Syl Arena - Speedliters Handbook

There are a great number of books about flash photography available, however there are not so many that are specifically about getting the most out of the Canon Speedlites. There are certainly not many that go in to the depth that Syl Arena’s new book  entitled Speedliter’s Handbook does.

For the sake of full disclosure I have known about the book for quite some time and even had a few conversations by email with the author during the writing stage. I do also get a name check in the ‘Sincere thanks are owed to many’ section, and I was fortunate to have received a review copy from Syl directly.

I often train photographers how to use their flash, and do presentations about the Canon flash system so I would have bought this book if I had not received a copy directly. I’ve read some of the other recent blockbusters on flash, I particularly enjoyed the Moment It Clicks by Joe McNally, but found his Hotshoe Diaries too much like an instruction book for products I don’t use.

The book is a weighty tome, 391 pages make sure there’s plenty in there for just about all levels of Canon owners. The book starts out firstly covering exposure, ambient exposure at that; this follows my own approach when helping people understand flash photography. Before you can understand flash exposure you need to understand exposure itself. In these early chapters Syl explains many of the basic principles of working with flash, and creating depth in images. Syl then shows how the Canon method of flash exposures actually gives you complete independent control of your flash lit and ambient lit elements in the frame.

One of my initial thoughts about the book relates to the environment Syl works in – California sunshine. There are many tricks in the book to do with overpowering the ambient and beating down the midday sun, in this part of the world we don’t have such a problem that often, but it’s always good to know about how to resolve such situations.

I like Syl’s writing style, but in some places I feel that he’s so full of information there’s a bursting out of a tip that comes along later in greater detail. This means that in some places there’s quite a lot of invitations to jump to another part of the book. This is not necessarily a bad thing as you get the full info, but it makes reading the book from start to finish a little bit tough, it’s kind of like ordering dinner and seeing the sumptuous dessert listing on the back of the starter menu.

Once Syl has filled your brain with more information than a Canon Speedlite manual could ever do it’s time to move up a gear and get in to Speedliting in practice. Here was where I started to like the book even more, and even could see how dimming midday sun in California was really relevant to me in a somewhat lower lit United Kingdom.

Syl’s creation and use of what he calls gang lighting is something else. While it creates some of the trick shots featured in the book it also gives more ideas as to how multiple Speedlites can be used more often. Fancy mimicking the light of a regular studio stripbox using small easy to carry Speedlites?

The tough quesiton: Are there any factual errors? I found that the Speedlite 380EX is listed as a slave flash which it isn’t, so please don’t raid ebay for them in the hope that they are slaves.

Also now that Canon have launched the new EOS 600D with Speedlite master control, and the new Speedlite 320EX and 270EX II the range of equipment that works with this Speedliter’s Handbook continues to grow, and so should the audience. Syl has taken his time but in doing so he’s created the best book on the Canon flash system.

It’s shipping now in the UK and you can get it from – Speedliter’s Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites