I’ve received a truckload of inquiries about the Speedliter’s Handbook. I’m truly humbled by the interest that’s come in from around the globe – from photographers of all denominations, not just Canonistas. So, if you’re curious about the Handbook, I’m providing this sneak peek as both a concise and a chapter-by-chapter version.

Here are a few quick stats:
> 376 pages of content, plus the front and back papers for a total of 408 pages
> 812 individual photos
> 26 chapters
> 39 shoots detailed as two-page spreads
> 104 diagrams, charts, and tables
> 1 nearly-exhausted author/photographer

Guiding Philosophies

> The Handbook builds as a pyramid from broad base of concepts—such as how to look at light—up to pro concepts. If you’re a complete novice, the Handbook will give you the important fundamentals. If you’re a seasoned pro, jump in at the middle and run with me to the frontier of Speedliting.

> This is not a book that you need to (or should) read from cover to cover. The Handbook is divided into 26 chapters so that you can get to the info you need quickly. Then…you should get back to shooting.

> This is a book about how I use Speedlites. I give the Canon system praise when it’s due (frequently, in fact) and share my workarounds for the areas that I think are wonky (3-group wireless, for instance). I go deep into the areas that I think are truly revolutionary — like High-Speed Sync — and skip over archaic concepts like Flash Exposure Bracketing.

> The steps of a shoot, not just the hero shot are shared. To make the concepts accessible, I typically include an ambient shot and several interim shots on my way to creating a hero shot.

My Estimate – 65% of the Handbook Is Non-Denominational

> Sure, I go deep into all the buttons and dials of driving Canon Speedlites. The Handbook clearly shows what to push and turn on your Speedlite so that it will do what you want it to do. If you’re a Canonista, this is the manual you’ve long desired.

> Yet, most of what I know about flash photography does not relate to buttons and dials. Light is light. Mods are mods. So, if you shoot Nikon, Sony, or any other brand, know that about two-thirds of the book will work for you too.

Getting Your Hands On A Handbook

The Speedliter’s Handbook will start shipping sometime between December 20 and 27. If you order your copy through any of these links, it throws a few coins in the tip jar, which I appreciate greatly.

Order it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, Amazon DEAmazon FR, Amazon JP

Order it at Barnes & Noble

Free Shipping Worldwide – Book Depository

Many More Details About The Speedliter’s Handbook

If you want to see what is in each chapter and view more spreads, read on. Also, please click on the pix so that you can see the details in a larger version. Then use your back button to return here.

For each chapter, the Handbook starts with a Short Version. So, most of what follows is essentially the intro to each chapter.

Chapter 0: Quick Start Guide To Speedliting
When you’re starting out, it can be hard to know where to begin. This chapter will point you down the right path. Virtually all the concepts and topics will be expanded on throughout the book. So, if learning all the details can wait, and your immediate goal is to start making good photographs with flash, here are what I consider to be the most important concepts for Speedliting. (8 pages)

PART 1 – Before Speedlites, There Was Light

Chapter 1: Learn To See Light
Speedliting is about far more than knowing how to push buttons and turn dials. Speedliting is about vision and light. It’s about knowing how to see the light around you and then, if needed, using your gear to create the light for the image you want. So I cover the character of light, how you see, and how your camera sees. (8 pages)

Chapter 2: Exposure Exposed
Knowing the mechanics of exposure and using them creatively are essential to the craft of Speedliting. In flash photography we often want to increase or decrease the amount of light coming from the Speedlites or the amount of ambient light that is captured bya specific amount.Remember this: the more you use flash, the more you need to grasp the mechanics of exposure and how your camera records what it sees. (18 pages)

Chapter 3: Mechanics of Light
Light follows some pretty specific rules about how it bounces around the universe. Speedliters don’t need to be physicists, but understanding a few basic principles will help you understand why your Speedliting looks or doesn’t look how you want it to. (12 pages)

Chapter 4: Light of the World
We do not often think about the light around us. We usually take it for granted, as in, “The sun comes up, crosses the sky, and goes down.”Ambient light, the light around us, comes from many sources. Ambient light also shapes our emotions and sense of time. Developing a keen awareness of the light around you is a critical skill to becoming a Speedliter. (10 pages)

