I’ll head out early Monday morning for the first leg of my five-week Speedliter’s Intensive tour. First up are Austin, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Then I’ll make a quick dash home for Mother’s Day. Busy first week.

Also on the line-up are: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Denver, Detroit, Hartford, NYC, St Louis, Salt Lake City, SF Bay Area, and Washington DC.

The Intensive is a one-day crash course on my approach to flash photography. To see the details, the calendar, and a promo code that saves $25, click here.


It’s hard to believe…after waiting nine months, but we leave tomorrow for Havana. “We” are two groups of photographers organized by Santa Fe Workshops. I’m the leader for one group. Zack Arias is the commandante for the other group.

This is not a typical workshop. Rather, it’s a people-to-people exchange in which we will spend time with Cubans, learning about their lives and their culture. Along the way, we’ll make many great photographs and spend time with Cuban photographers. It’s going to be a memorable week!

If you’re interested in joining me on a future trip to Cuba, you can read about the current Cuba trip on this PDF. To get on the mailing list for announcements about my next trip, send an email to cuba@sylarena.com.

I’ve had a crazy schedule of late. Spent last week in Denver with Peter Read Miller at his sports photography workshop. Havana will be a warm reprise from the crazy cold weather that hit Colorado last week.

I hope to post some pix while in Cuba…if I can find access to the internet. Might be harder to find the time, given that we have a full schedule for the week. Adios!


Controlling Canon Speedlites as Slaves

• Part One: 600EX-RT as Radio Slave
Part Two: Fundamentals of Optical Wireless (this part)
• Part Three: Setting Up Speedlites as Optical Slaves (coming)
[Note: In this series, I am writing about the master/slave system built into Canon Speedlites. There is another type of optical slave that is common in studio lighting. It fires the strobe when it senses a flash of bright light, but all changes to power, sync, etc. must be made manually on the unit.]

The Difference Between Canon Radio and Optical Slaves

Canon offers two ways for Speedlites to communicate—radio and optical wireless. Radio has the advantage of working over longer distances and the ability to communicate through opaque surfaces, like walls and softboxes. Radio wireless was introduced about a year ago with the launch of the 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3-RT Transmitter.

Optical wireless must have a line-of-sight connection between the master and slave—although the master’s signal can bounce around objects and corners if the walls/ceiling are a light color. I once put a slave Speedlite in a shower stall knowing that I could bounce the master’s signal off of the bathroom mirror. Optical wireless works up to about 40′/13m. It cannot go through opaque surfaces–but is happy to fly through windows, which allows you to control slaves outside the room. Optical wireless will also go through translucent fabrics—like shoot-through umbrellas to control slave Speedlites nearby.

Canon’s optical wireless system is robust and reliable—even outdoors in noon sun. The key is to know how to set up the slaves so that they can see the master—which I will cover in a bit.

Speedliter, Know Thy Optical Master

The 600- and 500-series EX Speedlites can be optical masters (as can the macro ring and twin lights). The advantages of using a Speedlite as an optical master (over a pop-up flash as master) include:

  • the Speedlite has greater range
  • the Speedlite head can be tilted/panned directly at a slave
  • the Speedlite can be used as an off-camera master (detailed at the end of this article)

[Note 1: The 600EX-RT can operate in radio OR optical wireless. For insights on radio wireless, read Part One of this series.]

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I’ll be hitting 15 cities this spring on my 2013 Speedliter’s Intensive tour. Through the end of March, you can save $25 by buying an early bird ticket ($50 off the Chicago 2-day event). Spend a day with me learning how to create great light with small flash.

Speedliter’s Intensive Spring 2013 Cities / Dates


Random Bytes 130318 is a quick collection of great posts and resources that have come my way over the past couple of weeks. Thanks to all who have written to say how much they appreciate this new feature on PixSylated!

