Digital Photography Review

How to Use Canon Speedlite Flashes | B&H Explora


Always shooting with an on-camera flash is like always shooting with the sun behind your back. While this is a good way to illuminate a subject and capture an image, it may not be the best way to capture your imagination creatively. Positioning your flash off-camera, using an on-camera flash for fill with a second flash, or shooting with three or more Speedlites at the same time, is a great way to add a new level of expression and control to your photography. And, thanks to the integration of radio transmission on Canon’s latest Speedlites, wireless triggering is made much more reliable.

Wireless Speedlite Shooting Scenarios

Wedding photographers often use wireless Speedlites for double-lighting the bride and groom, backlighting couples on the dance floor, setting-up nighttime shots and creating detail shots of the cake, table settings, floral arrangements, and rings. Showing prospective clients shots with creative lighting is a great way to land more bookings.

Landscape and wildlife photographers make great use of Speedlites, too. For instance, a landscape photographer might wish to take scenic night shots with a building in the frame that is up to 98.43′ away (maximum recommended distance with 600EX-RT and 430EX III-RT). In this scenario, the photographer could position one or more Speedlites inside the structure and creatively control the flash as desired.

Museums and galleries frequently need to have their collections photographed. Much of this type of work involves copy work of paintings and documents. To control the light and expose items evenly, many photographers will opt for using two or more Speedlites placed at a 45-degree angle to the artwork.

Corporate and portrait photographers pressed for time often opt for Speedlites to save time and improve their mobility. By carrying less, they can produce more shots, and travel without a crew. Speedlites can be used with many common light modifiers such as umbrellas and softboxes. Fortunately, the 600EX-RT and 430EX III-RT guide numbers of 197 and 141, respectively, are powerful enough to be used with a variety of modifiers.

Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Pros and Cons of Using an On-Camera Flash

  • Shooting with an on-camera flash is good for events or situations where there isn’t time to set up an off-camera flash.
  • Using an on-camera flash as a fill light is a good way to lighten dark areas without casting a conflicting shadow. When done well, the viewer shouldn’t be aware that a flash was even used.
  • One downside of on-camera flash is that it may result in red-eye.
  • Shooting without a bracket to keep the flash above the lens axis may yield unpleasing shadows on the subject and on nearby backgrounds.
  • While there are attachments that bounce or soften an on-camera flash, they can’t change the position of the flash or move it to where it will do the most good. ­­

Pros and Cons of Using Off-Camera Flash

  • Shooting with an off-camera flash can add dimensionality and improve separation between your subject and the background.
  • Lighting objects from the side is a great way to highlight texture, add drama, and cast interesting shadows.
  • One can employ off-camera flash by simply holding the flash at arm’s length to one side or above.
  • With multiple Speedlites, photographers can create studio-like portraits with hair, edge, main, and fill light. Power ratios can be chosen, as well.
  • Special effects such as backlighting a couple at night, lighting a car interior, or illuminating a far-off subject is easy to accomplish with a remote flash.
  • One downside of using off-camera flash is that it takes a few minutes or more to set up.
  • Shooting in a crowded environment where a flash could get knocked over or blocked by passersby is another situation where use of an off-camera flash may not be ideal.

Bicyclist photographed with two remote flash units

In general, it’s easy to see that the benefits of shooting with off-camera flash outweigh the difficulties. Best of all, Speedlites are easy to carry and fast to set up. Your Speedlite may be triggered with a synch cord, optical pulse, infrared, or radio frequency. Sync cords are good for short distances such as the length of your arm. Optical pulse and infrared are appropriate for line-of-sight flash triggering or in enclosed spaces that are small enough to reflect the pulse or infrared to the flash sensor. Radio frequency triggering is useful for short and long distances up to the limits of your specific equipment. Many photographers simply set it and forget it by choosing radio triggering.

Step One for Wireless

The first step to wireless shooting is to access the flash items on your Canon camera’s menu. While the following example is for a camera with a pop-up flash, cameras without pop-up flashes are almost identical. Simply insert and power-on a Speedlite on non pop-up flash cameras.

  • Power-on, and set your camera exposure mode to Program, Aperture, Shutter or Manual.
  • Raise your camera’s Pop-up flash.
  • Press the Q button on the back of your camera, scroll to the flash icon and select Easy Wireless Flash Shooting to begin. Or you can navigate the menu to Flash Control > Built-in Flash Settings.
  • Choose Wireless Function > ETTL or Manual.
  • Decide on one of three options: 1) off-camera flash or pop-up; 2) off-camera flash alone; 3) off-camera flash + pop-up.
  • Select Channel (set your off-camera flash to same channel).
  • Set Exposure Compensation (or leave at default 0).
  • Choose Firing Group and select All + Pop-up, Off-camera, or Off camera: Pop-up.
  • Pick an ID number. IDs are like unique license plates and range from 1-9,999. The goal is to set the same ID and Channel on camera (Master) and flash (Slave). When not using the Pop-up flash, the on-camera flash or transmitter will become the master.
  • Pick a Channel. The default channel of 1 is fine. However, if there is more than one photographer shooting wirelessly in the same area, you may wish to confer with them to avoid triggering each other’s lights. This is another benefit of wireless shooting over other methods.
  • Test the flash to make sure everything is firing and that you’re happy with the results.

