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Lighting on the move - unleash your creativity with speedlights...

What is a speedlight?

The Speedlight is a small battery-powered flash that can work either when mounted or not. The two basic settings are Manual and TTL.

Speedlights are starting to gain popularity among portrait and even studio professionals. They are small, very light, quick to set up and tear down, and lastly, the price.

The term Speedlight was coined by Nikon in early 1960. They used it to name Nikon flashes that weren’t built into the camera. Then Canon showed up with its own term, Speedlite. Nowadays, manufacturers will use one of the two terms to refer to their camera-mounted portable flashes.

The original camera-mounted flash units were manual and would always output the same amount of light. Shortly after, automatic flashes were released. The automatic flashes use a sensor that is mounted in front of the flash to adjust the intensity of the flash.

Time goes on, and all of a sudden, TTL is now mainstream. TTL is the abbreviation for Through the Lens, which means that your camera monitors and controls your flash to give you proper exposure. Basically, it’s an automatic version that lets the camera decide for you.

As usual, innovation naturally comes with a big price tag. Luckily, other companies have reverse-engineered said Nikon and Canon Speedlights to make them more affordable.

In short, the Speedlight definition is a battery-powered portable flash that can be mounted.

How to use a speedlight?

Here's how you use the speedlight:

1. Attach the speedlight

Mount the speedlight onto the camera's hot shoe. The hot shoe is the slot on top of the camera body designed to accommodate external flashes. Secure the speedlight in place by tightening the locking mechanism.

2. Power on the speedlight

Turn on the speedlight and ensure it's ready to fire. Most modern speed lights have indicator lights that show when the flash is charged and ready to use.

3. Adjust flash settings

Depending on your camera and speedlight, you can control flash settings in various ways. Familiarize yourself with your camera's flash settings menu and speedlight controls.

Common settings to adjust include flash power, flash mode (manual, TTL, etc.), and zoom level (if your speedlight has a zoom feature).

4. Choose the flash mode

There are different flash modes you can use:

  • Manual Mode: Set the flash power manually. You control the output level.
  • TTL (Through-the-Lens) Mode: The camera and flash communicate to automatically adjust flash power based on the scene's lighting conditions.
  • HSS (High-Speed Sync) Mode: Enables you to use flash at higher shutter speeds, useful for outdoor portraits or when you want to control ambient light.

5. Adjust flash angle and position

Experiment with the speedlight's angle and position. Bouncing the flash off ceilings or walls or using a diffuser can soften and spread the light, resulting in more flattering and natural-looking results.

6. Sync with camera

Ensure your camera and speedlight are synchronized properly. Most modern cameras automatically synchronize with compatible speedlights. However, if you're using an off-camera flash or older equipment, you might need to set the sync mode manually.

7. Take test shots

Start with test shots to determine the best flash power, angle, and position for your specific scene. Review the results on your camera's LCD screen and adjust as needed.

8. Experiment with flash compensation

Flash compensation allows you to adjust the flash output while retaining the ambient light. It's useful for balancing the flash output with the natural light to create a more natural look.

9. Modify the light

Consider using light modifiers such as diffusers, softboxes, gels, and reflectors to shape and control the quality of the flash.

10. Practice and learn

Using a speedlight effectively takes practice. Experiment with different lighting conditions and scenes to understand how flash affects your photos. Over time, you'll develop a better sense of how to achieve your desired results.

11. Learn to control flash power

Mastering flash power allows you to control the intensity of the light on your subject. This skill is particularly important when balancing flash with ambient light.

12. Continuous learning

Speedlight photography is a skill that can be continuously refined. Study tutorials, books, and online resources to deepen your understanding of advanced techniques.

How does a speedlight work?

As mentioned, speedlights have two basic settings: Manual and TTL.


TTL mode is similar to your camera's Auto mode, which makes automatic adjustments based on information from your camera's built-in metering system.

Placing your Speedlight into TTL mode and holding the camera button halfway down will trigger a pre-flash. Your camera will pick this reading and input this info to the Speedlight to predict the approximate settings for a good exposure. It will consider the distance from the light source to your subject and the amount of light reflected off the subject.


You can also set your Speedlight to use a manual flash setting.

If you set speed lights to manual flash, you can set different power modes to 1/1, which is full power; 1/2, which is half power; 1/4, which is quarter power; and so on.

Setting the power yourself can be difficult, so it is best to use a light meter when determining how much power to use. If you choose to set the Speedlight into manual mode, you are responsible for controlling the flash output you dial in.

You can also control its output by placing the flash closer or further away from your subject. The closer it is to the subject, the more intense your light intensity is, and vice versa.

Why would someone choose manual flash over ttl?

Well, considering your model will be in multiple poses in the same spot. It is beneficial to have a light source that is consistent in every shot and at the same distance from your light source.

TTL is best used when you want to take the guesswork out of using the Speedlight flash because it will automatically adjust the exposure. The thing with TTL is that it can be inconsistent; if your subject is moving or other light sources change, you'll get different flash intensities. If you have it in a manual flash, you have far more control and continuity in your images.

What is the purpose of a speedlight flash?

The purpose of the Speedlight is to add additional lighting to conditions that are too dark for handheld photography.

You can only do so much by changing your settings to allow shooting in dark conditions. Most of the time, you’ll need a slow shutter speed that requires you to use a tripod.

Shooting at a slow shutter speed makes your image prone to motion blur. Since it's almost impossible for most photographers to have their hands not shake for 5 seconds, they need a tripod. Oh, and maybe use a remote shutter release too as an extra measure.