Chapter 5: Think Globally, Light Locally
Shadows and highlights are the most important visual guides for the viewer when she is trying to decode your two-dimensional photograph into her three-dimensional reality. As a Speedliter, you will quickly understand that the position of the camera, your subject, and the light(s) determine how the shadows and highlights dance in your photos. When thinking about light position, we need to understand the importance of both horizontal and vertical placement. (8 pages)

PART 2 – Speedlites Fundamentally

Chapter 6: Meet The Speedlites
The current members of the Canon Speedlite family are the 580EX II, the 430EX II, and the 270EX. Other Speedlites still in wide use include the 580EX, the 430EX, and the 220EX. Occasionally, a 550EX will pop up in someone’s camera bag. Although not officially labeled “Speedlites,” Canon currently offers two specialty flashes for macro photography: the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX and the Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX. Both of these flashes can be used to command Speedlites in wireless mode. (10 pages)

Chapter 7: Control Your Speedlite
Creative Speedliting requires that you make many decisions. Among the choices that you will consider are how, when, and where your Speedlite fires. The how is mode: Manual, E-TTL, or Multi/Stroboscopic. The when is sync: 1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain, high-speed, or slow-speed. The where is the spread (zoom) and direction (tilt/pan) of the flashhead.This chapter introduces you to these control options. Many other chapters in the Handbook explore these features in detail. (12 pages)

Chapter 8: Flashing Manually
IF you’re wondering, “Does ‘manual flash’ mean that I have to follow the instructions in the manual?” let me be the first to say, “Welcome to Earth.” If manuals were so handy, I’d be out of a job right now, wouldn’t I? Manual flash is the basic mode of operation where the power level (a.k.a. output) of the flash is set by the photographer. Canon Speedlites can operate in Manual, E-TTL (Canon’s proprietary automatic mode), or Multi mode. Larger strobes, like monolights and studio strobes, are always operated as manual units. (10 pages)

Chapter 9: E Is For Evaluative
There are two great reasons to have the power level of your flash controlled automatically:you don’t know enough to do it yourself or you’re shooting in a situation where the distance between the subject and flash changes constantly.Canon’s Evaluative Through-The-Lens (E-TTL) flash metering system is simple enough to serve the novice and robust enough to serve the professional. (12 pages)

Chapter 10: Move Your Speedlite Off-Camera
Moving your Speedlite off the top of your camera is a fast way to take a huge step forward as a photographer. Why? We see shape and depth in a photo based on the shadows. When your main light source is right on top of your camera, the light is very flat. Moving the Speedlite even a short distance away can help add depth by adding shadows. I cover all the options: from simple PC-cords and optical slaves to E-TTL radio triggers. (12 pages)

Chapter 11: Wireless Speedliting, The Canon Way
(For many, this chapter alone will make the book a bargain.) Canon’s built-in wireless communication system allows multiple off-camera Speedlites to work together in sophisticated ways. Although the benefits of E-TTL begin to shine in a wireless setup, you can also control your off-camera Speedlites in Manual mode. There’s even a way to fire some Speedlites in E-TTL and others in Manual at the same time. (26 pages)

Chapter 12: Mixing Canon Speedlites With Other Lights
Speedlites, by themselves, are versatile light sources. There are times, however, when you will either have to or want to shoot Speedlites with other lights—such as  incandescent lights, fluorescent lights, or other types of flash. This chapter takes a look at the how and why of using Speedlites with many other types of light sources. We’ll also consider what adjustments you have to make either to the color temperature in your camera and/or with color correction gels on your Speedlite. (10 pages)

PART 3 – Gear For Speedliting

Chapter 13: Go Ahead, Mod Your Speedlite
It’s easy to think that with all the buttons and dials on a Speedlite (not to mention the price tag), it should be able to create any type of light you’d need. The simple truth is that you just can’t escape physics. Light coming from a flashhead that’s the size of a half-dozen postage stamps just won’t look like light filtering through high clouds—unless you modify it. This chapter runs through all the popular modifiers that strap onto Speedlites. As you can see in the spread above, I show the modifier and a shot made with that modifier. (20 pages)

