Wednesday, July 31, 2019

How to use multiple speedlights to take your photography to the next level - Part I

People often ask me about new camera equipment and the what advances in technology have had the biggest impact on me. When asked this question, most people are expecting me to answer back in reference to the newest camera bodies or lenses. But as I have told many people, I feel that one of the biggest "game changers" is in the speedlights (or commonly called flash units). Yes, those battery powered flashes that we put on top of our cameras.

The older Canon 580EX II Flash
Before I get into the details, let me step back for a second and tell you about my first experience using an external flash with my cameras. My first real foray into the world of Canon Speedlites (as Canon spells that) started with the Canon 580EX flash, and the learning curve was steep. I felt then, and still feel today, that learning how to control the flash units (especially when combining more than one) is harder than learning the ins and outs of the camera itself. When I first started, I would put the 580EX directly on my camera, keep it in TTL mode and hope for the best. Then after learning about flash diffusers, I experimented with many different brands to determine which worked best for me. But even then, it was just the one flash mounted on my camera in TTL mode.

The first thing I learned was how to adjust the power of the flash, often powering the flash down a bit, which served me well when taking portraits. Later I played with was the remote control of one flash to another. With the Canon 580EX flash, the only way to trigger more than one flash (without using other devices) was through an optical protocol. This only worked in small areas, in direct line of sight from one flash to the other, and was not reliable enough to use when shooting any job for clients. This proved to be so unreliable that I never really tried it again.

In 2012, Canon announced the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT and everything changed.

What was the big advancement in these flashes? With the introduction of the 600EX-RT, Canon added the "R" (receive) and the "T" (transmit) which means that they added wireless radio control. This allowed these speedlites to communicate with each other using a wireless signal which meant that these new flashes worked reliably in distances of 100 feet or more and they did not have to be line-of-sight. This wireless technology has increased the quality of my photography dramatically. This is especially true for my event and portrait photography, with the ability to use multiple flashes in sync with each other.

I started with just two of these 600EX-RT speedlites, often using them for my event photography. I would have one flash in "master mode" diffused with a MagSphere on my camera and another in "slave mode" in the corner of a room for more directional lighting. This created much more dynamic lighting for my party photos.

Here is a photo I took back in 2011 with only one flash diffused on the camera.

You can see that the light is all coming from the one flash on my camera. It is a simple, one dimensional look, with flat light on my subject.

And below is a photo with a diffused flash on camera (in master mode) and one remote light (in slave mode) shooting right into this young man's face.

In this photo you can see light coming from my left and lighting the side of the young man in the chair.

And in this photo, you can really see the directional light coming from my right side and perfectly lighting this young man's face. The diffused flash (using the MagMod MagSphere) on my camera is illuminating the crowd slightly, but the majority of the light is coming from the remote flash.

As I became more comfortable with this setup, I purchased another Speedlite 600EX-RT and shot with two remotes in different corners of the party venue. At that time, I was still using ETTL mode for all the speedlites. This meant that all of the flashes would fire at the same power as my master flash. And if I changed the power settings of my master flash, the remotes would adjust the same way. I am still using multiple remote flashes for events, but now I have found an even better way to control them. But that is coming up on the next blog post.

Here is a photo with me using two remote speedlights and one diffused on the camera.You can see both remote speedlites on Manfrotto 12 foot light stands behind the kids.

In the second part of this blog post, I am going to tell you how I learned some new tricks and took even more control of the lighting using the same Canon 600EX-RT flash units.

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1 comment:

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