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advice for external flash newbie

This is a discussion on advice for external flash newbie within the Camera equipment & accessories forums, part of the Education & Technical category; After years of relying only on natural light and fast lenses, I finally gave in and got myself an external ...

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    jabber's Avatar
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    Default advice for external flash newbie

    After years of relying only on natural light and fast lenses, I finally gave in and got myself an external flash (Canon 430 EX II). I also bought a Sto-fen Omnibounce diffuser and the Gary Fong Lightsphere II. If you have any nugget(s) of wisdom for someone brand new to the world of flash photography--things you wish you had known when you first started using an external flash--I'd love to hear them.
    Canon 40D, 10-22/3.5-4.5, 17-55/2.8 IS, 70-200/4L, 60/2.8 Macro, 85/1.8, 1.4x II Extender, Lensbaby Composer

    "I take photographs to see what the thing looks like photographed." -Gary Winogrand

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    Yeh ... get used to using the manual mode as it gives you so much more control over the light!

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    tirediron is offline Senior Member
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    Buy LOTS of batteries and practice a LOT! It's amazing what you can do with a single speedlight with some knowledge and technique. As far as nuggets of information, I would have to say don't be afraid to use it. Even on bright, sunny days a flash can add to an image.

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    Thanks for the tips. Though I have been able to find somewhat advanced info about flash online, it's actually hard to find basic information (even in the manual). I suppose much of this will be answered by practice, but here are some of my immediate questions:

    I almost always shoot in aperture priority mode. Do I continue to choose my aperture (and ISO) for a given scene in the same way I would without the flash, or does use of the flash change everything?

    What happens to the 1/100 rule when using a flash?

    I know I'm supposed to bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling if it's close and white; otherwise, should I always point the flash head directly at the subject?

    The flash gives my a zoom readout (e.g. 50mm) when the head is pointed at the subject, but otherwise reads only -- mm. Is it functioning properly?

    In what situations should I prefer the naked flash, the Sto-fen or the Lightsphere over one another? I've been assuming I will use some type of diffusion most of the time, unless it's simply not producing enough light for the setting (e.g., a poorly lit room).

    I know that's a lot of questions, but I'm a lot confused. Any help is much appreciated.
    Canon 40D, 10-22/3.5-4.5, 17-55/2.8 IS, 70-200/4L, 60/2.8 Macro, 85/1.8, 1.4x II Extender, Lensbaby Composer

    "I take photographs to see what the thing looks like photographed." -Gary Winogrand

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    I can answer a few of those questions but many depend on you and what effect you are looking for.

    I mostly use my flash as fill light so I usually select my camera settings to suit the scene without the flash first. The idea is that I want the camera to see as much of the scene on it's own and the flash just light my subject as much as needed only.

    Bouncing the flash etc is simply a preference you need to decide. I think the 430 has a card (they call it a catchlight card I think in the manual) that slips out of the head like my 580 which can be used to deflect the light as well. I often use that too. Angle the head away from the subject a bit and then card bounces it back to the subject giving a more subdued light.
    But bounce off walls etc if it gives you the look you need. Only experiementing will tell you what you need to know there.

    Haven't got time to go grab my flash and look right now but I think the Zoom readings work only in ETTL mode. As I use Manual alot I don't worry about them too much.

    Remember that you ISO makes your sensor more sensitive to light so by using different ISO settings you can effectively increase and decrease the 'strength' of the flash to some degree depending on the scene and ambient light available.

    That's about it from me for now ... I'm no expert so others will hopefully have more to say or correct me where I'm not accurate.

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    Thanks for your time, Mad Aussie. (FYI, the 430 doesn't come with a card, unfortunately.) Every little bit helps.
    Canon 40D, 10-22/3.5-4.5, 17-55/2.8 IS, 70-200/4L, 60/2.8 Macro, 85/1.8, 1.4x II Extender, Lensbaby Composer

    "I take photographs to see what the thing looks like photographed." -Gary Winogrand

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    Oh well ... a rubberband and some white card will sort that out.

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    I'll throw my 2 cents worth in here.
    Learning to light is not easy, but it does require know how.
    If you really want to be creative and have great shots, then don't even bother putting the flash on the hotshoe of the camera. But like Mad Aussie said, it depends what type of shot you are trying to achieve. If it's for people and portraits, you're going to need a lightstand of about 2 meters, a flash bracket and some way to trigger the flash remotely from the camera.
    Here is a short post I wrote about 2 weeks ago in one of Marko's blog posts. Hope this will help you.....:-)


    "I'm a proud strobist. I use these portable flashes all the time on location because I don't have to drag my big studio lights and large softboxes with me whenever I have a location shoot. By taking the same principal as studio lighting and applying it on location, these flashes offer me the flexability of working in confined spaces (like an elevator) and best of all, I can use them in the middle of a field or under a bridge, for example, without the need for AC power. It doesn't matter if you have a old manual Vivitar 285HV or the latest and greatest Alien Bees, It is STILL a light source and a light source you have control over. On camera flash is terrible for photographing people. The problem is that the flash is on the same axis as the lens therefore producing a very unflattering and flat looking result, not to mention harsh shadows behind your subject and in some cases red-eye. By moving your flash to the left or right of your camera and aiming it at 45 degree angle in and 45 degrees angle down toward your subject, you now give your subject shape and definition in your photo.
    The key thing in using small flashes is finding the right balance with ambient light. The way to do this is by remembering this rule: "Aperture controls Flash exposure" "Shutter speed controls ambient light"

    Another option is to decide what kind of light you need for a given situation. Diffused or soft light is much more flattering for portraits, where as Hard light is better for action or sports. Also, you must remember that when you place a diffusor, or shoot thru umbrella etc. in front of your flash, you lose about 1 stop of light and this must be compensated for by increasing the flash power level or adjusting your Aperture value.
    The other critical factor is flash to subject distance. I always start with a simple rule: Find out how tall your subject is and put the flash on the lightstand at the same distance as they are tall. For example, if your model or subject is 5 feet tall, then place your flash 5 feet away from them and sdjust from there.

    For those who are just starting out in off camera lighting, I would highly recommend the following websites to help you:

    www.strobist.com
    www.squeezethelime.com
    www.prophotolife.com
    www.onelightworkshop.com

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    Many thanks, Nomad. Lots to think about here.
    Canon 40D, 10-22/3.5-4.5, 17-55/2.8 IS, 70-200/4L, 60/2.8 Macro, 85/1.8, 1.4x II Extender, Lensbaby Composer

    "I take photographs to see what the thing looks like photographed." -Gary Winogrand

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    Recording a flash podcast today - should be out in a few days.
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