Monday, February 14, 2011

Syl Arena's Speedliter's Handbook

OK... The more I delay this review the more it's gonna look dated.  I'm already seeing many reviews of this excellent book pop up, including Neil van Niekerk's take on it ( ). 
It's easy enough for me to give a strong recommendation for this book as other reviewers have.  To add value though, I'm going to do my best to come up with legitimate criticisms. Note: this review is based on the Kindle version.

First, the praise:
  • Uses both manual flash and TTL flash.
  • Photos are doable/realistic, and don't appear to have been subjected to extensive postprocessing.
  • Systematic approach in examples.  Well explained.
  • Good solutions to lighting problems.
  • Good variety of examples showing different techniques.
  • Some interesting techniques.  Stroboscopic flash, "gang lighting" (what I would call a light array).
  • Very comprehensive discussion of lighting equipment.  Realistic recommendations that don't assume we all have pro-level budgets (for novice, get this; for seasoned amateur get this; for pro, get this).
  • Clearly written, not boring or puffy/professorial.
  • Well organized.
Now for the harder part - [constructive] criticisms:
  • Critical distinction between ambient exposure and flash exposure not well explained.
  • Advises that shutter controls ambient, while aperture controls flash exposure, which advice can be misunderstood.  See last week's post (on this blog) on that issue.
  • Advises high speed sync to dim sunlight.  Actually, HSS aggravates the issue.  If your goal is to overpower the sun, you're better off with a neutral density filter in terms of efficiency.
  • Only a short discussion of bouncing flash.  Neil's book is way ahead on that technique.
  • Fill flash technique (different types of fill) not covered.
  • Photos are not cutting edge (but like I said above - they're practical examples).
  • Kindle version: some of the photos appear on separate pages from the captions.  The resolution of the photos in the Kindle version is not very high.
My take?  A must-have for Canon family photographers who would like to know more about using their flash properly.  It explains Canon's lighting system thoroughly.  For other shooters, I still think Neil's On-Camera Flash book is the best book (to date) on flash techniques that are most relevant to family photographers.  Nonetheless, this is an excellent resource with a lot of details that I have not seen elsewhere, and with a good variety of lighting scenarios that provide useful case studies.