How to Use External Flash Units for Better Photography

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How to Use External Flash Units for Better Photography

Snapping pictures is not the most challenging task in the world, but snapping truly excellent pictures worthy of a frame takes a little more expertise. Perhaps one of the more difficult tasks a budding photographer needs to master is how to use lighting properly. Using external lighting sources in the correct manner is a large part of professional level photography, and with just a little instruction and a few simple tools, anybody can learn how to use external flash units to help make their photographs shine.


External flash units

Modern external flash units are intricate devices designed to be simple to use. They are meticulously engineered so that very little instruction is required to use them properly. This is because top modern external flash units are intelligent devices, capable of sending data to the camera to help determine the correct amount of ambient light. Sensors process this data and determine how much flash is required to snap a shot of a perfectly exposed subject and background, with little thought required by the user.


Quality lighting

The key to quality lighting is the ability to soften the light source, which is achieved by having the flash come from a more natural direction other than directly in front of the source. For this reason, an external flash unit must be capable of completely separating from the camera. A hot shoe adapter and simple synch cord allow for this, allowing the flash unit to be placed in a more suitable location.

Top manufactures such as Nikon, Canon, and Pentax make several types of flash units. One such unit includes the radio trigger, which is a cordless trigger capable of shooting from a fair distance away from the camera. Some cameras offer a totally wireless flash that retains all of the automatic features of a mounted flash unit.


Camera settings

When using an external flash, it is best to shoot in manual mode because shutter speed and aperture are important when using an external unit. Camera or exposure metering can be set to matrix or evaluative metering, which allows the camera to determine the shutter speed and aperture settings from the amount of light available. Spot or centred metering settings are generally best left for expert photographers better versed with technical lighting issues.

External flash positioning

Professional studio portraits often have an additional light located at an angle over the shoulder of the photographer, but powerful external flashes may be bounced off walls or ceilings for a softer look. This is useful because pointing the flash directly at the subject increases the probability of hard shadows and red eye to appear in the photograph. If the photographer is using a synch cable, he or she should move it as far to one side of the centre as possible to minimise direct shadowing. A portable studio lighting kit, complete with lighting stands and reflectors, is capable of bouncing a flash for a pleasing finish.


Bounce cards

Bounce cards are an inexpensive option to provide diffused effects and a dim shadow. Modern light modifiers steer and shape the light to create multi-flash effects from a single flash, as they are highly reflective and simple to use. For even better results, consider adding a second external flash into the mix to further dim shadows and add a bright catch-light for particularly lively results.


Other tools

While a quality camera and a bright, wireless external flash is important, there are several other tools to consider. Using a flash diffuser is a great way to add diffused light, and there are several different types available for external flashguns. They fit snugly over the top of the flash and help to stop the appearance of particularly harsh shadows. When combined with a sturdy tripod and one or more external flash units, even the most rudimentary equipment is capable of producing photographs worth bragging about.


How to buy external flash units on eBay

Whether you are looking for quality wireless flash units, a simple hot shoe cable for an existing flash unit, or a new digital camera, you can find a huge selection of flashes, cameras, and other photography aids on eBay. Simply find the search box located on each page, and type in the name of the item or brand you like, such as "Canon" or "flash unit". With a few simple clicks of your mouse, you can use the filters to narrow your search and find exactly what you need.

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