If you are still reading this article series is probably because you decided that you need an external flash or you even got already one! Congratulations! You did the harder part. Now it is time to have fun! Unlike with the built-in-flash, shooting with an external one is a bit more than pointing and firing. If you don´t know yet how to handle your new gadget, don´t worry! We will give you some tips that will help you starting using it.
#1. If you want to use the TTL, you need to set your camera in Aperture Mode
This might seem obvious for a lot of photographers, but I did not know it when I started using the external flash. I usually shoot in Manual, so the TTL was not working for me. I was kind of: “What happens to this flash? Maybe I have to ask for a refund because it doesn’t work!”. So remember: No Aperture mode= No TTL!
#2. Wait a little between shots to give time to the flash to load
Maybe you are used to shoot several photos in a raw or in continuous mode. External flashes need some time to load , so if you shoot too fast, some of the times it won´t fire.
#3. Become a Bouncing master
Bouncing is one of the most important things you can do while using a external flash. It is not common to flash directly to the subject. Light will be too strong, it will look unnatural and in addition, it is uncomfortable for the model. Instead, the good thing to do is pointing with the flash to a surface close to your subject (wall, ceiling…). It is the light that reflects from this surface the one that will add light to your subject. It will be a diffused light, so it won´t be so strong and it will look
If you don´t have any evident surface to bounce in, you can use other things, such as the white clothes of somebody around you, a board, some furniture… or you can use reflectors and difusers .
#4 Be respectful when using your flash
Don´t fire your flash directly to the eyes of neither people nor animals. I always like to make sure that people does not mind I use the flash, especially if I am shooting events. The strong light can be quite annoying, so it is good that people agree. Some people get into the situation of wanting you to take nice photos, but they don´t want you to use the flash (or they complain about the light). In that cases, try to explain to them nicely that not using it might affect the quality of the photo. If they decide they don´t want flash anyway, at least you were clear about the consequences.
#5. Be extremely aware for not flashing babies.
It is easy remembering not using the flash when you take photos of a baby at home. But when you are in an event or with a big group of people, it is easier to miss it. Flashes are quite aggressive for delicate eyes of a baby, so try to be always aware of the proximity of one of them.
#6. Do wrist workouts.
Do some gym style exercises that will increase the strength of your wrists. Just kidding!! But if you are going to hold your camera with a external flash for long time (this happens a lot if you are shooting events), you will notice the extra weight. Rest form time to time to avoid soreness (and now I am serious! After shooting a night wedding and carrying the camera with the flash for several hours, I felt my writs sore next day).
I hope you liked this series and that you find it useful. Have a happy flashing
In the previous article, I talked about the advantages and disadvantages of using an external flash. If you decided that it is time for you to get one, now you will face the big question: Which one should I buy? I struggled quite a lot before I got my first flash because I didn’t understand well the specifications. In addition, I did not know what I needed to have in order to answer my requirements. Today I will share with you everything I learned in the process of buying a flash. I hope this will make it easier for you!
Get to know what the specifications of a flash mean
When you are new into flashes, it might seem that the specifications and reviews are written in another language. TTL, guide number, flash value, zoom coverage, bounce capacity, speed sync…. a lot of new terminology you never heard before! Let’s go over all of them. You will be able to understand flash terminology in a flash (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)!
Guide number: measures the flash’s ability to illuminate the subject so that it will have a balanced exposure. It is calculated as the distance the subject from the flash times the f-value of the aperture (in order to simplify it, the calculation is usually done with the iso value of 100). This calculation can help you decide on the type of flash you should buy but also can help you to decide on placement in the photo when using the flash you have and your camera settings.
Zoom coverage: indicates how far the light from the flash can reach (and still be effective for the photo). Some flashes can adjust the distance to be synchronized with the zoom of the lens
Bounce capacity: Certain flashes have swivel and tilting heads. This feature enables you to use the flash not only for illuminating your subject with direct light (which can be too hard in certain situations) but also to reflect (or bounce) the light off of surfaces, softening it in the process.
Speed Sync: When using a flash two actions happen: the shutter opens to expose the sensor (or film) to light and it discharges a burst of light onto the subject. In the basic level, these two actions need to be synchronized in order to be effective. In a more advanced level of flash usage, if it fires closer to the moment the shutter opens or having the flash closer to the moment the shutter closes will of light closer to the yield different effects.
TTL: In the camera, you have different modes to choose from: auto, aperture, manual etc. The external flash also has several modes of action. In manual mode, you set it as you want and the settings will remain that way until you change them. In TTL mode your flash changes its settings according to instructions from the camera. The camera tells the flash to discharge twice; first before the shot to allow the camera to adjust the flash settings, and second while taking the shot itself (while the shutter is open) in order to illuminate the subject.