Chapter 14: Those Big Modifiers Always Get In The Way
When thinking about Speedlite modifiers, “big” is relative. It can be a small softbox that uses a separate bracket because it’s just a bit too heavy to be supported by direct attachment to the Speedlite. It can also be a 20′ x 20′ metal frame that is holding a silk diffusion panel over an elephant in a dry, desert lake bed (yep, another McNally adventure). The common link between the small softbox and the giant silk is that they both stand between the light source and the subject. They both change the apparent size of the light source and the character of the light falling on the subject. So I cover umbrellas, softboxes, diffusion panels, beauty dishes, and more — again showing both the modifier and shots made with that modifier. (20 pages)

Chapter 15: Get A Grip
By now, you know that to create interesting light, you have to create interesting shadows. To create interesting shadows, you have to get your Speedlite off the axis of the lens. To accomplish that, you’ll want to be able to put it virtually anywhere. Grip is the gear used to hold a light on a set. For our purposes, it’s anything other than your camera’s hot shoe that helps hold a Speedlite in place. So here’s a run through of the stands, brackets, clamps, etc. that I use to put Speedlites exactly where I need them to be. (12 pages)

Chapter 16: Keeping The Energy Up
Speedlites are power-hungry creatures. As a Speedliter, if you become well acquainted with the many types of batteries and chargers out there, you’ll end up minimizing how much it costs to feed your Speedlites. Of course, there is no perfect battery. The many trade-offs include cost, shelf life, capacity, and power delivery. Knowing the range of options you have will help you choose the best type for your style of shooting. If you go with rechargeable batteries, knowing how and when to charge them is as important as buying the right type of battery. (8 pages)

PART 4 – Speedliting In Action

Chapter 17: Lighting Portraits Classically
I’m an impulsive photographer. I craft light to fit my vision—a vision that is often fine-tuned during the shoot. I don’t always think in terms of the classic styles of portrait lighting, yet I know that all of the lighting styles in this chapter roll around in my subconscious and whisper to me as I’m moving lights and mods into place. Don’t feel that you have to memorize each and every one of these styles. However, if you can come to understand the mechanics behind them, you will have a strong foundation on which to build your own lighting styles. (12 pages)

Chapter 18: Portraits With One Speedlite
When it comes to photographs, there is nothing in the world that we like to look at more than pictures of other people. So, if you start here without reading the previous 237 pages, I understand completely. The quick answer is, “Yes, you can make great photographs of people with a single Speedlite.” This chapter will take you through many of—but certainly not all—the types of light you can create with a single Speedlite. Ultimately, it is your imagination and willingness to experiment that will be your guide. (20 pages – 9 shoots detailed)

Chapter 19: Portraits With Two And Three Speedlites
Speedliting is about controlling the ambient light and crafting flash to fulfill your vision. The addition of a second and third Speedlite to your kit enables you to create many additional types of lighting that are not possible with a single Speedlite. Sometimes you will use your Speedlites as individuals—with each one filling a specific job. Other times you will team your Speedlites together so that their power works together. Either way, your photographs will have more dimension and power. (22 pages – 9 shoots detailed).

Chapter 20: Gelling For Effect
(This is one of my favorite chapters.)There are two major groups of gels: those that shift the color of one light to another (e.g., daylight to tungsten) and those that create a color effect (e.g., change the color of a background to bright red). Using both types of gels, along with changes in the white balance of your camera, can create dramatic effects. There are also two minor groups of gels—neutral density and polarizing—that limit the light without changing its color. Think of these as technical rather than creative gels. (14 pages – 3 shoots detailed)

Chapter 21: Slicing Time WIth High-Speed Sync
High-Speed Sync (HSS) changes the way your Speedlite fires. Rather than a single, strong pulse, your Speedlite sends out an ultra-fast burst of low-power, stroboscopic pulses. Because the strobe pulses are so close together, your Speedlite effectively turns into a continuous light source for an instant. High-Speed Sync enables the use of virtually any shutter speed on your camera—up to 1/8000″ on the fastest models. The trade-off is that the power of the flash is greatly reduced—typically by 2.5 stops. (16 pages – 4 shoots detailed).

