The built in flash on a camera is useful for adding some light on you subject but its harsh and very directional. An external camera flash gives you more versatility because you can bounce the light from many different angles that is if you have a tilt swivel flash. you can bounce the light off a side wall or the ceiling for a more flattering look on your subject. The problem with bouncing you flash is that what ever color tone of the wall or ceiling that you are bouncing you flash off will often show up on your client or the person your photographing.

If you want a better look than the color tone of the wall on your client you can use light modifiers modifiers such as omnibounce filters, bounce flash reflector, or my favorite strobist flash softbox.

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Omnibounce Filters and Lightspheres

Omnibounce filters are a easy and cheap way to diffuse the harsh light from your flash. The only draw back is you will lose some of the light because it not directional. The good news is that it will throw soft even light on to your subject and in most cases eliminate that harsh shadow that is usually seen on the walls behind you subject. Omnibounce filters are best used for parties at night or in dark areas. No shadows will be cast on your subjects and they will wonder how you got your photos to be so clear and filled with light. Turning night into day. It’s a simple but very effective trick for great shots.

The use of a light sphere will dramatically spread the light on your subject even more than an omnibounce.  The use of one or the other will be your choice.  Its best to try a few of the diffusers and see the results.  If you like one over the other they use that  diffuser.  The light sphere has accessories that attach to it to create even more interesting light displays.

Bounce Flash Reflector

This reflector is differs from the omnibounce in that it gives more direction to the light. You would place the reflector on your external flash by using some Velcro stickers around your flash and it makes the reflector easy to place and remove. The flash is pointed upwards so the light will hit the reflector and is bounced in the direction that the reflector is pointing. Little light is lost using this reflector but the light is a bit more harsh than the omnibounce. The light is spread wider that the flash would have spread it so it to can be used for larger groups of people at a party. Mostly up to 4 persons would be covered and well lit by the use of this modifier. 

Strobist Flash Softbox

Different from all the other light modifiers this softbox gives the best dispersion of light onto your subject but there is a catch. Your flash is now off your camera and is a part of the softbox kit.  As a photographer it is known that soft boxes will always produce soft even light on your subject. With a soft box you can position the light where you want it to achieve different more interesting look to your photography.  You can set it at a 45/45 angle for a natural look, you can create Rembrandt lighting, butterfly, side, direct or light from below and above for high key.  The possibilities of having your flash off camera are endless.

As I mentioned before the only catch is that you will need a way to trigger the flash off camera.  Depending on the type of camera you use a wireless trigger may be already built in to your camera. For persons with cameras that do not have a built in trigger you will have to purchase a separate trigger or a master flash to trigger the slave flash.  The cheaper and often reliable road to take is to use a separate flash trigger.  There are low budget triggers on the market that work well with any name brand camera.

Off Camera Flash Trigger

If you decide to use a off camera flash soft box the cheapest way to get use to having your flash off camera is to use an off camera flash trigger.  The flash trigger has no TTL capabilities but it will fire your flash for you.  You will have to know a little about your camera like exposure, aperture and shutter speed because you will be working on trial an error to get a good exposure of your subject.  This is not all that bad it actually helps you to become a better photographer, instead of setting the camera on program to sync with your flash you will have to know your flash sync speed and adjust your aperture and shutter speed to correctly light your subject.  The good thing is that once you get it right you can move your light around for more dramatic and interesting lighting situations.

There are many different types of flash triggers on the market ranging from $20.00 up to $60.00.  They all do a great job in triggering your flash.  There are the wireless radio triggers good for 20 feet or more, the triggers that require a cable to be connected to your camera and then there are the flash activated triggers that you use in conjunction with your built in flash to trigger your off camera flash.

A good Flash softbox kit along with a flash trigger may run you into $100.00 total but that is easier that getting a master flash that would cost over $300.00 not to mention that you still would have to purchase the softbox kit so your total cost may be over $350.00.
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Aftermarket Flashes

Is it worth it to purchase an aftermarket flash to go with your DSLR? Well that all depends on your preference. Some people are more concerned with having a Canon camera with authentic Canon lens and Canon flash and the same with Nikon lovers. While you will be able to carry out more specific task with your name brand compatible flash an after market flash in most instances can do the same thing. For a beginner and most often advanced photographers, after market flashes are a good buy. They can purchase two or three after market flashes for the the price of one name brand flash. Of course we all know the more you can control your light the easier it may be to get exactly what you want. A well lit subject with separation from the background and even a hair light will do the trick nicely, well for such a photo multiple flashes will work just fine.

Some common names in the after market flash department are; Vivitar, Precision, Sigma, Phoenix, Targus, Bower and even Nissin. While each of these flash units have their own quirks they can still get the job done. Many of their models offer TTL comparability for your name brand camera as well.

It is often a good procedure to practice with after market flashes to familiarize yourself with using external and off the camera flashes, this will ensure that when you do purchase your brand flash, you will know how to care for it and how to use it more efficiently. Another reason to use after market flashes is simply because we learn from our mistakes and accidentally having the wind or a passer by knock over or drop your $300.00 name brand flash will not go over easy with you or your pocket, whereas a $50.00 after market flash would not stir up as much trouble.

After market flashes can range from $40.00 up to $140.00 depending on style and functions,.