The ‘humble’ Speedlight

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Posted by: Nick Spalding Category: Photography Comments: 0

The ‘humble’ Speedlight

For the last five years or more, everywhere I travelled, I carried my ‘humble’ Nikon Speedlight with me in my camera kit, never really knowing why, but it has been ever-present in my case should I need it for a situation. If I am honest I rarely took it out of my kit case, opting instead to carry a whole load of studio lighting kit around with me, wherever I travelled.I’ve spent many a dark hour with my studio lighting and to me they are like a ‘comfort blanket’ for flash photography, as I know what can and cannot be achieved with them. My resistance to using my Speedlight has been so strong in the past I’ve even opted to use 1 x 1 bi-colour continuous led light panels, ahead of using my Speedlight.

I think once I’d been seduced by the power and control of studio lights I always felt that my ‘lowly’ Speedlight was an inferior relative.

Nikon SB700 Speedlight
A long-time unused accessory in my camera kit…..until now!

So it was with some considerable interest, and some intrepidation, I recently signed up for and visited TFC in Birmingham for an ‘Introduction to Off-camera Lighting’ with Speedlights. I drove up to Birmingham with a lot of excitement and anticipation, expecting to be completely underwhelmed with the performance of my Speedlight, but looking forward to increasing my learning at the same time.Upon arrival at TFC, we were greeted by the friendly team and escorted to the studio space, which incidentally is available to hire at extremely competitive rates, complete with a full complement of lighting equipment, backdrops and stands. I shall definitely be using this space to complete a number of corporate shoots in the future.

Speedlight On-camera

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This first image indicates a ‘normal’ image achieved with a Speedlight mounted on-camera. For some this is perfectly acceptable but not for me i.e. the subject is over-exposed, the shadows are very obvious and the image is very flat.

As the course began I re-familiarized myself with my Nikon Speedlight and realised quickly it has settings and features I had never bothered to explore and learn, until now. Within moments I’d learned my Nikon Speedlight includes a nice fold-away diffuser and bounce card, which I’d never previously noticed or used. (shown in the first image).Very quickly we moved on to refining our shots using various clip-on bounce cards, soft box attachments and soft box grids or ‘crates’ and it was not too long before we were producing very acceptable shots with one or two Speedlights.

SoftBox and 2nd ‘Fill’ Speedlight

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This second shot is using a Speedlight on a stand with Softbox, located 45 degrees to the left of subject and a ‘naked’ Speedlight, slightly to the rear and to the right of subject, adding fill.

As the session progressed I realised I was starting to change my thinking about the kit that I use for commercial photography shoots and I could see some huge reductions in the amount of kit I would need to carry around with me in the future.Of course Speedlights have limitations, they offer about a quarter of the amount of power and light output of the smallest studio head, but on the flip-side, here we were achieving studio quality shots with very little kit.

We progressed to using various trigger/receivers for our Speedlights, from very low-cost basic trigger-receiver combo’s, to those that allowed us to adjust Speedlight and camera settings remotely, we also explored the HSS (Hi Speed Sync) modes, indoors and outdoors.

SoftBox and Coloured Filter Speedlight

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The third shot was taken using a soft box at forty-five degrees to the left of subject and placing a Speedlight on a low-level floor stand with a ‘Blue’ filter gel over the Speedlight lens.

Before heading outside to test our Speedlights shooting in bright sunlight, we explored shooting different exposures, shutter speeds and flash sync speeds to produce creative shots i.e.blowing out backgrounds whilst keeping subjects nicely lit.

Once outside we explored shooting subjects directly into the sunlight, using Speedlights to create contrast, highlights and interest, exploring creative options and limitations available to us with our Speedlights.

All in all a great day of hands-on learning, re-visiting and re-learning some known techniques (and new ones) and exploring  a piece of equipment I have been carrying around unused for years.

Softbox x2 inc Grids

The fourth shot is using two Speedlights, one per stand with Softbox and grid, located almost directly opposite each other, each side of the subject, angled and offset slightly, leaving the face in shadow but creating some interesting fills.

 

Summary

My opinion of the value of my Nikon Speedlight has been greatly enhanced following this great day of learning at TFC in Birmingham.

I am always open to learning new skills and this course highlighted that I should keep an open mind to the possibilities of using new and alternative equipment. It was also obvious the guys at TFC Birmingham carry great knowledge and experience with them, as do their colleagues in London, so thanks guys, it proved to be a very worthwhile day and I shall be revisiting very soon.

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