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Speedlights & Speedlites: Creative Flash Photography at the Speed of Light

Authors: Lou Jones, Bob Kennan and Steve Ostrowski

Publisher: Focal Press (Elsevier)

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

The relatively new flash systems offered by Nikon and Canon, which allow an amazing degree of automated control over illumination (with an increase in a certain type of complexity) offer amazing opportunities for photographers to capture images. Lou Jones and his fellow authors address those opportunities in this book.

There are just two chapter headings: One Light and Two Lights. But within those two chapters are discussions of many of the ways to use the new speedlights (as Nikon calls them) or speedlites (as Canon refers to them). The book is aimed at owners of the flagship flashes of each of the manufacturers: the Nikon SB 900 and 800 and SU800 and the Canon 550EX, 580EX, 550 EXMKII and 580 EXMKII, as well as compatible cameras. Owners of other flash units may or may not benefit from reading the text.

The publisher is to be congratulated for trying many techniques to make the information accessible. Instructions applicable solely to Nikon or Canon are coded purple and green respectively. Distinctions between textbook, anecdotes, warnings, etc. are also color coded. Lighting diagrams for each of the illustrative images are included in the back of the book.

One of the book’s strong points is the discussion of the nature of light, whether natural or from flash, and the point that thinking of all light the same way will make it easier to control. Moreover the book urges you to allow the automated systems to do their work and to control the results by a few simple adjustments. There were also occasional tips on how to get more from a flash, like how to rotate the head of the flash to overcome the effect of the inverse square law.

I must confess that I was confused on my initial reading. The illustrations each include some lengthy text, and then require flipping to the back of the book. That combined with the war stories made it difficult to follow the instruction, especially since the illustrations didn’t often relate to the instruction. However, when I read the text over without considering the text relating to the images or the war stories (the latter didn’t seem to add much to the teaching points) the author’s lessons became crystal clear.

Although aimed at specific Nikon and Canon flashes, this is not a guide to setting up those units. For that one must rely on the manual or some other book. The authors do not spend much time discussing lighting for portraits. Discussion of ancillary equipment like stands or snoots is limited.

Still, the lessons, which became simple and clear once I had finished my second reading, are important and not often conveyed by other books on lighting with flash.

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