I was recently asked from a fellow photographer about why they should consider adding a speedlite to their arsenal of equipment when they already have a flash built-in to their camera. This is a very legitimate question for those just beginning to get into the world of flash photography. There are many reasons, but I will mention the top ones that come to mind.
1.) A speedlite gives your light directional properties.
The direction of light is such an important concept in photography as all pros will attest to. It doesn’t matter if they’re doing landscape work or studio flash work, the direction of light has a profound effect on the dimensionality of the subject. Light that strikes the subject head on renders it flat looking. Light that has direction will sculpt the subject creating lines, contours, shape and form.
Even if your single speedlite is mounted on the camera’s hot-shoe, it can be swiveled, and pointed so that the light is bounced off a ceiling or wall. Hence the light now has directionality.
2.) By bouncing a speedlite off nearby surfaces, you effectively change the source of light.
The light coming directly from the speedlite is a relatively small light source. If it is pointed directly at a subject, it will render a fairly hard or harsh looking light. If on the other hand, the speedlite is bounced off another surface, that surface becomes the new much larger light source. A larger light source will render a much softer looking light that is more flattering for people photography.
3.) Most speedlites are more powerful than the flashes built in to your camera.
Many people think they only need to use flash when it gets dark and light levels get low. However, one of the best uses for a speedlite is to soften deep shadows. Even when you’re photographing in the middle of the day it is important to have a flash that is powerful enough if you need to soften shadows caused by bright sun.
4.) Speedlites can be triggered off the camera.
By removing the speedlite from your hot-shoe and placing it somewhere else in the room, the possibilities for different lighting scenarios are endless. A single and multiple speedlites can be triggered with pocket wizards, radio poppers, and even by the light from other flashes (including some built into your camera) when set in slave mode. You want to light your subject from behind for a silhouette shot? Easy. Want to bring out the texture in a subject? Cross light.
Most of the popular speedlites such as the Canon 580ex II can be set manually or in automatic TTL mode. It doesn’t get much easier than that. And they can be used as on-camera “masters” to fire “slave” speedlites placed off camera.
So if you do the type of photography where using a flash is commonplace, a good speedlite is a huge advantage over the flash that’s built in to your camera.
As a side-note, I will be hosting a flash essentials workshop on January 28th, 2012 for those interested. Specific information is available on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/DougKeechFineArtPhotography as well as my website http://dougkeech.com