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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Left: Windowlight. Right: Windowlight + fill flash from a 60: white umbrella. Click the photo to see a high-res version.

Rocky Mountain School of Photography is hosting me this week as the instructor of their summer Flash Photography workshop (info here). We’ve been shooting for the past two days in Missoula’s old Macy’s department store. The space is a photographer’s dream come true: two floors, high ceilings, huge windows, and walls covered with a wide array of colors and textures collected through the decades.

As beautiful as windowlight is, windowlight by itself is not always beauty light. Compare the two photos above. The shot on the left is windowlight alone. The shot on the right is windowlight plus fill flash from a 60″ white umbrella. Can you see how the addition of the fill flash conceals facial shadows and smooths the skin?

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I just finished my first year as the full-time art+photography teacher at Mission Prep here in San Luis Obispo. Many would think, after nine months of wrangling teens, that it’s time for me to take a break. To the contrary, I’m busier now than I’ve been in a long while. Put another way, when it comes to summer jobs, I have many.

First up is the complete revision of my Speedliter’s Handbook–the second edition of which will be published next fall by Peachpit Press. In addition to the inclusion of the new radio-enabled 600EX-RT Speedlite system, I am updating all of my workflows and my gear recommendations based on the insights I’ve gained since the original Handbook was published four years ago. You can bet that I’ll be beta-testing a lot of the new content as posts here on PixSylated. Grab a free email subscription if you want to keep up with with these posts.

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Fig. 1–Shot during the Peter Read Miller Sports Photography Workshop in Denver. A pair of Speedlites working in high-speed sync provide essential fill flash for these fast-action cycling shots. Canon 5D Mk III, 17-40mm F/4L at 17mm, 1/500″, f/8, ISO 100. Two 600EX-RT Speedlites triggered by ST-E3-RT Transmitter.

High-speed action in broad daylight requires high-speed fill flash.  High-speed in this case means two things: the fast shutter speeds enabled by Speedlites in high-speed sync AND speeding up the flash recycling time by using an external power pack to recharge the Speedlites.

I’ve covered high-speed sync (HSS) many times on PixSylated. [For an introduction to HSS, check out this Simple Truths article.] The short version is that HSS changes the way the Speedlite fires. HSS enables the use of shutter speeds faster than the camera’s sync speed—1/250″ on most DSLRs.

The downside to HSS is that turning the Speedlite into a near-continuous light source (even for a fraction of a second) consumes a bunch of power. My tests have shown that HSS consumes 2.5 stops of light—which is the equivalent of turning a Speedlite’s maximum output from full-power down to 1/6 power. For fill flash, this power loss is not a big issue. It’s only when you are shooting day-for-night that you need to overcome the HSS hit by using an arsenal of Speedlites (like I did here).

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HeySyl.com, my question and answer blog officially launched over the holiday weekend. You can check out the list of inaugural topics below. If you see a resemblance between the HeySyl logo and the PixSylated logo, it is no coincidence. I created HeySyl.com as a repository of answers to reader questions. PixSylated.com will continue to present original content and resources that I find valuable.

If you would like to get the new HeySyl Q&A posts delivered by email, grab a free subscription here. If you already subscribe to PixSylated and you want the new Q&A delivered as well, you will need update your subscription preferences.

Click here to submit a question to HeySyl.

HeySyl’s First Questions—A Baker’s Dozen

1. New Edition of Speedliter’s Handbook & 600EX-RT System

2. Preventing Light Spill From A Beauty Dish

3. High-Speed Sync With 7D

4. PocketWizard FlexTT5 Still A Viable Option?

5. Better Ways To Learn Speedliting

6. Lighting Mixed Skin Tones

7. Event Photography & ETTL Flash

8. Beauty Dish For Speedlites

9. New Speedliter’s Handbook & Nikonians

10. 600EX-RT Speedlite Not Communicating With ST-E3-RT Transmitter

11. Speedlite Fires Intermittently on PocketWizard Cord

12. Yongnuo Flash Quality

13. Speedliting a Crawling Grandchild

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We photographers add loads of tension to our lives. We work so hard to perfect our craft, but continue to think that we are not good enough yet. We stress over not having the right gear. We find all kinds of reasons to not shoot and to not share our photos.

Most of us, who are serious about creating great images, remember a time when making photographs was fun, spontaneous, and easy. Yet, we get all tangled up and photography becomes a stressor rather than a release.

I wrote years ago that I take mental photos all the time (LIDLIPS #36 here). I’d see something interesting and say “Snap.” Now, I reach for my iPhone and take that snap. I try to do this at least once a day–stop my life for a moment and make a photo for the joy of making the photo.

These pix don’t have to relate to anything. They are not part of a series. Many of them are not even “good.” That does not matter. What does matter is that when I’m inspired by or drawn to something I see, I stop and shoot. It’s so easy to decide not to shoot for a million reasons. It’s so easy to decide to shoot as well.

I’ve been posting these snaps on Instagram for the past six weeks. I avoided the Instagram craze for a long time. Now, I find it’s a convenient way to stay connected to the playfullness that brought me into photography way back when.

Syl Arena on Instagram.