Evaluate the use you will make
Choosing between one flash model and another will depend on the usage you intend for it. Some of the most frequent uses are:
Indoors portraits: When you take photos of one or two people in small and closed spaces, as is usually the case with indoors photography, you’ll mostly use the flash to remove shadows and give a bit more of light to the scene. You don’t need a super powerful flash with long coverage because you are usually close to the model and your light conditions are not the worst (you are not shooting in total darkness). However, it will be nice if you have TTL (it will be faster and your model will have easier time). Having a flash with rotating and tilting head will be useful too, because it will give you more flexibility to bounce the light from different directions and objects.
Indoors group portraits: Same as above, with the difference of having more than two subjects, this means you’d need to take the photo from a bigger distance from them so they will all fit in the frame. If this is your case, you would want a flash with higher flash value so it could reach from further away.
Portraits outdoors: You’ll probably be taking portraits at several locations which probably won’t provide the same protective and dependable environment a studio (or a room) would provide. I heard stories about flashes falling from cliffs or get broken because they fell because of a gust of In this case, I’d recommend you to get a flash that will be powerful enough, but still cheap (you might want to consider to take your chances with a none brand-name product). Then, if something happens to it, you won´t feel so bad about it.
Events: Events are a bit of a mixture of all of the above, they could require you to switch between locations, you might need to take photos of groups and/or individuals, you’ll probably need to take photos of little details as well as wide angle shots. In order to truly be prepared you might consider having more than just one flash (and even more than just one camera). Of course that depends on the nature of the event and what is required of you.
These were just some examples, meant to give you food for thought while you analyze your future use of the flash and why some flashes might fit better that others. You are the one that knows the type of photos you want to take, so the final decision is yours and it might be different from what I said in the examples.
Decide on a budget
Prices start at around 10 US Dollars and can go up to hundreds of dollars. Decide on a budget before you start looking. You can find the perfect flash for you and then realize that it is way too expensive and you can´t afford it. I always recommend not spend a lot on the first one you get. You don´t know yet if you are going to use it as much as you think. You might love using flash, but you might also hate it. Getting a flash with good quality/price ratio is always a good choice in my opinion especially when you are trying something new. You can always upgrade to a more expensive one in the future, when you are sure of your needs and real requirements. Also, it is better to make all the beginner’s mistakes done on a cheap piece of equipment than on an expensive one.
Same brand of your camera or a third party flash?
You can get a flash from the same brand as your camera or from a totally different company that makes flashes compatible with your camera (third party). There are advantages and disadvantages to the two options.
If you get a flash from the same brand of your camera, the compatibility is assured. Besides, most brand names provide worldwide repair services and most reliable private repair services will also be familiar with them. Moreover, some added value functions such as remote communication between the camera and the flash would work only when using devices of the same brand.
Third party flashes are usually cheaper, making a great option in case you have a budget to consider. Also, you might want it to have features or accessories that are provided by a specific brand.
First or second hand?
The advantages of getting a brand new flash are quite obvious, you know exactly what condition it is, you have a warranty and who to contact if you have issues or need of technical support. The major disadvantage is the cost. On the other hand, some people prefer buying second hand equipment when they try a new thing; it’s cheaper, you don’t have the constant fear of scratching it when using it and if you are electronic savvy who likes to fix things by yourself, warranty is not an issue. However, when it comes to flashes you must keep in mind that it has a light-bulb which has a life span measured by how many times it’s been fired (or lit). Make sure it is not going to burn out soon and keep in mind it will entail further expanses and a visit to the service lab.
I hope you’d found my article helpful. If you have any questions, suggestions or remarks feel free to write a comment. Happy shooting!
There is a moment in the life of each photographer that the big question arrives: Do I need to get an external flash? The question is not easy to answer, mostly because when you are new to the subject, even the terminology used to describe them sounds confusing. After checking for a couple of flashes it’s easy to feel even more confused, so you can end up not getting an external flash or getting the first one you check. I want to help you to decide if you should get an external flash by putting together a complete guide with everything I learned when I decided to go into the wonderful world of external flashes.
In this first article, we will focus on the advantages and disadvantages of both the external and the built-in flash. This will help you to decide if you need to invest in an external flash or not. In the following articles of this guide, I will talk about things you should consider when you choose your external flash, some useful accessories and I will give some tips to start using your brand new flash! Let´s start!
A built-in flash is an integral unit of the camera that discharges strong, rapid pulses of light when you are taking a photo. It is working in the most basic way possible. It is synchronized with the camera’s other apparatus.
Advantages of using a built-in flash
#1. Always with you: One of the main advantages of this flash is that it is already in your camera. You don´t need to choose it or make any effort to remember to put it inside your bag. It is always there ready to fire!