A Speedlight allows you to comfortably handhold your camera to achieve more balanced daylight exposure. You can also use it to add exposure when shooting at higher shutter speeds, allowing you to freeze fast-moving subjects.

Need more power than a built-in pop-up flash but still want it to be flexible? Get a Speedlight. Shooting handheld in low-light conditions, but you’re at your ISO limit? Use a Speedlight.

Besides those, you can also adjust the power of your Speedlight. This helps you to effectively control the spread of light, whether you want it to match your lens focal length or ensure the correct spread and light intensity. It also provides a white card to bounce the flash and also includes a diffuser to create a softer, flattering light.

So, to wrap it up, photographers will mainly use this affordable accessory to help their handheld photographs for exposure issues.

What is the difference between a speedlight and a flash?

A speedlight is a type of flash that sits on the hot shoe.

Other flashes include:

  • Pop-up Flash: the flash built into the camera
  • Strobes or Monolights: larger studio lights

How do I choose a speedlight?

Speedlights are taking the photography world by storm, leading to many photographers purchasing the product on a whim.

Some go for the most expensive speedlights, thinking that a high price guarantees high quality. While some choose the cheapest options without considering that manufacturers would lower the quality of the product to make it cheap.

For starters, it’s highly recommended to purchase a Speedlight produced by your DSLR’s manufacturer. Afterward, you can choose products from a third party like Metz that works with your DSLR. With most flash features being controlled through the camera, you must take advantage of all the available features.

They also come in many ranges of powers/intensity. The guide number tells you that the more expensive a product is, the more power it has. Canon usually has four flashguns in range: 270EX, 320EX, 430EX, and 600EX. For example, “270” is a guide number of 27 meters that relates to your ISO at 100.

Using your basic ISO you can determine the guide number by multiplying the subject distance by the f-stop number. You can also determine your aperture by dividing your guide number by subject distance. This is important because your light intensity is also determined by the distance of your Speedlight to the subject.

Also, consider features like head rotation if you plan to soften or change the light on your subject. There are also “zoom” features that are available in high-end models. It allows the Speedlight to detect changes in the focal length from 24mm to 105mm automatically. This can help you concentrate light to cover long distances.

To further explore the subject of choosing a speedlight, check out this in-depth video by Jiggie Alejandrino.

Is TTL flash necessary?

The Lens Flash or TTL flash can receive information from the camera's light meter. This happens through the multiple contacts at the camera's hot shoe.

Assisted by the metering information from the camera, the TTL flash will automatically set the necessary power output. In modern equipment, the metering becomes really accurate, leading you to take well-exposed images easily.

Each manufacturer has its own TTL flash, some of which are:

  • E-TTL : Evaluative TTL, by Canon
  • i-TTL : Intelligent TTL, by Nikon
  • P-TTL : Preflash TTL, by Pentax

Nikon CLS is considered to have the most sophisticated technology, allowing the user to have more individual control of the camera.

The Nikon CLS allows multiple ratios between multiple groups, you aren’t given complete control though. On the other hand, Pentax doesn’t allow you to configure groups.

“But do I need it?” you say. Well no.

Many photographers recommend skipping TTL and going straight into Manual mode. For photographers, control is simply everything they wish for. Going TTL will make most of your images less desirable, flat, and dulled by their flat background. While TTL focuses on correctly exposing the subject, photographers still want their fair share of dramatic lighting with shadows and highlights in some areas.

The more control a photographer has over their image, the better it generally is. Another problem with TTL is its margin of error. Every time the TTL Flash sends the signal back into the camera, there is a possibility that your camera settings will change.

Shadows, highlights, ambient lights, clouds, and everything else can change the metering. When you go manual, you can just set the power, and it stays the same until the end of time.

To wrap up this section, let’s compare the pros and cons of a TTL Flash to a Manual flash.

TTL flash pros:

  • Flash power and zoom are set automatically when connected to the camera, either via hot shoe or infrared.
  • TTL can be used in any camera mode, Automatic, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and scene modes.
  • You can also use it in manual mode.

TTL flash cons:

  • A TTL equipped with an off-camera flash will mostly be unreliable. Its measurements are affected by the sunlight and line of sight.
  • Pretty expensive, mostly five times the manual flash
  • Hard to replicate results.

Manual flash pros:

  • Really affordable; you can get a quality build manual flash for only $100 (meaning you find a speedlight without a TTL feature)
  • Full control of settings
  • Acquire a faster understanding of your camera and how to use light effectively

Manual flash cons:

  • Only viable when shooting in Manual Mode
  • Both power and zoom must be set manually.

Oh, and please note that TTL is still a great feature. Sometimes, photographers can’t efficiently use manual mode at a location or venue with inconsistent lighting.

It may not be great, but it does get the job done.

There is also detail about HSS (High-Speed Sync), which you shouldn’t worry too much about when starting. If you want HSS, go with a TTL. Manual flash is limited by the camera's shutter speed (usually around 1/200s to 1/250s). A TTL paired with a compatible camera can reach 1/8000s.

In conclusion, a speedlight is essentially a flash with fancy technology that measures and helps you get optimal exposure to the subject. It is mainly a second light source to fill shadows for photographers shooting in poor lighting conditions. Half-pressing the button emits a pre-flash that measures all those little details for you.

While the TTL flash does the job by lighting your subject, you miss out on the creative opportunities and freedom to control your settings. Both have limitations, and their use should be adjusted to your needs and abilities. That’s all from me; good luck!

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