Flash basics and more

Flashes can be your best or worst friend, depending on the situation, ambient lighting, and what you know about how your flash operates. Many photographers opt to not use a flash if it’s at all possible because natural light is softer and usually provides the best tonality and depth to an image. Yet a flash is necessary in many instances, and it’s important to know how and when to use one; furthermore, there are many technological features as well as methods for using flashes to obtain the very best possible and most creative results (see 8-1), and to overcome some of their inherent drawbacks.

This image of a model on the banks of the Neva River in St Petersburg, Russia, was taken in the middle of the day; however, because I shot it at 1/250 second with a very low ISO (50) and a rather narrow aperture (f/13), without the flash it would have been very underexposed. The results provide an almost nightlike image. Taken with a 1D Mark IIn with a 550EX Speedlite using an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens.

Historically, there have been many limitations of flash photography for which photographers have invented a wide variety of innovative gimmicks and rigs. However, today’s flashes now integrate incredibly sophisticated features that render these homemade devices largely unnecessary. Canon offers a wide variety of flash innovations and options, ranging from the simple pop-up on-cam-era flash common, to many (but not all) dSLRs, to externally mounted Speedlite models. The more you know about how to use the Canon flash capabilities, the better your photos will be and the more confident you’ll be in using them the right way at the right time.

The Canon Speedlite flashes offer excellent, Canon-dedicated lighting with very advanced technology. The newest model, the 580EX II, has a noticeably faster recycle time and has been optimized to integrate with your camera’s digital sensor for the best-quality images with a flash. Its autofocus- (AF-) assisted beam is compatible with all the Artificial Intelligence Autofocus (AiAF) points on every Canon EOS dSLR. It also communicates white-balance information to the camera so that images have correct colors, and even the body has been optimized to be water-and-dust resistant just like the Mark II and III cameras. If you use it with a Mark III, you can control flash settings and functions from the camera’s menu.

The Speedlite 580EX II (see 8-2) is essential for the widest-possible set of features where a flash is required. Shooting large groups, shooting subjects at a distance, and being able to control the flash’s power settings are just a few advantages; additionally, you can add an external power source, use the flash dismounted from the camera, use multiple/remote flashes using wireless transmission, and bounce the flash off the ceiling or wall and rotate/turn the flash. If you’re shooting an event such as a wedding, a medal ceremony at a big sports event, or a news event, then you’re certainly going to need the flexibility and power that this external flash provides.

The Canon Speedlite 580EXII is Canon's newest external flash and works with any Canon dSLR. It features a variety of advanced features that give the flash many different ways it can be used, both on and off camera.

Canon offers two other notable Speedlite flashes that are great considerations for a number of photography applications, as well. The Speedlite 430EX is a very capable external flash, and, while it doesn’t provide the complete set of bells and whistles (meaning it doesn’t have as many customizable/manual features) that you get with the 580EX II, it’s a great flash to use with cameras┬ásuch as the Rebel series or the 40D. The Speedlite 270EX is the entry-level external flash and, while it cannot be operated manually (or wirelessly), as a simple, very affordable external flash it is still more powerful than an internal flash and will help you avoid problems such as red-eye.


After taking a flash shot, recycle time is how long it takes the flash to be ready to fire again.

Category: Flashes

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