Pimp Your Speedlight

I love what you can do with speedlights these days. All the accessories, the add-ons, the bling! They are extremely versatile, easy to pack, and powerful enough to tackle even the toughest jobs. At WPPI this morning, I did a presentation on how to use and maximize your speedlights. If you were there, you can download the program notes here. You’ll need the password I gave you at the presentation to open the PDF file.

The first part of being a speedlight maven is having the right bling. We talked about several gadgets to hold, boost, power, modify, and attach speedlights to just about anything. Some of my favorite gadgets include the PocketWizard Plus III wireless transceivers, Sticky filter gels, a Gorilla Pod for holding that light anywhere, and the mini Fat Gecko suction cup mount.

With a handlebar mount for small action cameras, you can attach a speedlight to any pole-like object, including an old broomstick, if that’s what you have a available. You’ll also need some type of cold shoe to 1/4” thread adapter so you can stick that speedlight on just about anything designed to hold small cameras. The Tamrac Zipshot is another super light and compact tripod-like stand for small cameras that works really well as a flash holder too.

I’ve talked before on my blog about the benefits of using a variable neutral density filter to shoot outside with wide apertures and balanced flash. Using an ND filter is much more efficient for your flash than using high-speed sync – by nearly 2 f-stops sometimes. By setting my shutter speed to 1/250th or slower I can get the maximum output from my flash, which is even more important when you use it in a modifier of some sort since they will suck the light right out of them. My favorite variable ND filter is the Singh Ray Vari ND thin mount. There are cheaper alternatives, but you get what you pay for. No joke.

Another use for the ND is turning day in to night. I’ve created some really dramatic, evening looking images in the middle of the day by using my Vari ND and setting the camera to 2500K white balance (very tungsten). Then I put tungsten Sticky Filter gels on my flash to normalize the light on the subjects. For example, in this setup the client wanted a romantic moonlit pool shot, but I could only shoot it in the middle of the day. I used this technique to turn the sunlight in to moonlight and illuminated my couple with a very large Octodome with 3 speedlights mounted behind it.

I also love the versatility of a large scrim. With it, I can create beautiful window-esque light anywhere and it’s easy to fold up and transport to a clients home or anywhere on location. With one or two speedlights firing through it, you have enough power for most situations – indoor or out. 


Speaking of multiple speedlights, it makes a lot of sense to double or triple up your lights when feasible so you reduce your recycle times, stretch your batteries, and garner the oomph you need to light up your life.

To mount 2 or 3 speedlights in my small Photoflex Octodome, I got 2 extra brackets and with a slight drill mod I mounted them around the speedring. The photo below shows it with 2 lights mounted. 

Once you have a few shiny add-ons for your speedlights, you can achieve most any lighting style you want and rare is the portrait lighting situation that requires more than one or two speeds. Don’t forget to zoom your flash head out to maximum too, for increased output (assuming you don’t need the wide-angle coverage from it). Have fun lighting it up!