Off-Camera Speedliting


Chapter 13: Radio Speedliting, Canon’s New Frontier

  • Chapter 11: Triggers For Off-Camera Flash—A survey of the many ways to fire an off-camera Speedlite in Manual and E-TTL mode
  • Chapter 12: Optical Wireless, The Canon Way—The details about how to set up master and slave Speedlites in optical wireless, including detailed button-and-dials diagrams for all the current Speedlites and how to do the same on the LCD of your camera
  • Chapter 13: Radio Speedliting: Canon’s New Frontier—The details about how to set up master and slave Speedlites in Canon’s new radio wireless, including detailed button-and-dials diagrams for the 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3-RT transmitter and how to do the same on the LCD of your camera (example above).

Part 4: Gear For Speedliting


Chapter 14: Go Ahead, Mod Your Speedlite

  •  Chapter 14: Go Ahead, Mod Your Speedlite—My updated survey of my favorite small modifiers that can be attached to Speedlites (example above)
  • Chapter 15: Those Big Modifiers Always Get In The Way—My updated survey of my favorite large modifiers to which you mount Speedlites
  • Chapter 16: Get A Grip—How to attach your Speedlite to stands and other devices in a wide range of situations
  • Chapter 17: Keeping The Energy Up—My updated survey of batteries and external power packs

Part 5: Speedliting In Action


Chapter 19: Portraits With One Speedlite

  •  Chapter 18: Getting The Most From On-Camera Flash—the new chapter provides a wide range of strategies for on-camera flash, both pop-up and Speedlite
  • Chapter 19: Portraits With One Speedlite—an expanded chapter on a wide range of portraits that can be made with one Speedlite (example above)
  • Chapter 20: Portraits With Multiple Speedlites—an updated chapter on how two or more Speedlites can be used to create great portraits
  • Chapter 21: Gelling For Effect—an updated chapter on how I use gels for color correction and creative effects
  • Chapter 22: Slicing Time With High-Speed Sync—an updated chapter on how I use High-Speed Sync in a variety of situations
  • Chapter 23: Gang Lighting—an updated chapter on how I create synergy by using several Speedlites together as a unified light source

Pre-order the Speedliter’s Handbook on Amazon

Learn small flash with Syl at Santa Fe Workshops (July 19-24, hurray-just a few spaces still open)

Learn Canon Speedliting with Syl at Maine Media Workshops (August 2-8)




I continue to plow forward on the update to the Speedliter’s Handbook — which includes all the necessary insights on how to operate the 600EX-RT Speedlite. I expect that the new edition will be out by mid-summer. (See it here on Amazon.) In the meantime, here is a laundry list of online resources that I have produced that cover the 600EX-RT system and Speedliting in general.

600EX-RT Specific

Mastering The 600EX-RT With Syl Arena — a video presentation that I did for Canon Digital Learning Center

The 600EX-RT System — an article/video that I did for the Canon Pro Network in Europe

PixSylated articles — here’s a list of articles that I’ve published on PixSylated

Videos Of My Talks At B&H

Quick Start to Off-Camera Flash with Canon Speedlites

Modifying Speedlites

Getting The Most Out Of Canon Speedlites

Canon Pro Network: General Speedlite Info

Getting The Most From Speedlites (Part 1: Controls & Modes) — another article for the Canon Pro Network

Getting The Most From Speedlites (Part 2: On- and Off-Camera Flash) — another article for the Canon Pro Network

Getting The Most From Speedlites (Part 3: Modifying Flash) — another article for the Canon Pro Network

Getting The Most From Speedlites (Part 4: Advanced Speedlite Strategies) — another article for the Canon Pro Network

Hands-On Learning

Flash Photography – Rocky Mountain School of Photography, June 6-12, 2015

Crafting Dramatic Light With Small Flash – Santa Fe Workshops, July 19-24, 2015

Canon Speedlites Demystified – Maine Media Workshops, August



While updating the information in my chapter on batteries for the new edition of the Speedliter’s Handbook, I came upon a relatively new service advisory from Canon (December 2014) that advises against the use of lithium batteries in virtually all Speedlites. Canon acknowledges that lithium batteries may become extremely hot when used in Speedlites.

This should be considered breaking news for Speedliters. I checked the user manuals for the last five Speedlite introductions and they all say that lithium batteries can be used in the Speedlite.