Timelapse: an Introduction to Still Photographs in Motion

Video of Gulf Photo Plus 2013 Shoot-Out

Lifehacker: Why I Stopped Pirating and Started Paying for Media

Tumblr: Who Pays Photographers

UltraPixel Sensor Coming to Mobile Phones

Cine Meter for iPhone/iPad

Timelapse: an Introduction to Still Photographs in Motion—this beautiful eBook by Dave Delnea was published today by Craft & Vision. It covers the basics of getting started with timelapse photography, including: gear, techniques, and post-production. For $5.00, it’s a bargain! Click here to check out the details Use the promotional code TIME4 when you check out and pay only $4 OR use the code TIME20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ eBooks. (NOTE: These codes expire at 11:59pm (PST) March 22, 2013.)

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There are two options for wireless communication built into the 600EX-RT Speedlite system: radio OR optical. If you are using only 600EX-RTs as slaves, then take advantage of the radio system. The range is longer than optical wireless and you won’t have to worry about the signal being blocked by opaque surfaces. If you are using the 600EX-RT with earlier Canon Speedlites (500- and 400-series Speedlites), then you must operate the 600EX-RT in optical wireless (either as a master or a slave).

Notice that I said radio OR optical. It is not possible to send instructions to a 600EX-RT via radio and then have it optically transmit those instructions to 500- and 400-series Speedlites. That would be radio AND optical. Pick one wireless mode OR the other. If you want to use a 600EX-RT with non-radio Speedlites, then the 600EX-RT must be in Optical Wireless.

Setting Up the 600EX-RT Speedlite as a Radio Slave—Four Steps

There are four steps to using a 600EX-RT Speedlite as a radio slave. Think A-C-I-G and you’ll remember them.

  • Activate the 600EX-RT as a radio slave
  • Set the Channel of all slaves to match the master (Auto or Channels 1-15)
  • Set the Wireless ID of all slaves to match the master (0000 to 9999)
  • Assign each slave to a Group (five options A-E)

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The difference between Master Enabled and Master Disabled is a simple and essential concept for Speedliters shooting wireless flash. Yet, many Canonistas (myself included back in the day) draw the understandable conclusion that Master Disabled means that the master is not a master. It’s an understandable, but incorrect, conclusion.

Master Enabled means that the master will send instructions to the slaves and also fire when the shutter is open (adding flash to the shot).

Master Disabled means that the master will send instructions to the slaves and then remain dark with the shutter is open.

Deciding When to Enable and Disable the Master Speedlite

Master in the Camera Hotshoe: Choose Master Enabled only if you want to have on-camera flash (say a bit of low-power fill flash). Choose Master Disabled if you do not want the shadow-killing effects of on-camera flash. In both cases, the master still sends instructions to the slave Speedlites.

Master Moved Off-Camera: If you have an extra-long ETTL cord, then you can move your master Speedlite off-camera and use it as Master Enabled. The advantage of this technique is that for the cost of the cord, about $65 on OCF Gear or Amazon, you can get valuable off-camera light from your master and still have it control the slave Speedlites. If you become a power Speedliter, you will eventually want a dedicated tran$mitter. But an extra-long ETTL cord is a great way to maximize the gear you have right now.

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Chiaroscuro portraits by Alex Huff. Click photo to see more on 500px.

PixSylated’s Inaugural Guest Blog: I’m blessed to have a wide circle of friends who are as obsessed with light and shadow as I am. From time to time, I’ll be turning PixSylated over to one of these friends for a guest blog. I’m thrilled that the first photographer in this new series is Alex Huff, a talented shooter in San Francisco.  (If you’ve been hanging around PixSylated for a while, you already know Alex from this post last August.) Alex graciously agreed to share her secrets about how she creates her chiaroscuro portraits, which have been attracting a lot of attention on the web lately. Enjoy!—Syl

by Alex Huff

The sisters. Click photo to see larger.

