Using External Flash – Part 1

Hey everyone! I hope your week has gone well. Yesterday was “No Post Thursday” as I took my advancement exam for Chief Petty Officer. But I’m back today with some information about shooting with an external flash.

You always see the pros with an a hot shoe flash on top of their camera when they can’t shoot with available or natural light. As you may have guessed, there are more than a few reasons for this and I’m going to cover a couple of those here today. I’m also going to tell you how you can get your external flash to provide softer, more appealing light than you otherwise might not have thought possible.

Reasons To Use External Flash:

  • Low Light – Whenever there isn’t enough available or natural light to make a proper exposure, you will want to use flash. It’s the easiest, smallest, and most portable lighting solution you can own. Most speedlights today are very flexible and powerful allowing you to adapt to almost any situation.
  • Less Red Eye – A sure fire bet for Red Eye is your on-camera flash. Even if you have a DSLR with on-camera flash you are still HIGHLY likely to get a lot of shots where your subject’s eyes are red. Some cameras have Red Eye Reduction and while this helps, it’s not as good as having an external (hot shoe) flash that sits higher and farther away from your lens. Most external flashes can be adjusted up, left, and right which allows you to bounce your light off of ceilings or walls which in turn softens the light and harsh, bright light isn’t shining right in your subject’s eyes. (Red Eye is caused by pupils being dilated (bigger) in low light and when a bright flash enters the eyes it is reflected back off the retina and the blood vessels in the eye cause that light to appear red in color.)
  • Wireless Capability – Most mid-level and high-end external speedlights can be used wirelessly. The Nikon SB-800 (which I use) can be triggered by an on camera flash or another flash which allows you to place it anywhere you want to create the lighting you desire. It can also be controlled by several other triggering methods. (I will cover this more in-depth in Monday’s post.)

Pro Tip:

One of the ways you can really get a lot out of your external flash is by using a diffuser. A diffuser will soften and disperse the light from the flash to create a much more flattering light for your subject. I use Gary Fong’s Lightsphere II Cloud diffuser which gives me a soft, beautiful, flattering light from my SB-800 that I wouldn’t be able to get without it. Most diffusers are small and compact which allow you to take them anywhere and still get great light. Below are some pictures that will give you a pretty good idea of how it works. I made no adjustments to these images. They are straight from the camera. They were shot in Aperture Priority mode with Auto White Balance.

Straight On Flash:
Flash_18JAN08-1
Nikon D40 ISO200 66mm f8 1/60

Flash Bounced Off Ceiling:
Flash_18JAN08-2
Nikon D40 ISO200 52mm f8 1/60

Gary Fong Lightsphere II Cloud:
Flash_18JAN08-3
Nikon D40 ISO200 52mm f8 1/60

These shots were taken in a dark room. Notice how using the diffuser brightened the background a little. If I would have shot at a wider aperture and a little slower shutter speed, the background would have been much brighter.

Be sure to check back on Monday where I will go into detail about how to use an external flash wirelessly. I hope you have a great weekend!

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One thought on “Using External Flash – Part 1

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for your article about external flash. I am going to do a Birthday photography first time. Buying a new Vivitar A3200 flash for my NIKON D40. How can i use that? Let me know is there any methods to use effectively.

    Thanks.

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