woke up rather late this morning, close to noontime. i think i had some notion of getting up early so i can see the morning glory flowers in the garden but that didn't happen. feeling behind on my exercises, i went out for a run. i had energy to spare and the weather was just cool enough to be perfect, but i still felt bored even with my portable music. since i didn't leave the house until almost 1pm, i didn't get back until 2pm. plus, i stopped at the garden to do some watering (picked off a large red tomato from plant 1). a quick shower and i was out the door, first to cvs to get a prescription filled then to the cafe for some late lunch.

i've been asked to informally photograph a wedding that's happening in less than 3 weeks and i've decided it's impossible to do without an external flash. last night i was trying to find a solution: the only canon flash worth buying (canon speedlite 580EX) was at least $400, slightly out of my price range, particularly for something i won't even get paid for doing. sigma also makes a canon-compatible flash (EF-500 DG super) but atnearly half the price; unfortunately some people have said it's a cheap build and missing some features found only on the canon flash.

in any case, i decided to visit zeff's photo in belmont and see if i could get lucky and rent an external flash. turns out one was available for the weekend i needed it so i made a reservation ($15/weekend), plus i also rented it for the day so i could play around with it and familiarize myself with the controls and settings.

a beefy digital SLR camera might say you're more than a casual photographer; a lens with some formidable glass or sizeable length will take your game up a notch; but combined with an external flash, that's the trifecta of professional photography. i belong to the camp that says, "why ever take a flash photo?" certainly any photos i've taken using my camera's built-in flash have always looked unnatural and washed out. that's why i almost never shoot with the flash. but an external flash is a different animal altogether. the lighting is stronger and more intelligent (depending on the flash used) and when done correctly can look pretty natural. shooting with a flash also greatly reduces blurry photos, which is something i deal with all the time shooting without flash (i usually throw away about a quarter of the photos i take because they're too blurry). for things like weddings, where moments happen just once, i can't be fumbling with my camera settings or asking people for redos when i don't get the shot.

i returned to the cafe to play around with my newly rented flash, using my parents as test subjects. i could feel the magic the moment i attached the flash to the hot shoe on top of my camera (so that's what that's for!). i normally shoot in multi-burst mode, but with the flash i no longer had to do that since every photo i took was precisely lit and clear. the flash didn't come with instructions so i was at a lost when it started to make weird noises and blink mysterious symbols on its LCD display. i came home and quickly downloaded the manual online. a few minutes later i had the basic gist of how to use the thing. it took another frustrating 30 minutes before i came to the conclusion that the unit was actually malfunctioning. it'd still flash, but somehow it wasn't communicating with the camera and some of the buttons didn't work.

regardless of the setback, this was my first taste of using an external flash and in the back of my mind i was already saving money to buy one. i think back to some past photo opps where if i only had a decent flash i could've gotten some better shots. i spent the rest of the day going through my house taking photo of things. if anyone was to walk by my place, they would've instantly be suspicious of all the light bursts happening inside. one of the things i discovered was it's definitely easier to photograph fish using a flash.

with flash

without flash

another thing about the external flash that i really like is the fact it uses a near invisible infrared preflash. with the built-in flash on my camera, it does this annoying strobing preflash which is distracting to say the least, like somebody flicking the light switch up and down really fast. i'm just afraid somebody's going to get a seizure or something! but with the external flash i don't have any of other worries.

after some more scientific testing, i think the ceiling bounce or the sideway turned flash gives more pleasant lighting. direct full-frontal lighting seems to give the worst results, casting all sorts of shadows much like the case when i use the camera's internal flash. of course for ambience and colors, i still prefer no flash lighting at all, but that only works if nothing's moving or if i don't mind blurry compositions.

no flash

ceiling bounce

45° flash

90° direct flash

wide angle flash

45° side flash

i also broke down and finally bought an air blower thingamajiggy ($12). it has a weird design, sort of looks like a personal care device.

direct flash

side flash

no flash

for dinner i had a chicken pot pie. tomorrow morning i'm going back to zeff's to let them know about the busted flash and see if they have anymore good ones.