external flash

Photography Tip - turn your flash off sometimes when shooting indoors

I have recommended getting a speedlight (external flash) to many of my photography students who want to make photographs indoors.  In fact, I say it is a must have piece of gear for any photographer really.  Is use my speedlights off camera for portraits, and on camera for photographing events (where quick mobility is needed).  A speedlight is useful in so many ways for all kinds of shooting.  

That said, a photography tip to add to your memory banks is to not fall in love with exclusively using flash for indoor event photography.  Using a speedlight for indoor event photography will produce very consistent results, which is a good thing of course.  If you are photographing a business conference where there is no need for creative shots, then keep that speedlight on.  However, for getting the most variety out of your event shooting, turn the speedlight off sometimes.  

In the above examples, the exact same camera settings were used.  In fact, the bottom photo was taken only 4 seconds after the first.  Everything about shooting was the same, except no flash fired in shooting the bottom photo.  As you can see, the photos are totally different.  Using the speedlight we can see all details in the artist and in the background.  The ambient light of the room is all but drowned out.  In the second shot we see only the slightest details of the artist and the ambient light provides a cool backlighting.  The impression the photos give the viewer end up being quite different.

Now I must confess the second shot was not done on purpose!  My flash could not recycle fast enough and simply did not fire.  Many the time though in my photography experience I have learned something from a happy accident like this.  So now when I photograph events that do not all require the uniform flashed look, I turn my speedlight off and use ambient light to create an entirely different photo.  Give this a try the next time you are shooting indoors.

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!

1-on-1 Nikon SB-700 Speedlight DSLR Photography Lesson with Lourdes in St. Petersburg Florida

Up on a parking garage in downtown St. Petersburg for our second photography lesson.For our second of four 1-on-1 DSLR Photography Lessons Lourdes had some new photography gear to debut.  To pair with her Nikon D5100 this time she had a new Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.  So to practice low light photography during the day, I took us to a parking garage in downtown St. Petersburg that offered wide open and close quarter areas.  Building on what we learned in our first lesson, this time I instructed her on how aperture and flash power mostly control the exposure on the subject, while the shutter speed controls the ambient/background light in a portrait using flash.  

This model is all about glamour!As seen in the photo above, I was standing in very low light in the parking garage in front of an open window with a very bright background.  Without using a speedlight, either I would have been a silhouette, or the outside would have had to of been pure white.  Using a speedlight essentially allows for two exposures to be made in one photograph.  This is a powerful tool and skill to have for photography.

Default Indoor DSLR Camera Settings with external flash f/5.6 ISO 800 1/60th

Continuing my default DSLR camera settings series, in the above shot you can see the settings that I set my Nikon to as soon as I step indoors anywhere.  I am often asked by people, what settings should I use for such and such a situation, and it is always hard to tell them because slight variations in light, subject, etc. can have a big effect.  However, in my experience I pretty much always use these settings along with my external flash on my DSLR in any indoor shooting environment:

aperture:  f/5.6

shutter speed:  1/60th

ISO:  800

For the settings on your hotshoe mounted external flash, most of the time I find a manual power setting of 1/4th is good for lighting the intended subject and allowing the speedlight to recycle fast enough for successive shots.

As you can see the first shot was in a dark ballroom, and this shot is in a fairly well lit office, yet I used the same settings.  These default indoor settings with an external flash will not light up a large room, but will still expose the subject well (the dancers) and if the room does have good lighting and is not too large, the default indoor settings can light up both the subjects and the background.

So the next time you are shooting indoors, give these settings a try and you should be very happy with the results!

External Flash DSLR Photography Lesson with Barbie & her Nikon D700

Barbie and her Nikon D700 with new Nikon SB-900 Speedlight! Flash is necessary for sunset portraits like this.Lately everytime Barbie and I have another DSLR Photography Lesson she comes with another significant new piece of photography gear.  For our fourth of four lessons Barbie debuted her new flagship Nikon Speedlight, the large and powerful SB-900.  Also, she got a BlackRapid RS-7 strap similar to my RS-Sport model! It was my first time to get hands on with the most powerful speedlight Nikon makes and although I was impressed with its power, there were some quirks with its controls.  Like to adjust the power there is not just a plus and minus adjustment button, another button must be pressed first to select the power on the rear LCD screen.  

To practice sunset and twilight portraits Barbie and I headed out to Vinoy Park which offers a great background of the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront to the west and to the southeast is The Pier and a panoramic view of Tampa Bay.  It is my favorite spot in the whole city.  

To get the most natural looking flash portraits in low light we had to use our speedlights in manual mode, dialing in low levels of power like 1/64th so as to not blow out the subjects (us).  Barbie will be buying another 4-pack of DSLR Photography Lessons starting on Friday when we will continue our flash practice, and get the flash off the camera!

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