My Gear – Canon 600EX Flash

Okay so if you read this last week and saw no photos I apologize I had scheduled it but did not get to add the photos in time so I pulled it back.  But I’m ready this week ;)  Plus I have a few more examples so it worked out in the end!!

This is the latest post in my on going series about my gear!  Check out previous posts below:

Gear Philosophy

50 1.2

35 1.4

100 2.8

70-200 4.0

Now that we’ve covered the lenses in my bag let’s talk flash!  Now I am by no means an expert of off camera flash (OCF) or heck even on camera flash so if your looking for a tutorial on using your flashes I can point you to some great resources that actually know what they are talking about!  This is just what I have used and what I currently use and why!

So the first flash I purchased was a Canon 430ex, I don’t even remember when I got it.  I vaguely remember getting a stofen diffuser for it from Penn Camera to soften the light.  There is no bounce card for the 430 but a great trick I learned from Jasmine Star is to stick a white business card in it to get the same results.  So when it came time to shoot my first wedding David was shooting along with me.  I had rented a camera body for him and at that point I picked up a 580EX flash so I had something with more power and this way we both had on camera flashes.  So I continued the route of using the 580 on camera and the 430 sat in my bag.  I wanted to add more dimension to my reception photos after awhile so while second shooting I thought I’d try out some OCF.  Now if you want some great tutorials on OCF check out The One Light Workshop or my favorite Melissa Jill’s posts on her blog.  I didn’t have the same equipment she used but the principle was still the same as far as settings and where to place the OCF.

I refer to my 580 and 430 setup as my ghetto fab setup!  The reason being I used the …..gasp…. built in Canon line of sight system.  That’s right no fancy Pocket Wizards (PW) or Radio Poppers (RP) here.  A set of them runs about $500 and I decided very quickly what I had would work just fine ;).  Kind of like when I thought we needed a new grill last week because a part had rusted through, a quick comparison between a new grill and replacing the part had me deciding our old grill was just fine!  Anyway I typically set both flashes to ETTL and pushed the on camera flash compensation up a stop.  So while this system works great you have to make sure the flashes can see each other.  That means if someone is blocking the line of sight the OCF is not going off.  It also means you can’t do the cool shots with the flash hidden behind the couple lighting them up.  But I will say this system worked great for me all of last year and if you are looking to get into OCF without dropping tons of money this is the way to go.  You can definitely get great results using just these two flashes!

So that takes me to this season.  I wanted to get more creative with my OCF and I was limited by the line of sight system.  So I was looking into PW’s and RP’s but I kept hearing mixed reviews from friends about them not firing consistently.  At this point the 5d3 was coming out and I heard a new flash was being announced too with radio built in.  So I waited till they both had hit the store and headed over to the Gear forum on the Digital Wedding Forum.  I figured these guys would be able to tell me all about the new features.  I explained to them how I used my current setup and asked if it was wiser for me to sell what I had and get two 600EX’s or pick up another 580 and a set of PW’s or RP’s.  They recommended going with the new 600EX’s because of the built in radio frequency, it meant I wouldn’t have to buy any additional gear.  Which also meant less gear to troubleshoot if there was a problem!  So I purchased a set and tried them out at the next wedding.  I was second shooting so it was a great time to test things out, my primary shooter had me go outside onto the balcony with two walls between me and the flash, one interior and one exterior, no line of site and they fired every time!!!

At my 5/19 wedding I had my second shooter Lindsay hide behind my couple with one of the 600’s to light them up from behind for a fun effect.  I wasn’t sure it would work but it fired perfectly!!  We got the shot!  So I plan to experiment more this year with using my OCF for different effects plus I need to learn how to better use the 5d3 to control the settings right from the camera.  A great feature but it only works with the latest camera models.  It’s all still a work in progress but learning new techniques never happens overnight!  In fact I just picked up a tip this past week that I WISH I had known before!!!  When you pull out your flash switch your camera to One Shot mode and the flash puts out a little tracking grid for your camera to lock focus.  OMG how did I not know this before!!!  Lindsay and I tested it on the original 5d and the 5d3 and it works on both.  Now it doesn’t work in fast moving situations but it works a heck of a lot better then trying to pre-focus on something at the same distance when shooting night portraits.  When it comes to distance I’m terrible at my estimations so if I pre-focus I need to crank up the aperture to make sure I have enough DOF in case my estimate was wrong.  I was able to focus on my couple this past weekend in relative darkness because of this nifty technique, there is no way I would have gotten it otherwise!

ISO 1600 f/1.8 1/125 – So this was my first shot attempting to use my OCF to light my couple from behind and create that rim lighting around them.  What I like about using my flash this way is that it separates my couples from the background.  Now I still have a long way to go with this but it was fun for my first try!  Plus you can see how it lit up the inside of the trolley so it wasn’t a black hole.  Lindsay was crouched down holding it behind them.  I could have dropped my ss here but there really isn’t any extra ambient light to pick up plus I had just shot them doing there grand exit and I kept my speed high enough to stop their motion from that.  So I just chose to leave it.

