Sunday, March 6, 2011

What a Speedlight can do for you

I know. Another photography related post. I apologize to all of you who have absolutely no interest in photography and I promise to only post these every once in awhile. I receive emails asking me this question and it is a popular question on photography boards so I wanted to type this all up to help those who have the same question.

As always, I have included photographs of my adorable munchkins so even if you have to skip over the photography mumbo jumbo, there is still something for you to look at. (Although for this post, the pictures are somewhat boring. Kids don't usually cooperate for stuff like this so I had to take what I could get.)

Okay, let's get started. This post should be of great interest to you if the following apply:
  1. You are fairly new to photography.

  2. You own an entry level Nikon DSLR camera (D3000, D3100, D5000, D40)

  3. You have kit lens (or two) and maybe even the 35mm f/1.8 lens or a 50mm lens.

  4. You take photos of your kids inside and at night.

If you shoot Canon, the theories I am going to discuss still apply so don't feel completely left out. Unfortunately, I don't know much about Canon equipment aside from the fact that it is comparable to Nikon equipment.

Now if you are new to photography, I honestly don't think that there is anything wrong with taking photographs using Auto on your camera. Using Auto means that you are allowing the camera to decide the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. That will be another post for another day. I mention it because you may not know how to use your camera in Manual, where you set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

In case you don't know, I use an ancient Nikon D50. I don't have a kit lens. The closest I have to a kit lens is a Nikon 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6. That is the lens that I used for this first set of photos.

So my kids are playing and I want to take a picture of it. It's at night and I only know how to use my camera in Auto. Here's the picture that I get:


Now suppose I know how to use my camera in Manual, I don't have a Speedlight and I want to avoid the harsh effects of the onboard flash. Here's the picture that I get. (Note that this is straight out of the camera with no editing.)


ISO: I started by setting the ISO to 1600. This is the highest ISO setting on my camera and I knew that I would need to set it high.

Aperture: I set the f stop to 3.3, which is the lowest that the lens will allow. However, if I zoom with the lens, the f stop will increase.

Shutter speed: I metered in my camera and in order to get a correct exposure, I had to set the shutter speed to 1/15, which is ridiculously slow if photographing children. Do you see how Em's arm (she's wearing the polka dots) is blurry?

White balance: I set the camera to recognize that I was shooting with unnatural light and would need some help with white balance.

Here is the same photograph with some editing to try to correct the white balance and brighten the picture. I fully admit that post processing is not my area of expertise and I don't like to spend more than two minutes on a photo. Make that a minute thirty seconds.


And finally, here is the same scene photographed with my Speedlight.


Can you see the difference? (I may have cheated a little by using manual settings. Once you stop using auto, you can't go back. But I assure you that if you use the Speedlight in auto, you will get similar results. When I first started using my Speedlight, I used auto all the time.)

Okay, so now suppose you have a faster lens. A lens that can handle low light situations better. How about the Nikon 35mm, f/1.8? Yes? Well, we are going to use that for our next set of examples.

Here is Auto with onboard flash:


Here's what I get with Manual, no flash:


I'm not even going to try to fix it. She moved and I could not get a fast enough shutter speed to avoid that.

And here is what the same scene looks like with my Speedlight. It's still a bit warm but definitely better than options 1 and 2.


Can you see the difference?

If you don't like using your onboard flash and cannot afford a Speedlight, an inexpensive option is the Light Scoop. I have never used one so I can't tell you much about it. It basically sits on your camera and directs the light from your onboard flash upward instead of straight ahead.

I use a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight.

And I hope someone finds this useful!

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Elyssa said...

i did! i have a canon eos digital

Colleen said...

I did. Thank you! I am definitely interested in getting one and it helps seeing the difference.

kdliberty said...

I know understand why my Aunt's pictures never turn out as good as I think they should! She owns an expensive camera and no speedlight...


Jayme said...

I need one of those now too, to go with the lens on my wishlist :)

I have a lightscoop. I can't seem to get good results with it.

Jayme said...

What do the different numbers on the speedlights mean? (I am browsing amazon and see a ton)

Ami said...

Sarah, I love it when you post photography tips! My sister is learning photography and these are so helpful! The cute girls are always a bonus! :)

Meg said...

Thanks for sharing! I found this interesting even though I don't have a fancypants camera. :)

Liz Jimenez said...

Excellent, I love your photo-geek posts. :-)

I've been debating a speedlight but haven't managed to drop the cash yet. I do have an inexpensive flash diffuser (which I talked about here), which does help take the edge off, but it's no speedlight.

It's definitely on my wish list.

Darby said...

Thanks so much! I have a Canon and am always searching for tips to photograph my 3 yr old! tried out your manual technique right away! worked great! Ill have to put that speedlight on my wish list :)

Unknown said...

I don't have a DSLR camera but read your post anyway. I now have serious camera envy. Maybe someday we'll take the plunge and buy one :)

Unknown said...

When using your speed light indoors what do you keep your ISO at? What is your typical shutter or aperture settings?

Anonymous said...

Sarah, your photos are fantastic. My wife and I are expecting triplets late this summer. Your blog is great!

Sarah said...

Thanks, everyone - I'm glad you al found it useful.

Jayme - there are different model numbers. The higher up you go, the more they do. I usually do not recommend the SB-400 b/c the top part does not swivel.

Momma Chantal - I always keep my ISO at 200 b/c the grain with my camera is pretty bad. I usually set the aperture for 3.5-4 range and during the day, my SS is around 120-160. At night, I drop it (if I remember) to let more let into the background of the photo.

Jeremy Bear - Congrats!!! (and thank you.)


aaccccccccccck...i want one bad!