Chapter 22: Dimming The Sun
The shutter is the gateway to controlling the amount of ambient light in a photograph. If you want more, use a slower shutter speed. If you want less, use a faster shutter speed. Novice Speedliters assume that to shoot a night shot, it has to be dark outside. To the contrary, you can literally dim the sun with a fast shutter speed. Then, by using High-Speed Sync, you can selectively light your subject so that the background drops away and the viewer’s eye concentrates on the subject. You might not have the need to turn noon to night. But knowing that you have the option of dimming the sun to some degree is a powerful and creative tool. (8 pages – 1 shoot detailed)

Chapter 23: Smashing Pumpkins With Gang Light
Gang light is a new way of thinking about how to use Speedlites. Rather than use them as individual units, you can position them close together so that they will create beautiful light—without the loss of light that comes when firing them through a modifier. By combining the power of many Speedlites as one source, you also create a broad field of light through which your subjects can move. You also have the power to dim the ambient light and/or stop action with a fast shutter speed and High-Speed Sync (HSS). (16 pages – 5 shoots detailed)

Chapter 24: Speedliting Events
Most photographers I know shoot events at some point during the year. Some shoot events as a form of giveback or charitable donation. Others shoot events because it is their chosen profession—and many are paid handsomely for their work. Event photography certainly gives you valuable experience at working under pressure while maintaining rapport with the people in front of your lens. Within reason, you can view event photography as a way to start developing a portfolio. I see event photography as some of the most important work that I shoot. I accept the responsibility accordingly. (14 pages – 4 shoots detailed)

Chapter 25: Strobo, Strobo, Strobo
Stroboscopic flash is a way to fire one or more Speedlites for a specified number of flashes at a specific rate per second. Unlike a traditional disco strobe—which cannot be controlled in terms of either the exact number of flashes or the exact interval—a Canon Speedlite in Multi mode can provide precise and repeatable control. When used scientifically, stroboscopic flash can be used to study motion. When used for fun, stroboscopic can create memorable photos of sports action and theatrical gesture. (12 pages – 3 shoots detailed)

PART 5 – Appendicies

A-1: Gang Slang For Speedliters
My 8-page glossary will get you slinging jargon around the meet-up in no time.

A-2: Web Resources For Speedliters
A list of 38 websites that I’m fond of — and yes, Speedliting.com and PixSylated.com are both in there.

A-3: Custom Functions
I can confirm that there’s nothing sexy about Custom Functions. Still, here’s the entire list of C.Fn. for the 580EX II, 580EX, 430EX II, and 430EX.

A-4: Six Point Checklist For Speedliting
So we started with a Quick Start Guide almost 400 pages ago. If you get totally paralyzed by too many ideas and techniques, this check list will get you back on track and help you organize your workflow.


33 Responses to Sneak Peek Inside The Speedliter's Handbook

  1. Paul says:

    Already on pre-order, but I appreciate the sneak peek!

  2. Martin Soler says:

    Love it. Anything in there about lighting interiors?

  3. Lars says:

    Yeah, that's what I've been looking for. That and some actual speedlight-testdrive-time. But I guess I'll have to take care of that last thing on my own. :-) Already on pre-order. Can't wait 'till it arrives.

  4. Chris says:

    Really looking forward to this Syl. Will there be a Kindle or iBooks version? I’d love this on my iPad.

  5. [...] over to Syl’s Speedliters blog to get more of a sneak peak. Information on how to order a copy is there [...]

  6. I ordered this in MARCH from Amazon. So I've been very patient! I checked and sure enough it says delivery on 31 December.

  7. John K says:

    I've had this on pre-order for months. Can't wait to finally get it. Also hope you cover some aspects of the 7D's ability to use the pop-up flash as the master for wireless.

    • Syl Arena says:

      John – Thx. I do cover the 7D a bit. When you have a chance to look at the details of my workflow, you'll see that I often put the slave to the side or behind me. The shortcoming of the 7D as a master is that it expects the slaves to be in front. While there is some leeway indoors, outdoors the 7D can't hit slaves where I often place them. Still, I'm very grateful that Canon included this feature. Hopefully they will continue to do so in the future. It's a great way for a novice to take his first steps with off-camera wireless flash.

  8. Lee R. says:

    Syl, thanks for creating such a great preview page for your new book. There's enough to really judge the content and how you present the material…which, by the way is done really well! Of course I preordered it and combined with Don Giannatti's workshop material, I'm definately on a quest for using external lighting in my wedding, portrait and event work. Congrats on a very timely book that will but my Speedlites to work. Now instead of buying a new $1,000 lense I'm going to get two additonal speedlites!

  9. Steve Combs says:

    Syl, been hitting both Speedliting.com and Pixylated for a while now and enjoying what I find (not to sound like I'm complaining, but could we see a little more frequent updates now that the book is "finished"? :) ). Preordered from B&N (thru your link on the RSS feed!). Keep up the good (shall I say great!?!?) work!

  10. clydo says:

    just ordered your book through Book Depository. Thanks! I've got some old manual flashes and am happy to see there's some mention on using flashes in manual mode :)

  11. Huggy says:


    Just read the articel in EOS magazine and already it has helped me I will be ordering this book ASAP
    Huggy in the UK

  12. Jo in Sydney says:

    Oooh it looks like this is just what I need, I just got my first flash unit, the 580 EX II… googling where to buy in Aussie land now…

  13. Pedro Ruiz says:

    Saldra una edición en español?

  14. Art Guertin says:

    Still reading – ordered the OCF33C a few minutes ago. I'm sure this will be of great use in my flash setup.

    Thanks for the book and the long cable.

  15. Roy Booth says:

    Just listened to Martin Bailey’s interview with Syl over at http://www.martinbaileyphotography.com which brought me to this site.

    WOW Just been looking at an excerpt from Syl’s book and I think its a far better tutorial and reference manual than the McNally books. I wish he’d work with Joe on a Nikon version, keep the same format, just change the Canon section to Nikon SB-900 & SB-700 references. His technique and style are excellent.

    Great book Syl, I still might end up buying it for the actual shoot sections.


  16. Luigi Borrelli says:

    Just read your book and I think it’s great. One question, I have a 60d and a 430 II. Is it possible to use HSS in wireless mode? I can’t get it to work.

  17. Anthony says:

    Read and reread your book to get a better grip on speedliting, but my results don’t seem to agree with one of your main statements – shutter speed controls ambient. So far I’ve been practicing inside with a small studio type setup and 2 580EX’s. No matter what shutter speed I use, the ambient pretty much stays the same. Maybe it’s my setup and the fact that I’m very limited on space, but so far changing the shutter speed doesn’t make any difference unless I take it to something extremely slow.

    Would you by chance have any pointers on this or why this seems to go against what you state in your book?


    • Syl Arena says:

      Anthony -

      It sounds like you have your camera in an automatic camera mode that is off-setting your shutter speed change by opening the aperture. Switch your camera to Manual mode. Then you should see the difference. Also, use whole stop increments of shutter speed when you change. The 1/3-stop increments are too subtle.

      • Anthony says:

        Thanks Syl. I guess I should have elaborated my setup. I’m working in manual mode with the 580′s in manual as well. I can go from 1/60 to 1/250 without changing the aperture and the images/histograms look pretty much identical, including the ambient. Only when I change the aperture does the exposure actually change noticeably. I think it may be the positioning of the flash(s) and that I’m still lighting some of the background when I’m thinking I’m not. I dunno, but I’m going to keep at it until I’m comfortable with the process and the results. Practice, practice, practice…

        • Syl Arena says:

          Anthony – To see what your flashes are lighting, periodically turn them off. Then you’ll see what the ambient exposure looks like. Yes, it sounds like your flash is lighting the background. Aim them or flag them so that they light your subject and the ambient lights the background. Then you will see a difference when you change shutter speeds.

  18. I’ve bought several books on speedlighting, but this book is way ahead of anything else.
    It’s well written, crammed full of information and explanation and makes for good reference material when I want to create a specific type of shot.
    I personally got a lot out of the high speed sync section (I now use a 10m OCF Gear cable) and it’s opened up a whole interesting area for me.

  19. Since I bought the kindle version of this book, have been reading it. Helped me in understanding speedlites and flash photography so much better. I just ordered two new 600EX-RTs. Wondering if you plan to update the book with this new speedlite technology?

  20. Attila says:

    Thanks a lot for such a great book. I’m looking forward to the new edition including new Canon flashes.

  21. Troy says:

    I very much enjoy your video on B&H channel and your blog. Does your book cover Canon 600ex-rt?


    • Syl Arena says:

      Troy – Thanks for your kind words. The Speedliter’s Handbook came out before the 600EX-RT was announced. I have an ebook in the works on the new system. In the meantime, watch this series of videos that I did about the 600EX-RT on the Canon Digital Learning Center.

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