External Flash for a Total Noob - Purchase or Wait

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by XianPalin, Dec 19, 2008.

  1. XianPalin macrumors 6502

    XianPalin

    Joined:
    May 26, 2006
    #1
    Hello,

    I'm pretty new to the whole digital photography thing, but I bought myself a Nikon D40 with the kit lens and 55-200VR zoom lens to try and learn. The one thing that's always bothered me about my point and shoot and now this camera is the awful pictures of people that come out when using the flash.

    I've looked around and seen what an improvement bouncing a flash does, so I've narrowed it down and I intend to buy a SB-600 flash at some point.

    My question is, is it worth it for me to try and start learning with the flash as a beginner, or am I better off trying to learn everything else about the camera first before I throw in another thing to learn into the mix?

    Thanks.
     
  2. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #2
    With the caveat that it's *always* better to learn to light well, and the more options you have the better, you might try adding in some negative flash compensation first to see if that gets you the images you're looking for.
     
  3. pprior macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2007
    #3
    Most modern flash systems are pretty easy to use. The problem you will have is that on-camera flash is best used as fill rather than primary illumination and with the kit lens you have, especially at zoom range you are very limited in aperture so you'll be getting very limited ambient light.

    Bouncing flash is really not that hard, you just have to make sure you remember to change flash orientation if you're switching from portrait to landscape shooting. Most modern flashes do everything exposure-wise on manual camera settings.

    Of course you can get much better pictures if you adjust flash exposure compensation, but that you will pick up in time.

    My preference for lighting pictures is below:

    1) Use fast glass and ambient light when at all possible (costs $$$ for fast lenses, a bit of flash fill if backlighting demands)
    2) Use off camera flash (takes time to setup and of course you have to have the equipment - $$$)
    3) Use on camera flash with a bracket (draws attention and costs some $)
    4) Use on camera flash bounced +/- a flip card or other diffuser
    5) Don't take pictures
    6) Use the built in popup flash

    Note that I'd rather not take pictures than use a pop-up flash :) Actually I can't even do that because my body doesn't have a built in flash.


    In short - if you find your camera and glass doesn't have the speed to take picture in the lighting situations you find yourself in, then buying a dedicated flash unit will remarkably improve your pictures compared with a pathetic pop-up version. Bouncing is easy, just point your flash towards a nice diffuse surface (usually ceiling) and the flash will take care of the rest.

    What kind of pictures do you like to take?
     
  4. iGary Guest

    iGary

    Joined:
    May 26, 2004
    Location:
    Randy's House
    #4
    This should help you answer some of your own questions.

    On-camera lighting generally sucks. Most people who say that flashes suck and would rather pay for expensive glass are intimidated by or know little about strobe lighting (at least that's the way I was). :D :p

    Good luck. :)
     
  5. Edge100 macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    May 14, 2002
    Location:
    Where am I???
    #5
    Agree 99%; I still recommend fast glass, but not in place of flash where flash is required.
     
  6. XianPalin thread starter macrumors 6502

    XianPalin

    Joined:
    May 26, 2006
    #6
    I honestly haven't really gotten into anything yet. I know I'll be taking pictures at home and of friends and family indoors so it seemed like a good idea. I also intend to venture out with a friend who's more into photography than me and try to learn the ropes a bit.

    I'd tried a couple shots with the built in flash dialed down a little. It dialed down the effect a little but still didn't seem to make the shots turn out any better.

    I guess I can just try and get better at no flash pictures and see how that goes.. still need to figure out manual white balancing.

    Off camera flash and expensive lenses aren't anything I intend to pursue any time soon; I understand the benefits but like I said I'm a beginner, just trying to determine if it would help make me pretty well suited to adapt to a lot of different basic shooting.
     
  7. pprior macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2007
    #7
    Bounce flash will be MILES ahead of your pop-up flash and it's relatively easy to learn. Stick a flip-it or something else on top for even a bit better result.

    You talked about getting better at no-flash pictures. Well that's ok if what you're wanting to take pictures of is in good light :)

    In short, yes learning proper framing, composition, background, lighting, aperture/shutter speed etc is all easier on a cloudy but well lit day outdoors, but if you enjoy photography there will be times when you want a shot, and you need flash (especially with the glass you likely own at this point) and so having a GOOD flash at that moment will make your pictures a LOT better than the pop-up flash.

    Go for it.
     
  8. termina3 macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2007
    Location:
    TX
    #8
    The external flash I use--Nikon's SB-800--has a great auto-mode that does all the thinking for me. I just decide what angle the flash head will make with the subject (direct flash, partial bounce, full bounce, w/ or w/o diffuser panel, etc).

    As I've gotten more comfortable with everything else (read: very comfortable), I've gotten away from using TTL on occasion. But it's always easy to fall back on it--rarely does TTL lead me astray.

    My read is go for it, just be willing to get a good external flash that's willing to do some of the thinking for you (so you can focus on everything else).
     
  9. XianPalin thread starter macrumors 6502

    XianPalin

    Joined:
    May 26, 2006
    #9
    I guess that's one other question - how does the camera determine settings based on the flash with an external flash, especially one pointed at the ceiling, with a diffuser on, etc.

    Do external flashes have an autofocus light or something to that effect? I see in the pictures they have a transparent red area on the front - I'd assume that's what it's for but then how does it know if you have a diffuser or gel, etc on the camera? Or is that when you get to take over? :)
     
  10. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #10
    That's the best method :)
     

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