The basic idea of photography is capturing the light, plain and simple. It is the camera's image sensor that records the scene by using the light that is bouncing off the subject. When that light is not adequate enough for the camera to do a good job of capturing the image, we can use a camera flash to increase the available light.
There are other times when a photo can be improved by the use of flash, even when it looks like there is plenty of available light. Knowing when and how to use a camera flash can greatly improve your photography skills and the resulting images. Knowledge of light and how it affects your pictures is sometimes the difference between a good picture and a great picture.
Almost every digital camera comes with a built-in flash. When your camera is set on auto, the camera will determine when the flash will activate, and this is usually when there is not enough ambient light to properly illuminate the picture.
As your knowledge and skill increase, you will want to take control of the on-camera flash in order to improve the outcome of your images. You can check your camera manual to determine how to turn off the flash when doing so will result in a better photo, or you can also control camera flash strength in all but the most basic of cameras.
The most optimum setup is when you can use a more powerful camera flash with much more control. Some more advanced cameras of the point and shoot variety and all digital SLR cameras have a hot shoe so that the photographer can attach an external camera flash.
External Camera Flash Units
External flash units come in many shapes and sizes, just like the cameras they are designed to work with. Each manufacturer will have several models to choose from. You can get a very basic off-camera flash unit, such as the Nikon SB-400 Speedlight your Nikon DSLR, or a Canon Speedlite 420EX for your Canon DSLR. Each of these units retails for a little more than $100, but they give your photography a huge boost when compared to on-camera flash.
Other options include getting a much more sophisticated unit that will allow you all the features and control necessary to produce the images of your dreams in terms of light and color. Top of the line for Canon is the Speedlite 580EX II, and for Nikon it is the Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight . Both of these units retail for more than $500. Of course, you can get third-party external camera flash units as well. Some of these units will save you quite a bit of money.
However, there may be limitations with their use as opposed to the camera manufacturer's own brand. Certain functions may not work on your camera. It is a good idea to check all the information about the off-brand flash before buying.
Camera Flash Accessories
There are a few ways to enhance the creative power of your external camera flash even more by adding a flash accessory to your camera bag.
One of the most useful accessories for an external flash is a diffuser. A diffuser attaches to the front of the flash and simply spreads the light from the flash over a wider area. The idea is to soften the effect of the direct light from the flash on the subject. Specialty diffusers, called softboxes, have an even more softening effect due to the larger surface area of the light source. Another piece of equipment for flash photography is an off-camera shoe cord.
A shoe cord allows the photographer to move the flash unit away from the camera, giving much more control on the effect of the flash. Moving the flash to one side or above the camera has as dramatic affect on the way the flash illuminates the subject. You can buy one of more of these flash accessories for only a few dollars, but the difference they make in some of your photos will be amazing.
As a serious amateur or a budding professional, off camera flash is one of the necessities for your camera bag. Choosing the right equipment should be a matter of research and reflection with regard to the ways you will use your flash units to enhance your images.