“Speedliter’s Handbook” – I HATE this book! You should buy it!

by planetMitch6 Comments

Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites” — I do indeed HATE this book – immediately upon opening the shipping package and skimming thru the nearly 400 pages I thought to myself, “I love this book – no, I hate this book!” and instantly my photography life became a wreck. Why all this angst? Well, I've been a photographer for well over 30 years – mostly an amateur hacking but I've been learning along the way – but I've always been a “natural light” guy. <confession> I've never wanted to take the time to learn how to use a flash </confession> – yes it is true! When I first started so long ago, flash units seemed really confusing because you had to do some calculations about distance and power and stuff – YUCK (I can just hear my teenagers saying “ya Dad, see? You hate math too!” HA!). In the days of film, you had to want to learn because you didn't get to see your results right away like we do today. It was just not in the cards for me.

Redrock Micro

So, that was my gut reaction to the book – tho I was tired and it was late, I spent 30 minutes skimming thru the book and the more I skimmed, the more I wanted to read sections right then and there! Now, I must tell you (and you've probably guessed it already) that I haven't spent much time reading other books on using flash, so I might not be the best to evaluate the content as compared to other experts in the field, but I can say that I was immediately drawn in and I wanted to read much more of this book.

Another little disclaimer: I met Syl Arena once and he's a funny guy. I was at the collision conference back in late 2009 and went to lunch with Syl, the Bui brothers, and Drew Gardner. That was some lunch! In fact… before lunch started, I had a Zacuto Z-Finder on my camera, and by the end of lunch, Drew had bought it from me (they weren't available yet in the UK at the time). But that lunch would be a whole other post if I told you everything that happened LOL!

About the book

This has actually been one of the harder reviews to write – not because there are problems with the book, it is indeed incredible – but because I've avoided flash for so long that I decided to go out and buy one and actually use the book. Reading thru the book for the review just made it too desirable to learn more. So I took the book and my new Canon Speedlight 580 EX II on the family vacation a few weeks ago – determined to learn more and to really evaluate the book.

Of course, it turned out that I didn't get to do that much experimentation – I was focused (bad photography pun) on spending time with the family. But on several of the drives where my wife and daughter (learning to drive) took over the driving duties, I grabbed the book and read. I even warned them that there were going to be flashes going on in the back seat!

Before I went on the trip, I also purchased an extension cord and a wireless remote, but it turns out that neither worked… still don't know why or what I did wrong, but the vacation wasn't the time to fool with them. So all of my practicing was done with the dreaded on camera mount – which I knew was “wrong” and Syl does a great job of explaining early in the book why on camera flash isn't the right way to go about lighting your images. But that's all I had – so we worked with it.

The book itself

The book is broken down into 4 sections:

  • Before Speedlites, there was light
  • Speedlites Fundamentally
  • Gear for Speedliting
  • Speedliting in action

Each section has plenty of detail and it makes sense to lay the book out this way – it gives the volumes of information some clarity of purpose. If you're already somewhat experienced with the speedlites, you can just focus on the last 2 sections – learning more about extra gear and ways to use your flash.

There's even a “Chapter 0” – something I've not seen before – but it makes a great deal of sense – for the newbie like me, it covers the very basics of the entire book and is a great introduction to the concepts to be covered later.

Note about the electronic version

I didn't buy the electronic Kindle version, but I did download the ‘preview' – and you should note something. The titles for the photos are ABOVE the image – but in some cases, that puts the title for the next image BELOW the previous image – making it appear that it is the description for the image right above it. This can be incredibly misleading and I think is a major error on the part of the folks creating the electronic version. A PDF version would be much better than what you get with the Kindle version because it would match the beautiful layout of the paper book. Here's a snapshot:

speedlighter's handbook kindle version image caption problems

What makes it worse to me, (tho once you learn that the captions are in FRONT of the images you might be able to struggle thru it) is that paging back and forth in the kindle book causes the images to shift pages – especially if you changed orientation from portrait to landscape) – so you won't always see the page the same way!

I'd really really prefer a PDF version of the book – or better yet? an iPad app! 🙂

This is an HDSLR site, what about video?

Well, this book isn't aimed at video – but since your HDSLR is cool and does both photos and videos, this book will teach you a lot about lighting. I've been blessed to be on a film set and have learned from many about lighting for video – and tho there are differences, this book will teach you some of the same concepts. And much of what you need to know for video is here – angles of light, blending light etc… but you'll want to read this as an introduction and then move to a specific movie lighting book. However, if you're doing both photo and video, this will give you all the basics and more.

Pros and Cons!


  • Beautiful layout and well put together
  • Just about as complete a book on lighting and flash as you could want
  • 390 very full pages
  • Very effective photos


  • The kindle version isn't very effective – tho workable – see notes above
  • Not a “quick read” (not really a negative) tho each chapter has “the short version” to give a quick overview


Again, I'm new to speedliting so maybe there are some other books I need to explore – but for me, this book is just about as perfect as you can get for covering all of the aspects of using flash. I have yet to get thru the entire thing (which will take a while since it is almost 400 pages!) but I will do my best to get thru it and learn everything included. It feels like it is a week long class!

Blogger's Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book in return for a review. Many times I've given away books after I've reviewed them, but not this one! I'm keeping it! Go buy your own 😉

(cover photo credit: snap from the cover of the book)

Zeiss Cinema Lenses


  1. Hey Mitch!

    Thanks for the hate! @:–) I totally agree that the Kindle version of the Handbook sucks. As the author, I have no control over this. The e-versions are handled by the publisher.

    It’s not even the publisher’s fault. Rather it’s a shortcoming of the ePub technology that’s behind the Kindle. ePub handles text just fine…but text and pix is problematic.

    The PDF version is brilliant and beautiful. I was stunned when I recently saw the Handbook on an iPad. The pix were scalable and the captions in the right place.

    So, I encourage everyone to let Amazon know that they should find something better than ePub for photography books on the Kindle…like PDFs.

    In the meantime, get the PDF version if you want to carry the Handbook around on your tablet or laptop.

    Looking forward to our next lunch, Mitch!


  2. Syl, if you have a kindle, it doesnt really matter if you use ePub or PDF’s.. Its the B&W EInk screen thats not suitable for photo books. You really need a tablet with a color LCD for that kind of thing.

    Though come to think of it, a kindle version might be good for people as an easy way to look up things on a shoot. You can even read it on your smartphone. But the smartest thing would be if you got a handy digital version WITH your paper book.. So you dont have to buy it twice.

    But Amazon should really be smacked hard on their heads, for setting the price on the kindle version higher on a lot of their books, if not all.. That just makes no sense to me.

  3. I LOVE this book, I also bought the 10m extension cord from OCF Gear. If you have a Speedlight this is the book to buy.

    Best regards from germany !!!

  4. I absolutely agree with how great the this book is for off camera flash. To me, this is the bible of OCF. After reading many books and watching many videos from the likes of Arias, Hobby, McNally, Gardner, etc… I think this is the most comprehensive book on speedlights and contains a wealth of information on lighting in general. Don’t let the Canon centric title scary away any nikon people (i am a nikon person, btw) because the same concepts and techniques apply regardless of system. I can safely say that if you bought one book on OCF, this should be the one. while the other books and training materials are great, this one is so comprehensive down to what each modifier looks like in the same light setup. Kudos to Arena.

  5. Agree with what you’ve said completely. Just posted a short review of the book on my blog as well. I liked it and I’m a Nikon shooter. 🙂

  6. I read the sample pages on Amazon today, and just wish I had the real book in my hands. I just wanted to keep reading. I am ordering mine tomorrow.

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