ISO 1600 f/2.0 1/125 – The flash was behind Margo’s sister adding some nice light to her hair and lighting up the guests looking on from behind.  I had an on camera to light up her face.  No way I could do this before because there is a giant silver sculpture between me and the flash.  I love having radio transmission built in!!!  My aperture at 2.0 give me plenty of DOF for one subject and makes her pop from the background guests.  I chose 1/125 because I was using it to adjust the power of the light I was getting from off camera, when I dropped it down the off camera flash was blowing out her hair.  (Note I had my off camera flash set manually to the lowest setting.)

ISO 3200 f/2.0 1/160 – Attempt number two at lighting my couple from behind.  This time my second shooter Rachel was crouched behind the couple.  Now on this shot it the only thing my camera would grab focus on what the museum sign which had me running like a crazy person for the lights on the sides of us and trying to judge my distance to match what I needed to get my couple in focus.  This was pre one shot knowledge!  I took a shot and then zoomed in on my LCD quickly to verify that yes they were in focus!  Hurray!  I adjusted my ISO to give me a little bit more ambient light, picked 2.0 for my aperture because I wanted them both in full focus plus I was guesstimating on my distance.  I just adjusted my ss to get an exposure I liked.

ISO 3200 f/2.5 1/100 – This is pretty much my favorite way to use OCF, if that light was just a bit more to the right so Margo was blocking more of it I’d love this shot even more.  As it is the bright light doesn’t bother me, it draws your eye but my couples faces are right there too.  Again ISO 3200 just gives me a little bit more ambient light, f/ 2.5 because they are dancing and I want them to stay in my plane of focus.  1/100 to stop their motion since there was plenty of ambient the flash wasn’t completely overcoming it.  By boosting my ISO my flash doesn’t work as hard to put out stronger flashes so it lasts a bit longer.  I could have dropped my ISO and shutter speed and my flash would have had to work harder to put out more light to compensate.

ISO 6400 f/3.2 1/60 – This is more how I like to have it where the subject is blocking it but we get a nice rim light that separates them from the background.  Plus there isn’t a black hole behind them which can happen often when not using your flash properly.  This venue is an old mill and the ceilings are black so there is no way you are bouncing the flash off anything but your bounce card pretty much.  I went with ISO 6400 because of the darkness,  I dropped the shutter speed here to let in more ambient light too.  My aperture of 3.2 give me a bit more DOF which I like during dancing shots. (Note the grain here is not noise from 6400 it was added in post because I liked it being a grainy black and white)

ISO 10000 f/4.5 1/100 – So this is a sneak peek from Thursday’s post but it was a new way I used my flash and I wanted to share!  I’m trying to get better with my ring shots, my friend Korie Lynn does amazing ring shots with her flash at receptions after dark and I’m always blown away and jealous!  I wonder how does she do it!!!  So with the event schedule on Saturday I didn’t have a chance to shoot the rings until about 30 min after sunset.  I tried using the ambient light outside but even with one shot I just couldn’t lock focus with my macro lens.  Macro’s can be touchy when trying to lock focus with plenty of light let alone no light.  So I started looking around the reception for light that I could use, the tent lights had been dimmed already but there were candles in jars on the tables.  I grabbed three of them and formed a half circle around the rings with the jars of light.  Then to be extra fancy I set my OCF behind them on it’s little stand about a foot back.  I used the light from the candles and my tracking beam to lock my focus and then started firing off shots.  My on camera flash was set to ETTL, I think my off camera one was too but I’m not positive. (It was a long 11 hour day, my brain was a little fried by this time).  I cranked the ISO up because I’ve been testing how far I can push it on the 5d3 plus I didn’t want to over power the rings with flash.  I wanted a pop to light them up but not blow them out.  Since I was using my flash I was able to bump my aperture to f/4.5 and get more DOF so the whole face of Ashley’s beautiful ring is in focus instead of just the prongs or one set of diamonds.  My ss was set to 1/100 because I sway when I shoot and I need that assurance that I don’t have motion blur.  I’ll definitely have to play around more and get a better starting point on my settings for these shots.  I’m pretty happy with this one though!

ISO 10000 f/2.0 1/100 – So I love to do a blue sky venue shot when I can!  I read a how to on Melissa Jill’s blog and I always add it to my schedule now.  I knew looking at the tent that it would be fun to get the orange colors inside contrasting with the beautiful blue color in the sky.  I thought it would be fun to add Jeff and Ashley into the shot to show a quiet moment between them contrasting against the party going on behind them.  Again I wanted to light them up from behind and set my trust little flash on the grass behind them.  I used the fabulous tracking beam thingy to get my focus and fired off a shot!  Perfect!  We took a couple of these and they loved them!  Next time I need to pull the flash back farther and see how that looks, I put it a bit too close to them this time.  It’s all about learning new things though!

Melissa Arlena Photography is an award winning wedding, newborn, maternity, anniversary, engagement, lifestyle and family photographer in Fredericksburg, Virginia and surrounding areas. Ready to book your session?  Contact me now for more information!

  • Beautiful shots – great job with the ring shot and blue sky! I love seeing how everyone uses OCF. :-D

  • Great post! I might have to consider switching soon as I wanted to throw my flashes at the wall this weekend :) Oh and Melissa Jill has also done a new post where she has switched as well to the 600s.

  • Amit Garg

    I had also recently switched out my 550EX’s to 2 600EX-RT flashes. The flashes are limited in some of the features because I am still using the older Canon bodies. Overall I like them much bette than the old flashes. Thanks for your tips on rim lighting the couple by hiding flash behind them..will have to try it next time!

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