Christmas Eve Eve…swivel head external flash tidbits

Right before Christmas I got a lot of requests to do some pointers concerning using a flash for indoor pictures. I have some great equipment for setting up all kinds of flash lighting scenarios, but I’ve never invested the time into really learning it all. Most of my life involves a lot of motion so studio lighting doesn’t really come in handy for what I do. I’d love to learn one day, but for now I just manage with my external flash on the fully automatic mode.

Most dslr cameras come with a built in flash (mine does not). If you take a lot of pictures in settings where you must use a flash I recommend investing in an external flash that swivels up and down and side to side a full 180 degrees both directions. I have a Canon 430EX speedlight and a 580EX Speedlight. Unless you want to really dive into flash photography I would recommend buying another brand like Vivitar instead of Canon or Nikon. With a flash you really just need a burst of light and the ability to swivel the direction it points in. In my not so professional opinion, buying a Canon or Nikon flash is really only necessary if you want to do more complicated flash photography…which I can’t tell you anything about but I recommend checking out The Strobist.

Most dslr cameras have the ability to attach an external flash. There is a little metal bracket on the top of the camera (on top of the built in flash) this is called a Hot Shoe Mount. This is where the external flash connects to your camera.

This is what an external flash with a swivel head looks like:

Christmas Eve Eve (the night before Christmas Eve) my family sleeps together under the Christmas tree. It is dark and necessary for me to use a flash. I thought I’d share a few examples in regards to using an external flash on automatic mode & your camera on automatic mode.

The first three examples are related to how a flash can ruin the ‘setting’ of an indoor photo. The first photo is too blurry because once I turned off my flash my camera slowed down my shutter speed. This meant my hand was not steady enough to take the picture without getting a blurry shot. The second photo is with the flash and it is just all around yucky. The third photo I turned off my flash, manually chose a slow shutter but set the camera on a chair for stability to prevent blur.

On these three photos I will show you how using an external flash with a swivel head yields a totally different result depending on where you point the flash. A major thing to keep in mind when you change the direction of your flash is that it will reflect whatever color it is pointed towards. If you point it towards a taupe wall, you will get a taupe feel to the photo. If you point it at a blue wall, your photo will have a blue hue. It is best to point towards a white wall, sheet, poster board, etc. If something white is not available you can use a diffuser (ask about it at your local camera store).

Secondly, keep in mind where you point your flash determines which parts of your subject receive the most light. Since most ceilings are white, it is common for people to point their flash up at the ceiling. This can result with a great photo, but it can also result in ‘racoon eyes’ or eyes that have dark circles around them because they aren’t in the direct path of the light coming down after it hits the ceiling. You can see the difference if you pay attention to my son’s eyes in these three photos.

Though the first photo of my son has great color and clarity, the direct flash took away the background and makes it a harshly lighted photo.

Well those are all the example photos I took because coming up with a photo tutorial for my blog was not my priority….eating popcorn on my bed with 5 other people watching a Christmas movie was much more important. Hopefully those few photos and tips will help you a bit.

Here are a few other random photos from the night:

After bath curls….makes my heart melt.

Her dainty ladylike ways of eating…makes her brother’s hearts melt.

I know this photo is completely blurry. I am a quick photo deleter at most signs of blur, but this one I just don’t have the heart to delete. Could be my favorite Christmas Eve Eve 2010 photo.

And yes….my 4 year old cuddles Lego Luke Skywalker at all times….cuddles and chews that is.

I’d love to hear your feedback on if this post made sense!

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  • Elisabeth - It made perfect sense. I just posted about the same thing, but without nearly so much expertise (or helpfulness). More like reflections on trying an off-camera flash for the first time:). I love natural light, but I was actually surprised (in a good way) at the quality of the flash pictures. For now, though, I’m much more excited about having a new lens with a larger aperture. I love being able to take nice pics indoors without that slow shutter speed blur!

  • Kristy - so, so, so very helpful!

  • Wendy - thanks so much! very helpful, and perfectly timed…i, too got/bought for myself an external flash for my nikon d5000 for Christmas…and i, too, LOVE the dainty eating and after-bath curls shots-priceless! :))

  • jeny - yep, understandable. on a side note … you should probably start stocking up on pink lego’s. my daughter is almost three and demands to be put in the mix (but with pink lego’s). i tell her lego’s are for b’s and g’s; she isn’t buying that!

  • Stef - This is absolutely perfect thank you!

  • Brooke Whitis - I have been really wanting a flash to add on to my camera….and I had no clue the first thing about that…other than I ‘needed’ one… :) Thanks so much. I even had my hubby read your post, because we have both been trying to understand more about cameras…

    Thanks friend….
    and I love your sweet little Firecracker’s long curly hair….it’s getting so long! So cute!!

  • Jenny B. - OH MY GOODNESS! I am so excited! I need to go back and read the whole post, but I just had to tell you that when I saw the picture of the flash at the beginning and read your paragraph about getting a cheaper Vivitar, a lightbulb (or maybe a flash bulb – hee hee) went off in my head, and I realized that I OWN ONE! Tucked away in the tip top of my closet inside a very dusty case that holds my 30-year-old (c. 1980, so it really is 30 years old) Olympus OM-F fully manual old-school film SLR, is a Vivitar external flash! I went to get it just now. Would you belive that it actually fits on my Nikon D40, and the batteries are still good?!? I am overjoyed!! It’s fixed (it doesn’t swivel or tilt), but I can adjust the brightness, and it is WAY better than the pop-up flash. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! :D

  • Maueen - conceptually it makes sense, I have a problem with my speedlight, when I use it, it just doesn’t seem to work. I get the whole bounce thing, but how do you set the camera to work with the flash, I feel like my camera doesn’t know the flash is attached.

  • ALVN of WhisperWood Cottage & Junkologie - So extremely helpful! Thanks for the comparison photos!! Amy

  • pam heggie - it made all sorts of sense! thanks so much for taking the time. this is my first comment ever on your blog though i’m an avid follower…i am in love with it!!!
    pam from canada. :)

  • Jill - Love the pics! My daughter has the same after bath curls and I just LOVE them! Too cute!

  • Meghan - Ashley, I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, and have just ordered my first speedlite flash. I knew I needed help with lighting in my photos-especially now that I am going to start working in newborn photography! I am so thankful I saw this post you made to help me start learning how to correctly use my flash. Thank you for the time you take to give wonderful and beautiful photography tips!

  • kristen - OMG you need to take the photo of her tearing up that popcorn like that and submit it for something! :) with the title “LIKE A BOSS” haha! She is adorable. So is he, obviously. I just bought my first camera but i don’t have anything fancy. I just want to learn a simple tip or something on how to edit or blur acne on someone. :) cute fam! cute tradition!

  • Katie Wierenga - I love your blog! When I grow up I want to have a blog just like this that shows a happy family through photography. Great job!

  • Ame - I am a new photographer and the thought of using a flash pretty much scared me for fear of all my photos turning out like your first example! I have read a lot about an external flash but never in such a clear manor….with step by step examples too! This was great! Now I am excited about getting my flash! Yay!

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