I said a long while back that lithium batteries are bad for Speedlites. Five years ago, when I wrote about my AA Battery Torture Test in the original Speedliter’s Handbook, I reported three disturbing facts about the performance of lithium batteries during the test.

  • When a 580EX Speedlite with lithium batteries was fired at full power every 20-seconds (the standard interval in my AA Battery Torture Test), the average flashes-to-failure was 52 pops. This compares to averages of 165 for alkaline and 235 for low-discharge nickel-metal hydride batteries, like Eneloops.
  • When the Speedlite with lithium batteries was fired at full power every 3-minutes, the average flash-to-failure rose to 218. It’s not that the lithiums lacked the electrons. Rather, they just like to hold onto them—which is why they can hold a charge for many years.
  • Most importantly—under the standard 20-second test interval, the sets of lithium batteries would be too hot to hold immediately after the test—on the high side of 140ºF/60ºC.

Recommended Batteries For Speedlites


My favorites: Eneloop batteries and Maha C801D charger

My favorite batteries for Speedlites are Eneloops. They are low-discharge rechargeables. Low-discharge is the key. Regular nickel-metal hydride batteries will lose most of their charge while sitting for a month in your bag. The low-discharge chemistry in Eneloops holds onto most of its charge for up to a year. (Eneloops here on B&H / Amazon)

The key to happiness with rechargeable batteries is the circuity of the charger. You need a charger that treats each cell as an individual. Otherwise, the charger will turn off when the strongest cell is charged—leaving the weak cells undercharged. My favorite charger is the Maha C801D (here on B&H / Amazon).

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If you are in the NYC-area, I hope that you will join me at the B&H Event Space on Sunday, March 15 for a free seminar—Crafting Great Light With Canon Speedlites. I will provide a complete update to how my workflow has changed since I started with Canon’s 600EX-RT radio Speedlite system. I’ll also cover how Canon’s new cameras continue to make Speedliting easier. Of course, I will also share loads of insights into how I used Speedlites to create shots like the one just below—lit with a single Speedlite and the Strobos grid kit. Thanks to Canon USA for sponsoring this event. Hope to see you at B&H!



My original vision was to show how separate red, green, and blue lights can be combined to form the secondary colors—cyan, magenta, and yellow.

My obsession with color continues. Last night I worked on a photo to open the “Mechanics of Light” chapter in the new Speedliter’s Handbook. My original vision, much along the lines of the photo above, was to demonstrate how separate sources of red, green, and blue light combine to form all of the other colors.

In the photo above, you will see that the secondary colors of light—cyan, magenta, and yellow—appear as shadows. For instance, the magenta shadow on the left is created where the skull blocks the green light coming in from the right side—leaving red and blue to merge into magenta. Conversely, you can see the green light on the right side of the nose where the bone blocked the red and blue light coming from the left side.

Original Idea Lightroom Gallery-600px

A portion of the first shoot. I went after my original idea from a number of angles.

As is the case sometimes, the picture I had in my head was better than the photos I was making. As you can see above, I explored the interplay of the light from a number of angles. The screenshot (out of Lightroom) shows about a third of the shots that I made before I decided to take a break. I had an interesting idea in my head, but did not feel that my photos were capturing that vision.

Discovering A New Path For Personal Work

When I came back, I impulsively crumpled a sheet of paper and positioned it where the skull had been. In an instant, I understood how to fill the gap between my vision and the shots I’d made previously—I needed to show the camera more faceted surfaces. More importantly, as I marveled at the tie-dye colors that I’d cast onto the white paper, I knew that I had found a new visual path to explore as a photographer interested in abstract images. [Read about my abstract Color Fields here.]


An impulsively crumpled sheet of paper helped me close the gap between my vision and the shots that I was making.

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I remain humbled by the success of my Speedliter’s Handbook. Recently, the Handbook passed 400 reader reviews on Amazon. That is a stratospheric number for a photography book. Heartfelt thanks go out to every reader who took the time to share their thoughts on the book. When the book was launched four years ago, I never expected it to be embraced by so many shooters.

