One of the beauties of digital photography is that everything is handy. It’s just right there, a click away. Looking at your shot, adjusting all kinds of settings, handling more than a focal distance, lights…Everything is just so easy!
By now, you have probably realized that your camera has a built-in flash. In fact, plenty of devices that are capable of taking pictures, have it. But try it out. Doesn’t work as you expected, huh?
The thing is that sometimes, the camera offers us more than it can handle. We won’t go into details of why some brands do that to their gears, but consider that not every feature is exactly good enough to perform. At least not in all cases.
This is why professional photographers don’t resort to built-in flash, but rather they invest in an external flash. An external flash is just a device that has the same function as the one the camera brings. So what are the reasons to get one?
Up next, we will see 10 reasons to get an external flash.
Probably our favorite feature about an external flash is that it allows you to customize the way the light hits a scene. You have probably realized that your built-in flash has a very hard light, hence it causes hard shadows and hard reflections. Not to mention the only position it has is in the front!
An external flash can change your whole work structure, in a good way. You can place it wherever you need it, as long as the cable (if it’s not wireless) reaches the spot. And this is all usually well thought by the manufacturers, so you won’t have too many problems about cable length or connections.
Also, you can have more than one! An external flash may not be sufficient in some occasions, so you may need more. And since you can place them wherever you need them, you don’t necessarily overexpose the scene.
Last but not least, you can actually modify these lights. There are a thousand products out there, like modifiers or light diffusers that are specifically designed to enhance external flashes’ features.
2.Freezing movements is possible
Of course, a popular feature of external flashes is freezing movements. Though shutter speed is the main ally of these kind of pictures, a flash can be crucial for great results. Especially when we are not shooting in the middle of the day.
If you want to do one of those shots where the background is completely black, then you will definitely need an external flash (and maybe even two). Also, if the scene is not as bright, the flash light might be the only thing that freezes it.
We are not going to lie, though. To properly handle these techniques, you may need to watch (or read some tutorials). Also you will probably take several shots before you get the accurate result. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s won’t be hard either if we set our minds to it!
3.Indoor photography is easier
Natural light is one of the best allies for photographers. Not only because it offers us a soft, wide light, but also because it takes the responsibility of customizing so much. With artificial light, results are not the same, but they can simulate sunlight (or work just as well).
There is a problem with natural light: when we work inside a house, apartment or whatever that has roof and walls, it’s quite limited. That’s why we use windows, skylights and doors to brighten a scene. However, it’s not always so helpful. Sometimes there is just not enough light to cover it.
This is when we recur to an external flash. One of the main reasons you should buy one is because you will need it to light up a scene indoors. In a photographic studio it can be extremely helpful. In fact, try lighting without one: almost impossible!
4.Night photography is even better!
Just as it happens with indoor photography, nights are…well, dark. And low light conditions are challenging. Because as we said before, our camera sensor is designed to work with ideal lightning conditions. And once we push it further its capacity, we start getting some problems…
An external flash is an essential tool to work during the nights or in any situation where there’s dim lightning. In fact, in the darkest environments, it can be great to avoid underexposure.
And there is also an important phenomenon an external flash can prevent: the frontal light and dark backgrounds. And if we are shooting at nights, we can use at least two or three flashes.
Ugh! One of the most awkward pictures we can get is that one frame in which the center of a picture gets overexposed and the rest is not clear at all. That’s a consequence of a front hard light from the built-in flash.
We can avoid this situation with the use of an external flash or other types of lights among the scene. If you have a well-spotted light structure, you can prevent an uneven lightning. As simple as that.
For this you will need more than one flash and probably a few more accessories, like a softbox or a Grid Spots. But you will get the results you are looking for. You will get a clear view of all the scene, without that awkward-amateur appearance.
6.You can do macro shots
An external flash is more than just a source of light: it’s a whole world of possibilities. You can modify it in a lot of ways. There are plenty of accessories (like the ones mentioned above) that you can attach to them. And then you can make “just a source light” look different.
Macro shots are possible to do with specific types of flash. Ring flashes, for instance, are great to do these shots. However, they can be a little more expensive, as everything part of a macrophotography gear. The good news is that we can make one ourselves!
