Merriam dictionary defines photography as “the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface (as film or an optical sensor)” – emphasis added. In essence, photography is about capturing light. Any photographer that has taken more than a few pictures can tell you that lighting is EVERYTHING. Photography is the art of understanding and manipulating light. For the most part, there are two types of light photographers use; natural light and artificial light. Natural light is the light you get from the environment, most often from the sun. Some people consider ambient light as natural light as well. Ambient light is the light you have available during a shoot that you don’t really have a lot of control over. Ambient lighting can include lamps, ceiling lights, or even candles. Artificial light is pretty much everything else that photographers use to control the lighting of a particular shot. There are great debates between photographers that prefer natural light versus those that prefer artificial light and which photographer is ‘more skilled’ based on their ability to use one exclusive to the other. I’m not here today to throw fuel on that fire – a debate I actually find ridiculous. Instead, I’m here to talk about a recent shoot I did where I fell in love with equipment I already own, and quite honestly, already loved.
Out of all of my equipment, there is one item I repeatedly recommend to others that they should buy. If you are a photographer looking to break into the world of speedlight or flashgun photography, do yourself a favor and look at the Yongnuo flashes first – specifically the III series. They are simply incredible. These third party flashes are a fraction of the price of comparable Canon or Nikon flashes and perform just as well, if not better, in most circumstances. The only caveat to these flashes is that they may not be quite as powerful as some of the name brand models, but I have yet to shoot in a circumstance where I couldn’t get enough light from these flashes. Even if I do run across such a situation, I will simply use multiple flashes to increase the light output.
Since I use Nikon equipment, I will use their products as a comparison. Decent Nikon flashes can range from about $150 to well over $500 for the more advanced units. The Yongnuo 560 III is currently selling for about $65. There is a newer model, the IV, that is slightly more expensive at $70. Even if you had a situation where the Yongnuo isn’t as powerful as the Nikon equivalent, again which I have yet to encounter, you could still buy several Yongnuos and still be at about the same price as one of the cheaper Nikon models. From a purely financial standpoint, the price alone makes these flashes the better buy. The 560 III I am reviewing here is not a TTL (through the lens metering) flash. For the type of off-camera flash photography I do, the camera typically gets it wrong with TTL so I shoot manual almost exclusively for off-camera flash photography.
But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. How do they perform? I have had at least one of these flashes for several years now. In fact, I now own four of these flashes and wouldn’t hesitate a second on getting others should I need them. One of my first shoots with these flashes, I used four flashes, two of which were set to full power and the other two set at half power. And no, it was the composition of the shoot itself that dictated the flashes be set that high and not that the flashes were generally not strong enough. In retrospect, I probably could have dialed down the power on all of the flashes for the shoot and it still would have come out just as great. Aside from this shoot, I doubt if I have set my flashes higher that half power since. Simply haven’t needed to. Given the price of the flashes, I wholeheartedly expected the flashes set on full power to fail sometime during the shoot. You get what you pay for, right? The flashes performed amazingly – for that demanding shoot, and every shoot since. I have dropped a couple of flashes over time and they still have yet to fail me.
If you want to get your flash away from your camera for some ‘strobist’ work, you have several options. I purchased the Yongnuo RF-603 wireless flash triggers. You simply slap one on the top of your camera and the Yongnuo flashes will trigger whenever you take a picture (when set in the right mode). The flashes DO NOT have to be attached to the camera. They are triggered by a radio signal from the flash trigger. I have yet to find a circumstance where the distance was too great for the flashes to receive the signal. I have tested the combo at a maximum of 50 feet and they still worked. These are decent wireless triggers. There are definitely better ones on the market but these do exactly what they claim to do without fail. The only downside to these basic triggers is that they only send a signal to trigger the flash(es). They cannot control the power level or zoom of the flash heads.
For complete control of the 560 III, consider picking up the Yongnuo YN560-TX flash transmitter. This device mounts on the camera flash shoe and allows you to remotely trigger several flashes, again, wirelessly. Not only can you group flashes together and fire them separately from other groups, you can also control the flash power and zoom of each flash independently right from the controller. No more going back and forth to an off camera flash adjusting the zoom and power until you get the look you’re after. This flash trigger can be had for about $40. Rumor has it the 560 IV flashes have this built into them so you don’t need to buy it separately, but I have been so happy with the 560 III that I have yet to move to the 560 IV.
Now on to the shoot that sparked this article! I recently had a motorcycle/model shoot where we took some images outside using some natural light and some images inside using artificial light. We started with the outside images because the weather was a tad cold and it appeared we might encounter some rain if we waited too long. After the outdoor session, we moved into a garage and I began to setup my lighting equipment. Much to my dismay, I could not find my YN560-TX flash transmitter to trigger my flashes. At first, I figured we would have to forgo the inside images until I realized I also keep at least one RF-603 trigger in my bag as well. But before I grabbed the RF-603, I toyed with the idea of using my flashes in slave mode. So, I gave it a shot. Slave mode allows me to place one flash on my camera and other flashes off camera wherever I want. When the flash on the camera goes off, the light emitted is ‘seen’ by the other flashes causing them to trigger as well. I set the power of the flash on my camera to its lowest power so that the light from it did not affect the lighting I wanted in the scene. After setting the off-camera flashes to slave mode, we started in on the shoot. The system worked great. There was a time or two that the remote flashes didn’t ‘see’ the light from the on-camera flash, but I quickly corrected that by increasing the light from the on-camera flash one level higher, or 1/64 power. The results were amazing and other than having to manually change the power setting of each flash, I didn’t miss the YN560-TX transmitter too much, but it still would have made it easier.
I have yet to have a flash fail on me and they are continuously reliable. I run the flashes and transmitters off of rechargeable Eneloop batteries (which is another product I may review and highly recommend). If you are in the market to get into flash photography, or even if you are already doing flash photography and simply want to get some additional flashes, you cannot go wrong with the Yongnuo 560 III flashes. You can easily get 4 flashes and a transmitter and still be under the price of Nikon’s or Canon’s higher end flashes. They have models for Canon, Nikon, and other brands as well. I cannot speak to the newer 560 IV model as I have not tried them. A friend of mine did purchase a 560 IV and had to return it as it stopped working. However, I do not know if it was simply a bad flash or if the quality control has decreased with the 560 IV. Even then, should I need additional flashes, I still would feel very confident trying the newer model. Despite the fact that I still haven’t located my YN560-TX transmitter and may have to buy another one, I simply cannot recommend these flashes highly enough.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.