I’m sort of known for not being a fan of using speedlights. Just never liked the look they give. I am not sure where this idea or belief came from, but I remember being back in college in the mid-’80’s and my colleagues and I would sort of categorize photographers who use this kind of light as Not Serious Ad Shooters. Not fair, I know, but none the less, I was young and impressionable and the idea has stayed with me over the years. However, over the last two or three years, I have been incorporating speedlights with my other lighting, whether I”m using natural light or studio flash like my Profotos. And what I mean by incorporating is that I use the speedlight to embellish the main lighting on my set. So let me explain that more clearly.
Let’s say I’m shooting outdoors with available sunlight and I want a harsh edge light or a back hair light. I will have one of my assistants hold the speedlight either in his hand or on a light stand, and angle it exactly where I want that light to hit. Speedlights are great for outdoor use because they run on batteries, they’re lightweight and easy to pack. But for me, getting them to do what I want is the tricky part. We use all sorts of things to angle the light, like cupping a hand over it to create a barn door or even taking cardboard and holding it over one part of the light so we can control where it hits. Or putting it behind something to add a pop of light in the background. For instance, on the Genlux Grey Garden’s shoot, inside the bird cage is a SB 800 wrapped up in some diffusion material that I normally put over a large umbrella, just to diffuse the out put of light coming from the speedlight. The light created just enough glow inside that cage, adding depth and drama to the photograph without it taking over or competing with my key lights. It “embellished” the shot. It didn’t light the shot, it just complemented the shot.
On a recent editorial shoot for HUSH Magazine, a new magazine out of Belgium, we used a speedlight on a stand, place behind the windows and aimed it towards the back of the models head to recreate a sunburst of light, backlighting the model and pumping in a bit of light on the background to create a more interesting shot. The main light, though, was one profoto head with a beauty dish directed on the front of the model. Or the shot of Eugenia on the beach with the sun setting behind her. That’s not actually the sun, we used a speedlight to mimic the sun, creating a fabulous lens flare and hair light. We only use the speedlights as accent lights. I have never used a speedlight on top of my camera. I know other photographer’s do, using all kinds of diffusion kits and tricks to create these lovely images but you’ll never find me doing that on any fashion shoot. Well, never say never……I think I should have learned that one by now. But I can pretty guarantee I probably will never use one on top of my camera as the key light. If I wanted that stark overlit look, I would use a ringflash as oppose to a speedlight, I think.
I can’t speak for Canon, but I know that the Nikon speedlights can sync with your camera or you can use TTL metering when they’re off the camera however I never use them this way. I sync it with my pocket wizard and control the light manually as I would with my regular strobe heads. That way I have complete control of my light instead of letting the camera “guess” for me, which is common and easy to do when you’re working with speedlights. It’s important to me to always have control of my lights. Always. Your lighting is what conveys your vision and your vision is what ultimately speaks through your photographs. I use speedlights sparingly and carefully to enhance the overall lighting on my shoots. And for this, I think they do indeed get the job done!