Book Review – Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena

I became aware of this book a few months ago at a time when there was a bit of controversy around a scanned copy that had made its way onto the web. It wasn’t a topic I actually had a great deal of interest in (being a Nikon shooter, albeit former Canon shooter) as I don’t do much studio work and don’t use flash much; but I bought a copy to support the author in light of the situation with the scanned copy.

I’m glad I did.

While the book is written about using Canon equipment, it’s not just about Canon’s flash system. It’s a more general book about accessory lighting techniques that happens to be written with Canon’s system in mind. There are some Canon-specific chapters and I simply skipped those. The rest of the book is terrific; however.

Arena is a terrific photographer who has great skill in crafting light.  The book takes the reader through some of the basics of general photography before launching into the use of speedlights.  The chapter on ‘seeing light’ and understanding the characteristics of light is particularly useful in that it sets the stage for the later information on using accessory speedlights, particularly in combination with ambient light.

The first half of the book is more about the equipment than the technique.  The second part of the book goes extensively into the modes of using speedlights (e.g., TTL, manual).  There are discussions in the third part of the book of various accessories that can be used with small flash, how to combine small flash with studio lights, light modifiers and a detailed discussion of power (i.e., batteries) which is of vital importance when using speedlights.

The last part of the book is probably the most interesting.  This is where the discussion turns to putting the lights into action.  This section of the book starts out with fairly simple concepts on lighting portraits with one and multiple lights.  There are lighting setup diagrams as well as photos of some of the lighting setups, which I know I find particularly useful.  The photographs of the setups give you a more 3-dimensional look at how the lighting works as opposed to the flat, 2D diagrams.  As the section progresses, increasingly more complex shooting conditions and situations are covered including high speed sync and ends with perhaps the 2 most difficult situations; event photography with speedlights and stroboscopic lighting for that cool, multiple exposure look.

The writing style is light and easy to read yet still highly informative.  Technical issues are dealt with in detail and written such that even a non-technical person can follow what’s going on.

For anyone looking to find more information on using flash in their photography – including non-Canon shooters – this book is definitely recommended reading.  I’ve learned a good deal from it and am definitely happy to have found out about it.

Speedliter’s Handbook:  Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites is published by Peachpit Press and is available on Amazon.

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