My chiaroscuro (Italian for “light/dark”) collection is a painterly photographic ode to the men and women in my life, beginning with my circle of friends. My very first images in this series are of two sisters whose mother taught me everything I know about art history. The portraits were initially for her and also a personal experiment for me to see if I could create a painterly portrait. I have a great love for Caravaggio so I knew I wanted the subject to glow against a kind of shroud of inky blackness. Hair, eyes, little pieces of textured clothing–these were the things I wanted to highlight.

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Random Bytes 130225 is a powerhouse collection of interesting posts and sites that recently came my way. You will find noteworthy workshops, photo biz tips, and more. Enjoy!

Peter Read Miller Sports Photography Workshop

David Cooper Dance Photography Workshop

30 Things You Should Know to Help You Start a Photography Business

Creative Photography Business Cards—31 Examples

New Video Codec Announced by ITU

Rich Harrington: Creating a Shot List for Photo & Video Projects

Copyright Alliance: A Huge Resource for Creatives

Luxi Incident Light Meter Adapter for iPhone on Kickstarter

Peter Read Miller Sports Photography Workshop—Sports photographer extraordinaire Peter Read Miller will hold his 11th-annual spring weeklong workshop April 8–14 in Denver [workshop FAQ and workshop registration]. Peter has shot eight Olympics, 26 Super Bowls, 14 NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Final, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, the NCAA Final Four, and 100+ Sports Illustrated covers. This is an amazing opportunity to spend a week shooting with and learning from one of the industry’s best. If you can’t make it to Denver, the workshop will be held in Atlanta next fall. Sign up for Peter’s mailing list here.

David Cooper Dance Photography Workshop—David Cooper will hold his dance photography workshop on June 2 in Vancouver. If you’re interested in creating images of any type of athlete frozen in mid-air, this will be a day well-spent. If you’re captivated by dance, consider this a must-attend. David shoots for the best dance and theater companies throughout North America. You’ll find the workshop info here. Check out David’s portfolios here.

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Photo © 2013 Tony Arena & Syl Arena, all rights reserved.

I believe that photographers should work for free. I also believe that photographers should not work for free. Knowing when to work for free and when not to is an important milestone in becoming a pro. Here are the aspects that I consider when deciding to shoot for free.

Commercial Value: photographers should not work for free when there is a significant commercial value to the shoot. If the client is going to make money from the project, then the photographer should too. If your prospective clients do not value your relationship that way, then find new prospects.

Value of Your Skills: Just because your client can buy the same digital camera you shoot, does not mean that he can do the job you do. Remember, it’s the photographer and not the camera that makes the photo. Your expertise and time have value.

Next Time: Anyone who says “do this one for free and you’ll absolutely get paid when the next job comes around” is lying. You should counter with “pay me for this job and I’ll give you a discount on the next one.”

Photo Credits: Anyone who suggests that you’ll benefit from the photo credit has not tried to pay for groceries with photo credits.

Not-for-profit Clients: Photographers should not work for free just because the client is a not-for-profit organization. Non-profits have normal operating expenses just like for-profit enterprises: rent, payroll, utilities, etc. Creative efforts, like photography, web design, copyrighting, etc. can all be considered normal expenses for non-profits.

Who Will Get Paychecks: Ask the folks who are asking you to work for free if they are getting a paycheck. If the answer is yes, then you should too.

For me, the work for free decision happens when several of the following criteria are met:

  • the cause is one that I believe in, meaning I’d write the organization a check
  • my work will help the cause take a big step forward
  • the subjects/situations/locations for the shoot are ones that otherwise I would not have access to
  • the subject is someone/something that I’m truly interested in
  • everyone involved with the project is working for free

I’m looking for worthy projects to shoot for free

For 2013, I’m looking to shoot a couple of worthy projects for free. So, if you’ve read the above and know of a worthy project that could use a photographer, please get in touch with the specifics. I travel a lot, so location might not be an issue. You can reach me at the address you see below.

Bonus info: my comrade-in-arms Zack Arias talked about when and why he worked for free as a commercial shooter in this webcast. If you are a student or an emerging pro, you should give Zack’s insights a listen.