There are tons of tutorial in YouTube, and when it comes to saving more than a few bucks, photographers are happy to search for them. External flashes are the key ingredient to make ring flashes. You just need to search for DIY ring flashes, and you’ll see what we are talking about.
But the best part of it all is that this is the cheapest alternative to do macro photography without spending so much in specific type of flash.
7.Stroboscopic mode is awesome
Flashes have different types of functions. That’s right: there’s more than one way we can use it. And one of the most underrated modes is the stroboscopic one. Probably because we don’t know how it works.
The stroboscopic mode works in the following way: within each shot, the device throws more than one flash. You set up a shooting time range and within it, the light goes on and off repeatedly. But why we would set our flash like this?
There is something called stroboscopic photography, which is a pretty amazing type of photography that captures the movement sequence. So basically the sequence goes immortalized in a single frame. And all this with just an external flash.
If you are not sure about it, take a look at the internet posts about stroboscopic photographs. You will be completely seduced by it!
Dark pictures are a terrible thing, yet they are quite common. But they are not exactly the worst thing that can happen. You have probably faced blur results, which are far sadder. Sometimes we get a great frame, but without enough sharpness.
And besides lighting things up, an external flash is also great to make the scene completely sharp. With better lighting and with better light quality, everything in the composition will clearer.
To do this, you will of course need more than one external flash. With two or more flashes, you’ll be able to make the whole scene sharper, instead of brighten up a single portion. Unless, of course, the proportion of the frame is quite small.
Also remember that there are some lenses that distort or that cause blurs in photographs. Telephotos usually have these problems: they tend to have such a wide aperture that they can cause a lot of defocus. Especially on the sides.
So if we are looking for clearer pictures, the best option to go for is a wide-angle lens. They are less luminous and they get a bigger proportion of the frame we want to photograph. And in general, external flashes are close friends of any type of gear that’s being used.
9. High and Low Key Photography
High key photography is a kind of photography that’s done through a deliberated overexposure. Which means we need a lot of light to do it. There are some editing methods you can use to transform a picture into a high key one, but that’s not the ideal scenario.
For high key photography, external flashes are important tools. If you use a single source of light, say the sun, there can be a problem: it can be a very hard light and it can cause big dark shadows. And as you know, high key photography is known for having a very soft light. Also, it doesn’t usually have dark tones, so hard shadows are out of the question.
Now low key photography is another deal, but it benefits a lot from external flash. As you know, low key photography is practically the opposite of high key one. It means there are a lot of dark shadows and usually these pictures have a black background.
Lights are still necessary to get the low key. There has to be a light focus in the picture, even if it’s a tiny one. And to get such a subtle light focus, we indeed need an external flash. But that’s not the only part of the gear we need to use. We will probably need to add a grid spots or another type of diffuser to get that effect.
In conclusion, whether you need to customize the light to get it really small or whether you need to cover the whole frame, an external flash is the best tool you will get.
10.They are cheap!
Besides all the reasons above, another good reason to get an external flash is its price. They are around £25 and £35 in online stores, so they are pretty accessible to anyone who is willing to invest a little in their gear.
But not only are they cheap: there are tons of different flashes for different cameras. There is a wide variety for every kind of pocket and every kind of brand.
So you see, there are no excuses to not have an external flash: they are extremely useful, there is a wide variety and they are not expensive at all.
However there are a few disadvantages of having an external flash. Not comparable with the advantages, but it’s good to know them anyway.
Less space in your backpack. Though external flashes are great, they are large. So when we carry more than one, we take off a lot of space in our backpack. And sometimes they can be heavy, depending on the model. Which is definitely a con for travel photographers.
You need separate batteries. Flashes can be great, but you will need a full charged battery. And we are not talking about the camera battery, but rather their own. Sometimes they have an external battery life and you need to keep them loaded to be able to work.
In general, we can say an external flash is a very practical investment. There won’t be a need to depend on bigger light sources when we can’t get the sun in our scene. If you like to work in your studio, be sure to have enough batteries to cover the whole session. And tip? Don’t build a photographic studio without them!