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Syl Arena's Speedliting Workshop (Houston) Review

Monday, June 7, 2010 | |

These days it seems like every photographer is offering a workshop. If it's not about SEO, it's about sales or marketing, or tips on how to be a "better" photographer. It's becoming a learning jungle out there, and finding one that will prove satisfying for your money can become quite expensive.

I found Syl Arena's name from a photographer's glowing review of the Paso Robles workshop he taught with Joe McNally. As a Canon shooter, one of the main problems we face is decoding our SPEEDLITES. It's great that you know what exposure means and that you have befriended natural light. But making your own light can be problematic if you can't figure out what the little gewgaws on your 430EX or 580EX do (or whatever speedlite you currently own).

My 580EX was my greatest "frienemy." I love using flash in my Westcott 28" umbrella soft box. However, there are times when it seems like it has its own mind and I'm stumped at the strange way it seems to be acting. When I learned that Syl was going to be touring the country and giving seminars - and that he was going to be in Houston - I jumped at the opportunity.

(Caveat: the following is my attempt to show you the gist of the day. In no way am I giving an actual time-line of events in the sequence each occurred. My story-telling generally tend to go to and fro, whichever event comes to my mind first.)

It was held at the Holiday Inn near the IAH on Saturday, June 5th. (If you missed it, don't worry, there will be one in Austin this fall!) Unlike the crazy herd present at Joe McNally's workshop here late last year, Syl's seminar was less crowded and more intimate. In fact, there was probably less than 20 people who attended, which was terribly surprising but not unwelcome. As someone coming from NYC public schools (and who witnessed the masses at the McNally workshop), I am thankful for classes with a small teacher to student ratio. In fact, I walked away from that day feeling like all my questions had been answered, and that Syl was able to give each of us individual attention whenever we asked a question.

After introducing ourselves, Syl immediately launched into the anatomy of a speedlite: what the icons meant, what they did and how the zoom button also gave you more options than just zoom. There were times when he showed us photo examples, specially during the discussion on High Speed Sync.

syl arena, speedliting seminar, houston
Here, Syl shows us the effect of differing Exposure Values (EV) on an image using his "high tech pointing device."

A lot of basic knowledge was covered for the new or amateur photographer in the beginning of the class as well, like the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO, and how introducing a light source affected exposure; as well as Flash Exposure Compensation and how it worked independently of Canon camera's Exposure Compensation.

syl arena, speedliting seminar, houston
Volunteers (and other persons gently and teasingly volun-told) helped show dynamics of speedliting ratios using different light diffusers.

Lunch time had come all too quickly, and we had opted to go as a group to the diner connected to the Holiday Inn. Even there, Syl was tirelessly imparting knowledge as he answered questions and talked about his experiences, leaving him barely enough time for his own Patty Melt.

syl arena, speedliting seminar, houston
Back at the seminar room, Syl shows us lighting effects when using this extra small "soft box," one of the diffusers used for Off Camera Lighting techniques.

I can't encompass everything we learned in a single post, and frankly, I won't :) There are still seminars by Syl Arena that you can attend. For a list of dates and events, visit Speedliting Events.

I am so impressed by his breadth of knowledge and engaging way of teaching that I am urging you - if you are a Canon shooter and want to spend your money on a "workshop," spend it on something from which you will definitely learn and get your money's worth. And did I mention that you also get Syl Arena's "Speedliter's Intensive Workbook?" This ~70 page workbook is a sneak peak of his book, which will come out sometime in the future.

But just to give you an idea, here's a list of topics covered straight from SPEEDLIGHTING.COM:

Topics of the Seminar
Speedliter’s Vision
* Learning to truly see
* Understanding how your camera sees differently than you do
* Seeing light’s many personalities
* De-coding the color of light
* Deciding whether the light you see is the light you want

Speedlite Controls

* Deciding between manual and E-TTL flash control
* Putting Flash Exposure Compensation to use
* Learning all the Syncs: High-speed, 1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain, Slow-speed
* Custom functions: Optimizing your Speedlites

Light Modifiers
* Using your Speedlite’s bounce and zoom as a light modifier
* On-flash modifiers: grids, snoots, diffusers, ringlights, etc.
* Off-flash modifiers: umbrellas, softboxes, diffusion panels, reflectors, beauty dish, etc.

Off-Camera: Wired & Wireless
* The best uses for on- and off-camera Speedlites
* Corded solutions for moving your Speedlite off-camera
* Sorting out radio triggers: dumb vs. intelligent
* Setting up the 580EX/EXII as a wireless Master
* Setting up the 580EX/EXII and 430EX/EXII as wireless Slaves
* Organizing multiple Speedlites with Groups and Channels

High-Speed Sync
* The mechanics of High-Speed Sync
* Turning noon to night
* Freezing action while Speedliting

Gels: The When, Why, & How:
* Why Hollywood invented gels
* Gels for color correction
* Gels for creative effect

Speedliting Gear:
* Grip gear for Speedlites: from ultra-portable to ultra-sturdy
* Battery charging and storage
* One-, two-, three-Speedlite kits (and beyond!)

So, onwards, my fellow Canonites!


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Houston, TX, United States
Fashion, editorial and fine art photographer based in Houston, TX. Sometime illustrator. Always a dreamer.