Shooting indoors, in low light environments or against a strong contrast can be a real challenge for any photographer. You’ll likely encounter problems of not enough light – or the wrong kind of light falling on your subject – and issues of camera shake, excessive noise, loss of shadow detail and strong colour casts often restrict the impact of your image. Using a speedlight (aka a flashgun) will help you overcome these kind of problems, and learning how to master the light will be sure to transform you into a better photographer. And while most cameras come with a built-in pop-up flash, their effective use is pretty limited. So if you’re serious about creating superior images, here’s 7 reasons why you’ll need to invest in a speedlight.
1) More power
A key and immediate advantage of using a speedlight rather than built-in flash is a huge increase in power. A typical flashgun has a Guide Number (GN) of around 30 – and often it’s quite a bit higher – whereas a pop-up flash typically has a GN of 12. So at the exact same ISO and aperture settings, the speedlight is at least 3-4 times more powerful, allowing you to light subjects at increased distances and to use lower ISO settings for better image quality and narrower apertures for increased depth of field. And not only is a speedlight much more powerful in terms of its output, but it’s faster too. Using a camera’s built-in flash can be pretty sluggish, but a flashgun has much faster recycle times so you’re less likely to miss a moment. What’s more, the flashgun has its own power source – usually 4 AA batteries – so you won’t drain your camera’s battery, allowing you to shoot for longer.
2) Increased control
A speedlight comes with a number of controls that aren’t possible with a pop-up flash. Firstly you have the ability to zoom the light. This means that you can control the spread of the light from wide angle to telephoto, to match the focal length of your lens and to ensure there’s the correct spread and intensity of light in your image. Most speedlights also feature a built-in diffusion panel to help spread the light even wider for ultra wide angle images or to create a softer and more flattering light.
3) Bounce the flash
One of the biggest benefits of using a speedlight is the swivel head, which allows you to adjust the angle up or down by 90º or pivot by 360º. This lets you bounce the light from the flash, and this is an easy way to transform your indoor photography. By bouncing the light from another surface – such as a wall or ceiling – you can spread the light further around the room, reducing the amount of shadows and creating a softer more flattering flash. Bouncing the light also lets you adjust the angle of the light for more depth and control over shadows. For instance, by pointing the speedlight at a wall the light bounces from this surface making it a larger and softer light source, and the angle creates an interesting side-lit, 3D effect. This technique works best with white walls or ceilings as they reflect the light better without any unnatural colour cast that coloured surfaces produce.
4) Diffuse and modify the light
There’s a wide range of affordable accessories that you can pair with a speedlight to create a bucketload of stylish and captivating effects. Included in the box with most speedlights is a diffusion dome. These clip on to the flash head and help spread the light even further around a room, helping to wrap the light around your subject and reduce any distracting shadows.
To get even more creative you can modify the light even further with various attachments including coloured gels, mini softboxes, snoots, barn doors, beauty dishes, grids and other modifiers. Each affects and sculpts the light in different ways, allowing you to explore a host of lighting options and get super creative.
5) Using off-camera flash
Once you’ve got to grips with using your speedlight to overcome challenging lighting situations, the next step is to delve into the world of off-camera flash. This means the speedlight isn’t attached to the camera’s hot shoe when it’s fired, and instead the light is triggered remotely. Some DSLR camera systems have built-in controls to remotely use a flashgun, such as Nikon’s CLS in the camera flash menu that allows you to wirelessly pair your camera with your speedlight. If your camera doesn’t offer this feature or you’re using a third party speedlight, it’s still simple to use off-camera flash with a set of wireless triggers which can be purchased from as little as £20.
Using off-camera flash gives an enormous boost to your creative potential, as the ability to place the flashgun anywhere means you have total control over the light in your image, letting you decide where the shadows will fall, creating more depth and adding a more professional feel to your shots. Trust me, once you’ve discovered off-camera flash it’ll revolutionise your photography.
6) Ultra portable set up
Speedlights are extremely portable. They’re typically smaller than a lens, weight noticeably less and will easily slip into your kitbag, so you can use them anytime and anywhere and carrying one won’t slow you down. Even the accessories to transform your speedlight into a truly creative light source – such as a lightstand, pair of wireless triggers and a shoot-through umbrella – fit into a carry case smaller than a tripod bag. This can be easily slung over a shoulder or fastened onto your bag, so you effectively have an ultra portable studio style light that you can use anywhere. This means you can get stand out shots in the most challenging of locations and there’s no need to cart lots of heavy equipment or break the bank on gear.
7) Affordable accessory
Considering how transformative and beneficial speedlights are, they are a very affordable photographic accessory. You can purchase third party flashguns for under £100, and major brand versions start at around the £200 mark. When you take into account how much you’ve already invested in photography, from bodies and lenses to all the other additional accessories, a speedlight represents excellent value for money. It truly is an essential item for every enthusiast photographer who wants to take better images, so if you don’t have one already it needs to bumped to near the top of your wishlist!