One of the students doing my weekend photography course in a few days (still a couple of places left if anybody's keen!) asked me whether she should invest in an external flash to add to her camera.
Without a doubt I would say yes, yes and double yes. This photo at the left shows you exactly what can be done with little flashes.
Does it look like it was shot in a studio with big softboxes and expensive equipment? Not on your nelly. It was done in my kitchen with no studio equipment at all.
All I needed was a couple of speedlight flashes and a big white wall - well two actually. My wife is standing next to our kitchen table and my youngest son Keyra is standing on one of the kitchen table chairs next to her. They're about 10cm (yep you read that right!) in front of the wall of the kitchen.
I'm leaning over the kitchen table and pointing a 28-70mm zoom at them. Now it was quite dark because it was nearly bath time so my ambient exposure was about 1/15 second at f2.8 - way too slow to hand hold let alone stop any movement.
So I brought in a couple of little Speedlight flashes. I put one on the table next to me (just to my right hand side) and one on the floor at my feet (just to my left hand side). Now here's the trick to this lovely soft light. If I had pointed the flashes directly at my wife and son the light would have been harsh and horrible - just like you get from all direct flash.
So what to do? I turned the heads off the flash around so they were pointing AWAY from my subjects but at a white wall about 20cm behind me. So the light from the flash was bouncing off the white wall at my subjects. In effect the wall becomes the light, not the flash itself. So now you have a great big area providing the light, hence the softness.
All that extra light from the flash meant that my shutter speed was now 1/125 second and I could close my aperture down to f7.1 for a bigger depth of field. The lights were fired with a little infrared transmitter - which you'll need if you're shooting Canon. If you're shooting Nikon then many of their cameras have built-in transmitters so you don't need to buy a triggering device.
So should you buy an external flash (plus a transmitter if you need one) ? If you like the look of this light then without a doubt I would say yes. I set this shot up in about two seconds. Once it was set up I could just shoot away until I got something I like. No red eye, no harsh shadows. Just beautiful studio quality light. An easy decision if you ask me.