External Flashes

External flash units

Written by Gail Bjork

External flash units are much more versatile and powerful than built-in digital camera flashes.

External flash units, also known as accessory flashes, offer much more versatility and power than a built-in camera flash. The benefits are many: increased flash range, more control of light direction, faster recycle times and they virtually eliminate red eye.

External flashes are typically mounted on a camera with a hot shoe, though they can also be used with a flash bracket attached to the tripod mount on the bottom of most cameras. Some units can be used as a wired or wireless slave flash, which fires when the built-in flash goes off. A slave flash, which requires no hot shoe, is placed away from the camera.

“Dedicated” external flashes are made to work with a specific digital camera.

External flash features

Basic external flash units offer automatic and manual flash settings. More advanced units have heads that can be swiveled and/or tilted up or down to bounce the flash and diffuse the light, or change its direction. Some external flashes have zoom heads that can be changed to match the focal length of a camera lens.

Most external flashes come with a built-in or attachable diffuser to tone down harsh lighting and expand the flash coverage when taking wide-angle shots.

Bounce flash

One of the main reasons people buy an external flash with a bounce head is to eliminate strong light and harsh shadows that appear in photos taken with a built-in flash. The angle of the head is positioned upward so the flash can be bounced off a white ceiling or reflector, diffusing the light to produce a photo with a natural, softer look. This less harsh lighting is perfect for photographing people, or subjects such as insects for Extreme Macro photography.

A word of caution about older external flash units

Due to differences in voltage, using an older flash can damage a newer camera beyond repair. Adapters may be available so an older flash can be safely used.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.