Return of the Speedlight… or not!

Fujifilm sppedlight in non-forest

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out”.
 Galadriel to Frodo , The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp.365-367


During my 20+  years at Beau Photo I have seen many photo trends come and go, as well as many lighting products take the photography world by storm and then fade off to be viewed as passé, superfluous or redundant. Bunch of speedlightsHas the speedlight become one of those products? Perhaps, but not quite yet.

Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and other speedlight manufacturers have seen speedlight sales dwindle. This is due to many reasons, but maybe the biggest is the low light capability of current sensors, which not only see into the darkness (without the need of the phial Frodo received from Galadriel), but allow you to capture a photograph when before you could not.  Modern sensors can have ISO ranges of 50 to 102,400 and more, often capturing things the human eye can’t perceive. But is that enough to get the photograph you are looking for?

Certainly, there are times when bumping up the ISO allows you to take a photograph where you would not have been able to before, or create an image with amazing depth or that conveys a moody or dramatic feeling,  but in most cases a good or great image is about balancing light and darkness, and that is when a speedlight or flash can make a world of difference.  Photographers who mastered the use of a speedlight could use them to fill in the shadows without the subject looking “blown-out” or like a “deer in the headlights”, or recreate the look of the sun on the cloudiest of days. Creatives/ artists used them for  “painting with light”, though this was also done with continuous light. Amazing images were and are still being made with these hand held flashes.

Now is a great time to get into flash photography with so many deals on used speedlights!  We have an excellent selection at the moment, and you can find some listed on our website here:

Speedlight accessoriesThere was a time when almost every photographer owned not one but several speedlights and never left for a job or event without one. Along with that, there were a plethora of speedlight accessories to go along with them – beauty dishes, diffusion caps and domes in various shapes and sizes, bounce cards and reflectors, and softboxes that fit on a small flash, and when one speedlight was not enough, you might have a bracket to hold 2 or 3 or 5 speedlights. The possibilities seemed endless.

Then there was always flying through batteries almost too hot to touch as you quickly tried to change them before the next photograph. I think it just got too much for most photographers, and not what the current generation of photographers were going to buy into.  These frustrations, and  new advances in sensor technology have added to the demise of the speedlight, even though they still perform as well as they did before, and can add much needed light to an image.

Is there a future for the speedlight?

Profoto A10 flashWith the renaissance of film camera sales there has been a growing interest in older speedlights for film cameras but this is small compared to the sales levels of the past. I think partially the answer will be in its evolution. For example the Profoto A10 , though called an off camera flash, takes the lowly speedlight to new levels. It has a round flash head, creating a much more pleasing illumination of light and light falloff compared to a rectangle shaped flash. It also has a recyclable Li-Ion battery, so you might photograph all day without even having to change the battery once. Photographers need ease of use and consistent results, as well as the ability to achieve their creative vision and take it to new a level, which the A10 is able to provide. Though the cost may sound prohibitive at first glance, when it is seen as an investment in your photographic  journey,  and compared to what you might pay for something like service fees for your smart phone over the year, you may not think it is so out of reach.

The second part of the answer is in education. New photographers need to learn about the power and creativity of flash. Working with daylight can be amazing, as you get to see where the sun is illuminating and you try to capture that moment, but it can be fleeting as well. Working with flash can save your photo session and get you the image you were looking for. It takes time and practice and sometimes advice from a photographer with more experience.  From time to time Beau Photo offers free workshops on lighting for portraits, fashion etc. You should sign up for our newsletter and BFF emails as that is where we post these events. Register and attend, and up your lighting skills.

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Beau Photo Supplies Inc.
Beau Photo Supplies Inc.