#2. Intuitive: Using the flash is something quite intuitive to most starting photographers; you are in the dark, you pop out your camera’s built-in flash, you take the photo- problem solved.
#3. Small and light: The built-in flash does not add extra volume or weight to your camera bag. Depending on the situation, this can be a really good thing.
Disadvantages of the built-in flash
#1 Light always comes from the same spot: The most obvious disadvantage of the built-in flash is marked in its name; you have no control over the light source location or its direction, it will always come from right in front of your subject. And most of the times this means that the light will go straight to his eyes (besides being annoying, it produces a very evident red-eye effect).
#2. Lack of adjustability: Most built-in flashes offer very little in terms of adjustability. Some cameras offer three options: “No flash” in which flash will not be fired, “Auto flash” in which the camera will trigger the flash if the exposure is too low, or “Default flesh” in which the flash will be fired every time you’ll take a photo. That´s all! In cameras with more advanced flash options you might find some more options, but usually, you need to change them from the settings menu and it is quite uncomfortable to do it.
#3. It uses your camera battery: The built-in flash is dependent on your camera’s battery, making your battery’s lifetime shorter.
#4. Not good for long distances: Although it could illuminate quite well for short distances of up to three or four meters, it loses its effectiveness at greater distances.
The external flash is like the built-in flash’s bigger brother. It is an external unit which can be attached to the camera body through a designated port called a horseshoe. The more basic external flashes are merely triggered by the camera while the more advanced ones can get more information from the camera such as the lighting conditions and the settings of the camera (aperture and shutter speed)
Advantages of using an external flash
#1. It saves camera battery because it has its own
#2. Placement flexibility: the fact that the external flash has its own battery means it is also possible to mount it on tripods or on feet of its own and place it wherever you want.
#3. Bouncing Head: the light source itself is usually set on a rotating and tilting head which allows you to play a bit more with the lighting’s angle, enabling you to bounce the light off of surfaces (this is good when you want to avoid hard light)
#4. accessories: the external flash can be combined with many gadgets and accessories such as reflectors, tripods, filters, diffusers and more. Using them could be very helpful and fun.
#5. You can control the light better: at the most fundamental level, the flash is a lightbulb, its intensity does not change, but the duration of the discharge can change if the flash is lit for a longer time the amount of light captured by the sensor is greater. In the external flash, setting and changing the duration of the discharge is one of the most basic things you can do.
#6. You can synchronize several flashes: I don’t know if you are thinking about using more than one flash for now, but it is good to know this possibility exists. It is a good way to ensure even lighting in the photo, especially when you have a big group or a complex subject, or if you want to create certain effects.
#7. They can reach further: external flashes have more power than the built-in ones, so you can illuminate subjects that are further from the flash.
Disadvantages of external flashes
Like with everything else in life, there is a trade-off when using an external flash. The more you want to get from the flash, the more planning is required and less spontaneous you can be.
#1. It adds weight to your camera bag: having its own battery means the weight is greater. Think that you usually will carry extra batteries too. So you end up with almost the same weight as if you are traveling with two cameras, and when you take a photo it’s as if you’re holding a camera and a half.
#2. It might take a lot of places: most external flashes are too big to fit in a standard camera side bag and require you to either have a specific bag or have a much bigger bag and the flash to be detached from the camera while inside.
#3. It is one more thing you need to recharge (and to remember to recharge). Having its own battery means you have another thing that requires a charger and a socket, this could be especially limiting if you are traveling
#4. You need to invest extra money: external flashes are not included with the camera, so you will need to spend some money and depending which type of flash you want, they can get really expensive (the range of prices is wide). In addition, depending on the type of photography you are into, it might be at risk of damage or loss (outdoors, bad weather conditions…) so you might prefer to get two cheaper flashes instead of one that is more expensive.
#5. Not so intuitive: after using them for a while they are not so complicated, but at first they are a bit hard to get used to. It is not just turn on and fire.
#6. Not all the flashes are compatible with all the cameras. This means you should ALWAYS CHECK COMPATIBILITY before purchasing a flash
In summary, built-in flashes are a good option if you don’t want to carry the extra weight that an external flash (and it’s batteries!!) might add to your bag. It will free you from charging batteries all the time and needing to check if they are ok (they don´t last so long when you the flash a lot). However, this freedom comes with a price: the loss of flexibility and control. Usually, the built-in flash is good if your photos aim to document a moment without too much regard to the photo’s technical quality (a good example of this situation will be when you are at a party and you want to commemorate your friends goofing off). However, when you want to have more control over your photos, The built-in flash is quite limited. If this is your case, you will need to consider the option of getting external flashes.
This is my first article in a series of articles about flash I hope you find it useful. If you have any questions, topic suggestions or remark write me a comment. Have a happy shooting!