Back to Basics: what are speedlights and should I get one?

'Back to Basics' is a new series of articles about speedlights and how to use them. Do you need one?

Nikon D90 hotshoe

‘Back to Basics’ is a new series of articles about speedlights and how to use them. In our first article, we talk about what speedlights actually are and why you might want to buy one.

What is a speedlight?

A speedlight is a small, battery powered flash unit that can be used on your camera’s hot shoe or used off-camera. A speedlight, unlike continuous light, creates a very short burst of light. Because the light’s flash is so short, there is a need to synchronize the flash with your camera’s shutter.

Godox ThinkLite TT660 compared to Yongnuo Speedlite YN560-III

Can I use a speedlight with my camera?

Depending on a type of camera you have, you might have noticed a square metal accessory on top of it. It’s called a ‘hot shoe’ and it’s usually used for attaching a speedlight onto a camera or a device for triggering an off-camera speedlight. If your camera has a hot shoe, then it means you can use it with a speedlight.

However, some cameras can still trigger speedlights without having a hot shoe. They will use their built-in flash to trigger an off-camera speedlight. Not all cameras can do it so make sure to look it up in your camera’s manual.

Nikon D90 hotshoe
Example of a hotshoe on a Nikon D90 DSLR camera

Should I buy a speedlight?

Many times I meet people, often parents, who bought a speedlight to take pictures of their kids. They use a speedlight only at home and attached to a ‘hot shoe’ with the speedlight’s head facing forward. For me personally, it’s a waste of money because these people could continue using their cameras’ built-in flashes.

However, if you’re genuinely interested in taking your photography to the next level and spend time and even some money for online/offline courses to learn about speedlights and how to use them to make your photos pop, then you can stop reading the rest of this article.

Who should not buy a speedlight (yet):

  • Persons photographing indoor/outdoor sports events.
  • Persons who only want to get more power than their built-in flash.
  • Persons who want to start taking product photography (you should first consider using the available light in your environment, like the natural light and continuous light from a lamp).
  • Persons who just got their first DSLR.
  • Persons who haven’t read their camera’s manual (the manual explains you quite a lot about speedlights and how to use them with your camera; it will also give you an idea if you need a speedlight or if you can accomplish what you want without one)
  • Persons who already know they won’t read the speedlight’s manual (no joke!)

Konrad Dwojak is a professional fashion and portrait photographer. Originally from Poland, he now resides in Memphis, TN.

Konrad Dwojak
Konrad is an international photographer, born in Poland and currently based in the US. He lived in Belgium and the Netherlands before relocating to the US and worked around Europe on a variety of photography assignments. Although he enjoys all types of photography, he focuses on conceptual portraits and editorial photography.