Tuesday, March 29, 2011

REVIEW: Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Photographers by Neil van Niekerk

As promised in my teaser article, I have had a chance to read Neil’s latest book and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. Now it should be noted that this book is about techniques. This means it isn’t a substitute for your camera flash manual, so you may still need that handy when trying to figure how to get your flash system to perform some of the tasks in the book.

Chapter-by-Chapter Walkthrough

Here’s my observations of the various chapters of this book:

1. Why Use Off-Camera Flash

This is a good teaser that gets you excited about what is to come. While I didn’t think the first series of images really sold the point Neil van Niekerk was trying to make, the rest of the images starting on page 10 and beyond sure did. There’s really compelling shots that don’t feel like a flash was used and look like the kind of shot that many of us want to get.

2. Flash Equipment for Off-Camera Flash Photography

Here Neil talks about all the good stuff you’ll need to get going like the Westcott Magic Slipper Plate Adapter (kit), the 1051 (or 1004) stands, Pocket Wizards, Umbrellas, etc…It’s a fun place to get your geek on and spend more money before you get started, but the good stuff that will help you the most comes in the following chapters.

3. Concepts for Flash Photography

This is an excellent chapter that is similar to the one found in the On-Camera Flash Techniques book that teaches you the importance of understanding key concepts like flash sync speed. Good stuff for the new flash enthusiast!

4. Manual Flash vs. TTL Flash

The word manual and anything in photography sends most newbies into a panic, so Neil does a good job of showing the strengths of TTL. More importantly he does what some books miss - he explains how you can use flash exposure compensation to control the results you can get by default from a 580EX II or SB-900

5. Metering for Flash and Ambient Light

I start my Photography 101 classes off with metering because it is such an important concept that is frequently misunderstood. In flash photography things change so people find that what they know to be true without a flash fails when they turn the flash on. Neil does a good job helping you to meter properly and use your histogram to ensure you are getting the best results.

6. Balancing the Flash with Ambient Light

All good books have those few special chapters that are the ones that make them stand apart from other books. Chapter 6 is one of those for this book, and the concepts explain really drive home what is required to get a shot that is well balanced with the environment – under a variety of scenarios.

If you are lazy and only read one chapter – this is the one.

7. Positioning the Flash

This chapter is useful because it includes more than just words and great final results - it includes photos that show the light setup which can be helpful for those who don’t yet think they need an assistant for these kind of shoots.

8. Overpowering the Sun with Flash

Many photography experts like to mention the idea of overpowering the sun with the flash, but nobody explains the why and how better than Neil.

9. Off-Camera Flash on Location

This is a super important chapter as well as Neil shows how he builds up any given shot in stages to get his desired result. This is something that people don’t realize – Neil doesn’t just shoot one frame and have the perfect result, so why should you?

10. Sample Sessions

Neil finishes this book with a bang so to speak as there’s lots of real world challenges and solutions that help you to appreciate what goes on behind the scenes. It’s a bit like being a virtual assistant where you can learn from what Neil does in the field and translates that into your own work.  


Now oddly enough I think the subject of off-camera flash is covered in books much more than on-camera flash. While this book is good, I don’t think it is a important to new photographers as Neil’s first book – On-Camera Flash Techniques (which made my Which Books Should I Read list).

I’m going to list this book as a strong recommendation for non-Canon shooters (especially Nikon) who want something a little more in-depth to complement The Moment It Clicks or Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally. If I had to pick one of those three, I’d pick this one simply because there’s more “how to” in this book than in Joe’s books (which are great as well).

For Canon shooters, I still think there is great value in reading this book but you will find Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites is the Canon Speedlite owners (i.e., 580EX II) dream come true – it’s EVERYTHING you wanted to know about the Canon flash system,accessories and more! It’s a much thicker book and if you’ve got the basics down, then you may find Neil’s book to be just enough to get you in the right direction (with 10% of the required reading time).

Flash Bus Tour attendees will find this book to be a great complement to reinforce to what you learned in Joe McNally & David Hobby’s class. Strobist fans will enjoy it as well.


You can pick up Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Photographers at Amazon.com, and while you are at it you can/should pick up On-Camera Flash Techniques.


I was provided a copy of this book to review by the publisher, and if you make a purchase using the link provided I may get a commission. Thank you for supporting this blog by purchasing online using my link.

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1 comment:

Max Surikov said...

Great review. I saw Neil at the After Dark in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago and the price for the three days was worth it simply by having Neil teach his workshops.