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Monday, January 16, 2012

Why do you need an External Flash ?

Initially, Daddy thought external Flash is nice-to-have, but soon realised that it is absolutely necessary for portraits.

Look at two party photos below, which one do you prefer?

Lighting cHallenges and sCenarios
1) Ever try taking photo of your kids but their faces turn out "silhouette" (face dark but background bright)?
This could happen when kids are standing infront of a bright door or window, or the Sun is shining Bright behind the kids.

- try your best to position the kids so that the Sun is not behind them
- some cameras (even smartphones) allow you to choose "Spot" metering instead of "Matrix".
Focus-point is still on the face.

- learn how to read Histogram ( Daddy is still learning, but a histogram will immediately tell you whether your photo is over-exposed or under-expose)

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2) Indoor parties, why does so many kids appear blur?
It helps if you have a fast lens (big aperture F1.8, F1.4 etc), as it allows more light to enter, a higher chance to snap more photos and hopefully nail one sharp one.
But bigger aperture also means not everyone will be in focus(eg three person, only center person will be sharp at F1.8.

- setup multiple-burst mode in your camera, hoping one shot will turn up good.
- it is useless to ask kids to stay static and pose for you, as their smile could become too artificial :p

- Daddy prefers to catch the kids when they are engrossed in their own world.

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3) We did mention large aperture lens (also called Fast lens with F1.8, F1.4 etc) help in low light, but the depth-of-field becomes smaller. It means only the person in focus remain sharp, and those standing beside might become slightly blur. Read Depth-of-Field (or dof).

If you need to take a group shot, with everyone in focus, around F5 is needed. External Flash is highly recommended, otherwise you will see some friends in focus, some other blur.

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If you have ever encounter the three scenarios listed above, it might be time to consider investing in an external Flash unit.

Some of you might ask, can we use the camera's builtin Flash?
Unfortunately, the builtin flash can only illuminate infront, is often too bright, causing facial expressions to washout.

Daddy started his DSLR journey for the sole purpose of capturing more candid shots. Initially he thought a F1.8 fast lens would be everything, and "natural" lighting beats "artificial" lighting. Read our Prime lens selection story.

We own a Nissin Flash DI622 for four months now, and we are very happy with our party-photos. The photos seem to pop out, and faces become more expressive! If Daddy can go back, he would definitely get the Flash before any lens upgrade.

Additional tips for your Flash consideration :
- try to borrow an external flash from your friend for one week. Try it out before you buy one.
- third party Flash unit can perform decently, and are more affordable compared to OEM. Our Nissin 622 is around $180, much cheaper than a Nikon SB-600.

- get an external Flash which can tilt left/right/up/down. We need to tilt our flash to "bounce" the light, for optimum exposure.
(eg bounce the light off the wall or ceiling)

- a Flash unit means additional weight, and your neck can feel the strain after a few hours :p
- For ease and convenience, get a flash unit running on AA battery
(normally True for most entry level flash )

For more sample Flash photos, drop by our Xmas party.

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Getting equipped with an external Flash is only the first step, photography is all about understanding Lighting and more. And there are more things to explore in the world of "Lighting" !!

..you might find the following links useful, from a layman's point of view.



..ps.. Pardon all the jargon and lingos, it is too challenging for Daddy to explain in simpler context. Please google for the "correct" explanation. Daddy only wish to let our friends know that a Flash is Indispensable when you are into portraits.

**credit. First image of Di622 is taken from Nissin website.


  1. thanks for sharing bro! already in my mind to get an external flash, just sourcing out for the right one..ever heard of yongnuo brand? recommended by another friend, said to be quite good and compatible for nikons..

  2. hi Isaiah, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_comparison.
    Try to get second opinion from Clubsnap or DPreview.

    For me, I will go and review both, if cannot tell the difference, choose cheaper one.

    No need to read too deep into the specifications, for kids/party, just need a basic unit which can bounce (swivel and tilt).
    Good luck :)

  3. Andy, what settings you use on your camera when you use the external flash?

  4. hi Vincent,

    same setting as you would normally use.
    I normally use Aperture mode F4 to F10 for indoor parties.

    For Indoor, I only use 1 or 2 bar (flash power) otherwise too bright.
    If interested, you can get reflector (silver and gold) for around $20.



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