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Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites

adamkoplan | Book Reviews | Published Nov 6, 2011

By Syl Arena
Peachpit Press, $49.99 (391p. Over 500 images)
ISBN-10: 032171105X
ISBN-13: 978-0321711052

Created to help photographers use portable flashes to maximum effect, Arena has written a readable and highly informative manual to lighting with Speedlites. His choice to focus on the Canon universe of products is, in part, a conscious effort to set him apart from two of the other leading evangelists of small flash systems, David Hobby (creator of the widely read www.strobist.com blog) and Joe McNally (award-winning photojournalist and best-selling author) both of whom use the Nikon system. 

For unabashed 'Canonistas' there are several chapters specific to the current Canon line of products, how their metering system works, and how to use these flashes wirelessly. However, Arena's subtitle 'Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites' is misleading, because the vast majority of the nearly 400 pages in the book is a more general manual to lighting with any portable flash, regardless of brand. Ultimately, only about a fifth of the book is Canon-specific.

A sample page from the book explaining the use of umbrellas

Over twenty informative and well-illustrated chapters cover such topics from exposure to the mechanics of light to portrait lighting techniques. Some chapters, like 'Go Ahead, Mod Your Speedlite', which describes the variety of tools to modify the quantity and quality of light from a flash, also include useful overviews of the major products currently on the market with persuasive opinions about which tool is best (or the best value) for any given task. Designed as a comprehensive manual to relatively technical topics, Arena's prose always remains light and full of pithy wisdom, e.g. 'To create interesting light, you have to create interesting shadows'. This book makes a persuasive case for getting the flash unit off the camera and exploring the myriad of affordable ways to create dynamic light in photography.

One of the book’s strengths - a detailed overview of the many subjects related to small flash - might also be a source of frustration for some readers who might want only a book on, say, portrait lighting and find explanations of Canon menus or a recap of the ISO, shutter-speed, aperture inter-relationship frustrating. But for many beginning and intermediate 'strobists', especially ones using the Canon system, Arena has created a valuable resource.

 Examples for the lighting of head shots using an umbrella

The Speedliter's Handbook is available on Amazon.com as a paperback or e-book.