Exploring Small Strobes: Why should I Use a Speedlight

Exploring Small StrobesWelcome to this multi-part series of articles on Exploring Small Strobes by Yanik Chauvin from Yanik’s Photo School.

You’ve probably heard or read this a gazillion times by other photographers so I thought that I would be the gazilionth and one to tell you that creating a great photo is all about lighting. Light is what sculpts your scene. You can have the best composed shot but if your lighting is crap, good chances that your shot will be also. And sometimes to get good light, you’ll need to work with artificial light sources. One of the most popular light source used by photographers are strobes; also called flashes.

So I figured that I would give you my insights on small strobes (also known as flash guns or speedlights) in this multi part saga here on DIYPhotography.net. So let’s get right to it, shall we.

Next – Why Use Speedlights Off Camera

Seven Reasons for Using A Strobe

For most of you that own a DSRL, you’ll have a built in flash to help you light your subject. So why, oh why would you even bother spending your hard earned cash on another flash that goes right on top of the one you’re used to using? Isn’t it overkill?

The answer to this is yes…. and no. Yes, if you just slap you new speedlight on your camera and use it like your built in flash. All you’ll get out of it is more power. And even then, if you use it in TTL (auto) mode with close subjects, you might as well sell it on Ebay (or to me ;)). Ok, so why get a speedlight then? Here are my top 7 reasons for owning them.

1. Power
Yes, it does crank out more juice than your built in flash, so if your subject is further away, you’ll still be able to throw some light on it.

2. Longer battery life
Your speedlight has its own set of batteries so you’re not using your camera’s battery for the flash. This means that you can get more shots out of one battery charge.

3.  Angle of light
Speedlights have a tilting and rotating neck which allows you to change the light’s main direction. This means that you could bounce the light off a side wall or a ceiling to diffuse your main light source.

exploring small strobes - differnt bouncing angles

4. Keep that lens hood on
Since the speedlight is higher up on your camera, you won’t have to remove your lens hood to prevent shadows in your frame. There are some exceptions with some wide angle lenses though so test it out before hand.

exploring small strobes - Keep that lens hood on

5. Discrete auto focus assistance
Most DSLRs now have an auto focus assist lamp built in for dark scenes. Basically, if it’s too dark, to get good contrasts to focus on, a small light beam shines on your subject. If you’re shooting people, they’ll get annoyed or distracted by the light so forget candid shots. The auto focus assist on a speedlight usually appears as a red grid so your subject won’t even be aware of it.

6. Other features
Depending on the speedlight you purchased, you might have additional features that aren’t available on your built in flash like strobe (multiple flashes during the same exposure) or auto power zoom. Read your manual carefully to find those wonderful surprises.

7. Off camera lighting
You can actually use your speedlight off camera! This gives you complete creative freedom.

exploring small strobes - Off camera lighting

Seven Reasons For Using a Speedlight

Now, let’s quickly look at some of the advantages of using speedlights over studio strobes on location (outside your studio).

I’ve had a permanent studio now for roughly 2 years, but even before that, I owned a few studio strobes for my on location work. I now own 5 studio strobes with tons of light modifiers… and I see myself using them less and less on location. Why?

1. Setup
Small strobes are easier and faster to setup. They’re also faster to pack up.

2. Portability
Small strobes take a heck of a lot less room than bulky studio strobes. This means, smaller bags, less back pain and more room in the car for assistants or cold refreshing beverages. :)

exploring small strobes - portability

3. Versatility
These suckers can go practically anywhere! You’re shooting your client in a room the size of your closet? No problem! You need to fake a lit desk lamp? Replace the bulb with your speedlight! You get the idea.

4. Cost
Each of my studio strobes cost me $700.00. You can get some speedlights for less than $200.00 with the average cost being around $350.00. Not only will the strobes cost less but also the accessories like gels and grids, just to name a few.

5. Sync Speed
Most studio strobes will sync up to 1/250 second. That’s fine and dandy for most situations but sometimes you just might need that extra shutter speed. Being a Nikon guy, I could theoretically sync my speedlights up to 1/8000 second. I’m not sure how other manufacturers’ strobes work with this function so please read your manual.

exploring small strobes - syncspeed

When Not To Use A Small Strobe?

Of course, they are less powerful than studio strobes and in some situations not powerful enough unless you use 3 or 4 of them. That’s when studio strobes make it into my car.

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of this series on Exploring Small Strobes. Stay tuned for part 2 as we ask ourselves: Why should we use speedlights off camera?

Get Yourself a Strobe:


Yanik Chauvin is a professional photographer from Ottawa, Canada. His main focus is on stock and commercial photography. As a teacher with more than 10 years experience, he started Yanik’s Photo School as a way to give back to other passionate photographers.

All images on this article were taken by Yanik Chauvin  from Yanik’s Photo School