Looking forward…I’ve been hard at work for these past many months on a complete update of the Handbook (as evidenced by my complete lack of posts here on PixSylated since August). The 2nd-edition will be published this spring. Of course, the new edition will go deep into my work with Canon’s radio-enabled 600EX-RT Speedlites. It also contains a complete update to all of my Speedliting workflows. I am also quite excited about all of the new light modifiers that will be featured in the book. You can check out the cover below and read a few details here on Amazon.




Recently I joined Frederick Van Johnson and Dan Ablan on This Week In Photo for another rousing conversation about the world of photography. Among the issues we discuss on TWiP 373 is the question of who owns the copyright for selfie made by a monkey with a stolen camera. [True story–after the pic went viral on the web, the photographer asked Wikipedia to take it down and they refused. Check out the story and see the photo here.]  We also discuss how a newspaper made an appalling mistake by using a photograph from Facebook and cheer on comedian Adam Carolla’s fight against a patent troll. As always, the show is also full of random comments and laughs. Watch it / listen to it here.

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In this 13 minute video, I talk about three different reasons to modify Speedlites:

  • Increase the apparent size to create soft light
  • Limit the direction of the light to guide the viewer’s eye
  • Change the color of the flash to blend it in with another light source or to make it stand out for creative effect

I also put my favorite Speedlite modifiers into action in a series of headshots of my favorite mensch and fellow Peachpit author Gabriel Biderman— author of Night Photography: From Snapshots To Great Shots. To see a kit with the small mods and gels that I used click here. Also, here’s the link to the Impact Quickbox that I used in the video.

Thanks to all my friends at B&H Photo for making this video possible.

Thomas Wingate Eaves Movie Ranch

Fig. 1—Thomas and Jesse James in the saloon at Eaves Movie Ranch south of Santa Fe. Click through for a high-res version. 1/80″, f/8, ISO 800. Canon 5D Mark III, 24–105mm F/4L IS.

While teaching my ‘Crafting Dramatic Light’ workshop in Santa Fe last week, I had the good fortune to return to Eaves Movie Ranch with my class. Built in the 1960s for the filming of ‘The Cheyenne Social Club‘ (starring Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Shirley Jones), Eaves continues to operate as a town-sized set for western movies and TV shows. Earlier this summer, ‘Jane Got A Gun‘—starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor—shot at Eaves.

If my photo above of Thomas Wingate, the head honcho at Eaves, looks familiar, it’s because Thomas has been photographed by every visitor to Eaves over many years. One of my favorite Thomas pix is this all-American shot by McNally—who introduced me to Thomas in 2008.

Shooting Speedlites In A Studio Softbox

Although I am known for my work with Speedlites, I shot large strobes for a couple of decades before exploring the world of small flash. While I do not miss the weight of studio lights—especially the power packs—I do miss using the wide range of modifiers that I assembled over the years (most of which are still stored in my garage). For this shoot, I used the  LumoPro LP739 Double Flash Bracket to fire a pair of Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites into a Chimera softbox.

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Fig. 1 – This dramatic light for this shot was made by firing a gelled Speedlite through a louvered window blind.


Fig. 2 – Our set was a interior space with wood paneling and large windows. The sky outside was heavily overcast.

There are two keys to creating golden hour light with a Speedlite or strobe—gel your flash to create golden light and position it to create long, angled shadows. Both are easy to do with off-camera flash.

The first step—creating golden light—actually begins by underexposing the ambient light in the scene. As you can see below in the middle panel of Fig. 3, I pulled three stops of ambient light out by increasing my shutter speed two stops and closing the aperture down one stop. Pulling the ambient down to near black is critical. Essentially you are establishing the tone of the shadows that will fall between the slashes of golden light created by your flash.


Fig. 3 – This tryptic shows how I developed the lighting in three steps: (left) the ambient windowlight as metered by the camera, (middle) the ambient light after I dimmed it by three stops, and (right) the golden hour light I created with my gelled Speedlite. Click to see a high-res version.

My go-to gel for creating golden hour light is the CTO (Color Temperature Orange). CTO comes in several densities–called “cuts.” For this shoot, I gelled with a full-cut of CTO. When I’m trying to blend in fill-flash at sunset with real golden hour light, I’ll start with a half-cut of CTO and then change to a full-cut as the sun drops to the horizon. If you want to warm up your general flash shots just a bit without making it obvious, try a quarter- or eighth-cut CTO.

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