This post isn’t actually about the speed of light (though I do know that it is 186,000 miles per second! Thanks, middle school science) but it IS about speedlites! A speedlite, or speed light, is a professional grade flash that can be used on- or off-camera and does many amazing things, which is why we spent all of last week learning how to use our speedlites (and still have much to learn).
Most cameras have built-in, pop-up flashes that illuminate (and mostly over-illuminate) the subject and cast the background into dark shadow. Photos from these cameras and flashes look, well, like they were taken with an on-camera, built-in flash. Not too flattering.
With a speedlite, there is so much amazing technology involved, you can take flash photographs that don’t look like flash photographs. Wunderbar!
We started with our speedlites on our cameras, but with diffusion and bounce flash employed to make our photos less flashy. Diffusion for me came in the shape of the semi-translucent cone that fits over the flash head: this softens the light and the flash look. Speedlite heads rotate all over the place, too, so you can bounce the flash off a white wall or ceiling to help minimize the harshness of the light.
Here is my diffused, bounce flash portrait of my classmate, David:
It’s not that obvious that I was using a flash, right? There are loads of ways to get your flash to work for you in this way and I have many more light modifiers and speedlite attachments to explore, bounce angles to experiment with, but it’s nice to know it’s possible and quite easy once you know how to operate the speedlite.
Then we took it to a whole new level: taking the flash off the camera. Off-camera, whether connected to the camera with a synchronization cord or through the use of one on-camera speedlite as a commander flash giving infrared orders to additional slave flashes you’ve set up, the speedlite system works just like a studio kit does, just with smaller lighting units (isn’t the commander/slave terminology just horrible? But that’s what they’re called, so that’s what I have to call them …).
Once that became clear, using speedlites for a studio-style portrait was just like what we’ve done in the studio before, but with much less expensive equipment! Score!
Here’s Mariana, another classmate of mine, with a two speedlite setup:
We also learned how to use our speedlites outside with a process called high-speed sync. I won’t get into the technical specifications of how it works, but basically you wouldn’t be able to get an image with shallow depth of field, a burned in sky, and an illuminated subject without it!
Here is my classmate Nicole, looking surly (it was cold!) with high-speed sync flash: