Canon Speedlites

Set-up a Portrait Studio Almost Anywhere

I'm just back from my weekend workshop organized by Amy Davies, who heads up Photography Events by Amy in Plymouth, MA. Great fun as always, and I can't wait for our 2013 workshop.

Day two was about speedlites. My goal was to illustrate that you can set up a portrait studio almost anywhere - and get cool results - with two speedlites and a few inexpensive accessories.

Our "studio" for the shoot was the hallway of an office building in Plymouth. Above is a behind-the-scenes shot.

The main light was positioned above and in front of the model, and to camera right. A grid was placed over the speedlite to focus the light. The speedlite was aimed at the model.

The background light was positioned to camera left and slightly behind the model. It was aimed at the background. A blue gel was placed over the speedlite, which was fired through a cardboard cutout.

Both speedlites were set at TTL. The main speedlight was set to 0 EV, and the background speedlite was set to – 2 EV, so as not to blast the background with light.

Both speedlites were fired via a radio transmitter/receiver set. My camera was set on the Manual exposure mode.

I demonstrate this and other speedlite set-ups on some of my workshops and at my seminars. I hope to see you there.

Gear for this shoot:
Canon 5D Mark III.
Canon 24-105mm IS lens.
Canon Speedlite 580EX II (two), which has been replaced with 600EX- RT.
Phottix TTL wireless transmitter/receiver - transmitter on camera, receiver on each speedlite.
Two stands from Westcott Apollo softbox kit.
Honl gel kit.
Honl grid.
Honl speed strap (for attaching grids and gels to speedlite)
Hand-made and expertly crafted cardboard cutout :-)

Explore the light,

P.S. Learn more about light in my latest Kelby Training class - Light, the main element in every photograph. My apps also include lighting tips.

Speedlite Session at N4C Convention in Des Moines

Emily Weber was our talented model for the session.
A big thank you to the folks at the N4C convention and Des Moines Camera Club for inviting me to present two sessions at their annual event yesterday. Great folks, great fun.

After my presentation, Exploring the Light, I gave a speedlite session, using two Canon 600EX-RT speedlites and my Canon ST-E3 RT radio transmitter.

Photograph by Shane Abbitt
My goal was to demonstrate that even in a hotel meeting room, creative speedlite photographs are possible . . . if you "take the darn flash off the camera," which is my #1 flash photography tip.

I also demonstrated how easy it is to control the flash output of the new Canon speedlites with the new ST-E3 RT wireless transmitter.

I took the opening image for this post while my new friend and assistant (and scientist in real life) Jerry Ranch held a Westcott 28-inch Apollo softbox above the model, who was positioned against a black background. I added the Diffuse Glow filter in Photoshop CS4 to add an additional glow to the glow of our model, Emily Weber.

During my demos, I like to get the attendees involved. Left: voice-activated light stand Shane Abbitt, another new friend, helps out. Right: Jerry Ranch adds some fun and light to the session.

Here are a few quick lighting tips: light illuminates, shadows define; the larger the light the softer the light; the closer the light the softer the light. Want a dramatic portrait? Don't light the entire subject.

Above: Another hotel meeting room shot. I used one speedlite (grid added to focus the light) positioned to camera right to illuminate the model, and another speedite (blue gel added) fired through a cardboard cutout to illuminate the white background.

Jerry "Huevos" Ranch and Rick "The Godfather" jam after the session. Shane Abbitt photo.
One of the many reasons I enjoy traveling and giving seminars is that I get to meet interesting people, many of whom become my friends. Des Moines was no exception. I hope to be back soon for another photo session – and another jam session with photographer/scientist/musician Jerry Ranch.  

My next speedlite session and seminar is in Canada later this month.

Click here for all my events.

You'll find more lighting tips in my apps, Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet and Light It! See my apps page.

Explore the light,

Here's another post I did on the new Canon speedlite system.

Six Days of Speedlite Tips: Day 6

It's Day 6 (final day) of my Six Days of Speedlite Shooting tips. I hope you have enjoyed following along.

Today's tips: The larger the light, the softer the light. The closer the light, the softer the light.

Concept: Use softboxes to create soft and flattering lighting. Place them close to the subject for the same reason. Set your main light at full power (on left here) and fill light on 1/2 or 1/4 power. 

In situations like the one above, use Pocket Wizards to remotely and wirelessly fire your flashes - so you and the parents don't trip over cables. :-)

© Rick Sammon

I know I will not win any awards with the opening picture for this post. It was just a fun family shot for some friends. Usually, I am off in foreign lands photographing different cultures. 

A speedlite is one of my key accessories for on-location portraits. Here's an article on how to use flash outdoors for daylight fill-in flash photography.

Westcott Orb (on left)

For more detailed lighting tips, see my apps.

For hand-on learning, check out my workshops.

Explore the light,

P.S. Here is a link to a post on Plug-ins for Portraits. Check it out.

Six Days of Speedlite Tips: Day 1

© Rick Sammon

It's Day 1 of my Six Days of Speedlite Shooting tips.

Today's tip: Create Cool Rim Light.

Concept: Position the subject slightly in front of a softbox, as illustrated above. Photograph the subject looking straight ahead (in the opposite direction in which the softbox is facing) so you get a profile. Basically, you want the light coming from slightly in front of and behind the subject.

In the shot above, I am positioning the model. For the end-result shot, I was positioned to the model's left side.

You need to experiment with subject position and flash output to get the shot you want.

BTW: A softbox is a very important accessory. It allows you to control the light to a greater degree than an umbrella or an octodome. More on that in future posts.


Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-105mm IS Lens

Westcott Apollo Softbox

Canon STE-2

Tether Tools Table

Tether Tools Cable

Note: The Canon ST-E2 is designed for indoor, line of sight use - although it's worked for me even when speedlites are "hidden" in a soft box. Another option for wireless flash photography are 

Pocket Wizards

. You need both a transmitter and receiver.

For more detailed lighting tips,

see my apps


For hand-on learning, check out

my workshops


Explore the light,


P.S. Here is a link to a post on 

Plug-ins for Portraits.

 Check it out.

Orb or Softbox? That is a question for speedlite shooters

Soft boxes offer directional light. © Rick Sammon
I'm taking the weekend off from posting. Just finished five days of Alaska photos.

This was my most popular posts, so I'm re-posting it for those speedlite shooters who might have missed it.

On my Master Your Flash Workshops, I illustrate - among several other lighting techniques - the difference between portraits taken with softboxes and orbs. We place a speedlite in each flash accessories and get to work – and start to have fun.

Catherine Hall. © Rick Sammon
Basically, softboxes with recessed diffusion panels offer more directional light than orbs. The two illustrations above illustrate directional light from a softbox.

© Jason Ludwig
Above is a picture of me (taken in Dave Cross' studio) using a 28-inch Westcott Apollo softbox to light the subject from above, which was the same technique I used when I photographed Catherine Hall at the Google studio. Speaking of me: You can hire me as a voice activated light stand :-)

Artist Eddi Flemming. © Rick Sammon
Orbs with recessed diffusion panels produce a wider and softer beam of light than softboxes. They are nice to use when you want to light a wider area with softer shadows. I used my Westcott Orb for the photograph above. Orbs also wrap the light around a subject for softer light.

Umbrellas? I don't use them too often, but they are nice for large groups.

For more lighting tips, see my apps.

Explore the light,