Back view; Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

Step Two for Wireless

The second step to wireless shooting is to access the menu items on your Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT or Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT.

  • Set ID.
  • Set Channel.
  • If used as master, set ETTL or Manual.
  • Select a group such as A, or set multiple groups. In slave mode, the group chosen should match the group on the master.
  • Make sure linked light is orange color (Slave) or green for use as master. The link color will be red if a connection has not been established.
  • Both the 600EX-RT and 430EX III-RT can be used in radio frequency or optical pulse. Note that the 430EX III-RT cannot be used as a master in optical pulse mode. The only current master units for optical pulse include the 600EX-RT and select pop-up flashes.
  • When changing settings during a shoot, do a test pop to transmit the changes to the slaved Speedlites.
  • Consider saving your settings to the memory of your Speedlite for future use.

Using the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter

The Canon ST-E3-RT Transmitter mounts on the hot shoe of your camera and functions as a master controller. The advantages of using the ST-E3-RT instead of a Speedlite, which can perform the same function, are reduced weight and bulk, lower cost, and a flat LED screen that’s easy to view from above. The set-up procedure for the ST-E3-RT is same as for the Speedlites.

Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter

  • Check that the word MASTER is displayed.
  • Choose ID and Channel.
  • The Channel with the best reception can be selected automatically with the AUTO setting.
  • Select ETTL or manual.
  • Choose group such as A, B, C, D, E, or set multiple groups.
  • Test pop to make sure all slave units fire as desired. Master link light will be green and slaves will be orange. Red indicates that a connection has not been made.
  • The ST-E3-RT has the same options as the Pop-Up and Speedlites and include: Flash Exposure Compensation, FEB (Flash Exposure Bracketing), High-speed Synch and FEL (Flash Exposure Lock).

Using off-camera Speedlite in a softbox to add light to an outdoor portrait

General Information

  • You can use two or more master units on different cameras. This is useful on shoots where you want to shoot with different cameras. The link color will be green on the master that was turned on first, and orange on subsequent (sub-masters).
  • Speedlites and transmitters have LED screens with backlighting for easy viewing in low light.
  • E-TTL (Evaluative Through-The-Lens) metering can recalculate the Speedlite output when variables such as ambient light change. This ability is useful for maintaining (within modest parameters) the same look over the course of a shoot. E-TTL II is an updated form of E-TTL and does essentially the same thing, but with added information and modified algorithms to help the photographer recompose and lock focus, while keeping the light on the subject more consistent.
  • There are a total of five different group choices: A,B,C,D and E. 15 different channel choices, and 9,999 different IDs, make it easy to find a combo not being used by another shooter in your area.
  • Ratios, exposure compensation, and exposure bracketing ranges are plus-3 stops to minus-3 stops. These ranges provide the photographer with plenty of creative choices. Conversely, a photographer may simply opt for the default setting of 0 which, in many cases, gets the job done. There’s no need to overcomplicate things. However, it’s good to have options.
  • Using groups makes it possible to select which Speedlites you wish to trigger. For instance, with the main light set to group A and the backlight/background light to group B, one could shoot a front-lit shot, followed by a silhouette, and then set the group to A:B to trigger both lights simultaneously.
  • When using cameras released prior to 2011, remember to set your shutter speed to one stop slower than your camera’s flash synch speed. For instance, if your camera’s flash synch speed is 1/250 of a second, then set it to 1/125 of second (one stop lower) for wireless shooting. The slower speed allows for the extra time needed for the wireless gear to send and receive information over various distances.
  • To verify usable synch speeds, simply do a few test shots. If the shutter speed is too fast, part of the shutter curtain will be visible and result in a dark area on the side of the image.
  • Simple troubleshooting: Make sure your batteries are fully charged and properly installed. Verify that your flash/transmitter is properly seated and locked on your camera’s hot shoe.

Using off-camera Speedlite to create “hatchet” lighting in a masculine portrait

Accessories for Wireless Speedlite Usage

  • Portable light stand with a threaded stud for mounting a remote Speedlite.
  • Triple shoe bracket for using more than one Speedlite on one stand.
  • Bracket for attaching your Speedlite to a light stand with or without an umbrella.
  • Floor stand for positioning Speedlites close to the ground.

Shooting with multiple Speedlites will open up a world of photographic possibilities. However, before heading off to your next shoot, get to know your Speedlites better by spending a few hours testing them in a variety of scenarios. Thanks to the well-organized and intuitive menus, you will quickly become a Speedlite ninja. We look forward to reading your comments.

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