Your Tips and Resources for Using An External Flash
August 5, 2009 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Help me make the absolute best of my new external camera flash!

I have a Canon XSI, and have just purchased a Canon 580 EXII Speedlite flash (which I'll be getting my hands on at the end of this month). I really want to make the best of this setup, so what are your tips for using an external flash? Any pointers to resources (websites, books etc) that would help would be much appreciated to.
posted by nfg to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The one stop shop is David Hobby's Strobist, but I've used this with some success on my Mark II/580EX II setup--the second site is all about Canons (Hobby is a Nikon guy).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:39 AM on August 5, 2009

Oh, and there's this too, which is also very helpful.

Full disclosure--I really have NO idea how to use my flash (or flashes in general), and I am deeply ashamed.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:41 AM on August 5, 2009

Play with it. Take lots of pictures in lots of different lights with your flash pointed every which way. I have the same set-up you have and while reading about it helped tremendously, I mostly learned what works by experimentation.
posted by cooker girl at 8:55 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: We've taken pictures with the flash pointed into different colored umbrellas to provide different color effects. Works best at dusk.
posted by scrutiny at 9:05 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Get a soft filter for the strobe. The Gary Fong stuff is great, but rather large. The Stofen filters are designed to fit right over the flash head. They offer a much more diffused flash, and eliminate hotspots, glare, etc.
posted by Gungho at 9:51 AM on August 5, 2009

These are really awesome and can make for great pictures. Congratulations!

That said, there is a guy in Philadelphia who has one and he takes it to shows at clubs all the time and constantly photographs the bands with it. He must take 200 pictures in a set if no one tells him to stop. Everyone I know hates it. I'm sure you know this, but: don't be that guy!
posted by nosila at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Yeah, not so good for live music. But get a stand, an umbrella and a way to trigger it off camera and then hello mini studio. I'd also look into getting an off-camera TTL cable. I got an off-brand one for approx £20, and it's been great. The main thing is that the source of the light isn't right next to the lens.

Read up on bounce flash. Firing the flash into a white wall turns that wall into a giant light source. Try flashing to freeze the action and then keeping the shutter open longer to fill in the background. Also, try sticking your camera on a tripod in a dark place, doing a long exposure, and walking, painting in the light. Experiment and learn the different properties of the light at different power levels. Buy rechargable batteries, good ones. Have fun!

It's really energising having control of your light source. Mess around and have a good time. Mefimail me if you have any more questions.
posted by Magnakai at 11:22 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have two of the first generation 580s and they are awesome. As Magnakai said, learn about bounce flash. The 580 is powerful enough that I have bounced it off of 20 foot ceilings. It also makes a great fill flash for bright sunny days. Experiment with putting your camera on manual and leaving the flash on auto; that works great for me inside. For fill flash set the camera however you normally would and then set the flash for -1 to -3 EV as a starting point. I rely heavily on my histogram for determining exposure. I often recommend the Canon digital photography forum as a great source of information.
posted by TedW at 12:10 PM on August 5, 2009

Best answer: Don't feel compelled to buy anything else right now.

Become a Strobist regular, as has been suggested.

Experiment by bouncing it off of any and all surfaces you can find.

Units like this are nearly as complex as the cameras with which they're used, so read the manual for the flash as many times as it takes for you to understand its capabilities.

Back in the day, we ate dirt, and we were damned glad to have it.

Those of you who are enjoying current technology in cameras and smart flash units will not be able to fully appreciate how incredibly much easier and faster it is today to do some pretty sophisticated photography compared to the way things were even 10 years ago.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:51 PM on August 5, 2009

Everything everyone else said, and then break some rules, too. Crank up the exposure flash compensation 2-3 stops and shoot some crazy outdoor portraits (lots of sky in the background). Just one idea... KEEP SHOOTING!
posted by Lukenlogs at 7:03 PM on August 23, 2009

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