Nikon SB-800 Speedlight

Photography Tip - Use a light stand for off camera flash strobist photography

I am a big believer in having the right tools for the right job.  Often one can get by using another tool, but there is nothing like having the exact one you need to just make things much easier on yourself.  Such is the case with light stands.  You could use a tripod to hold a speedlight as you might already have one of those, but using a light stand is just much better.  

A tripod has a much larger footprint than a light stand.  Most light stands can be extended to nine feet or higher, much higher than a tripod reaches.  A light stand is faster and easier to setup.  Light stands are also cheap, starting around $50 for a decent one.  The biggest reason of course is that you can put a umbrella holder head on a light stand so you can use light modifiers.  

One extra light stand tip, if you do buy one, make sure to check if it comes with a head unit.  Most do not come with this necessary attachment.  This is a true story . . . the first light stand I ever bought I had no idea about needing a head unit.  I had no umbrella or softbox, I was just going to use a speedlight with diffuser cap (as seen in the above example).  The top of a light stand does have a standard screw that allowed me to attach the speedlight's foot to.  However, there was no ability to tilt the light down!  I had to have someone tilt over the entire light stand for the speedlight to be pointed at the subject.  I went out and got a light stand head (umbrella holder it may also be called) shortly there after.

When photographing families on the beach, I always use two speedlights.  It allows for even light across everyone in group shots of four or more.

Photography Tip - Camera meter is only for ambient light with external flash on

When using an external flash mounted on your DSLR's hotshoe, the camera's meter is telling you the exposure for the ambient/background light.  So if your subject is standing in the shade, then you should meter off of the background light to set your shutter speed.  The aperture setting and speedlight power will be the exposure settings for your subject.  Essentially, the camera's meter does not know you have a flash on and are going to use it to expose the foreground subject (person, etc).  In shade especially, the subject should not be metered off of for setting the shutter speed.  

So when setting up an an external flash shot with it mounted to your DSLR's hotshoe, even before the subject is in place set your shutter speed to expose the background light properly.  Now place your subject where you like and set the aperture and flash power to exposure the subject correctly, and your previously set shutter speed will take care of exposing the background properly.  Try this methodology the next time you use your external flash.  Of course, your DSLR should be set to manual mode, as well as your external flash.

Photography Tip - use your speedlight external flash at 1/4 power manual mode

I use my speedlights at 1/4 power most of the time in manual mode.Speedlights, or external flashes, are great tools and in my view absolutely necessary for every photographer to own.  They are actually very easy to use for the most part.  Current speedlights have TTL (through the lens) modes which are basically automatic modes.  You connect the speedlight to your DSLR's hotshoe, and the camera's meter determine's the power used by the speedlight.  This sounds great, and is convenient, but the problem is often too much power is used resulting in black images.  Why?  Because speedlights need time to recycle their charges between flashes.  The more power used, the longer the time.  

This is why a majority of the time I use my speedlights at 1/4 power and always in manual mode.  At this quarter power setting the speedlight can take a small burst of shots (3+ in a row) allowing me to capture action in events, group shots, etc without having one of those frames be pure black because the flash did not fire due to a long recycle time.  

Try using your speedlight in manual mode at 1/4 power and then compensate for any exposure needs using the settings on your DSLR.  You will get more consistent results and your speedlight's batteries will last longer too!