Monday, March 7, 2011

I'm So Flashy: Canon Speedlight 270EX Review

Ever since I got my DSLR, I've been a daytime-only photographer.  When people ask me to take photographs at night, I usually have to say something like, "I'm sorry, but I'm a natural light photographer, and flash violates my artistic sensibilities." If you're laughing, that's okay, because I couldn't say it with a straight face either.

The truth is I'm scared of flash.

Alas, memorable things do happen at night, so I decided that I had to conquer this fear once and for all. So I acquired a cheap and light external flash, the Canon Speedlite 270EX, and am slowly but surely learning to use it. In the interim, I thought I'd document the difference the flash makes . . . in case there are any other new photographers out there who might be interested in getting flashy.

Here is our venerable Chia Obama.  This was shot at around 8 pm, ambient room light only.  (By the way, this and all other photos were shot at ISO 400, f/1.8, using my uber-cheap nifty fifty lens.)  Even shooting on a tripod, the shot is dark and blurry.  It's no way to treat my very handsome President.  

Here he is using the on-camera flash, flash compensation -2.  It's better, but the image looks flat.

Here he is with the Speedlight aimed directly at him.  Oy.  Super flashy flash not flattering for anyone.

But the cool thing about the Speedlight is that you can rotate it up to "bounce" the flash off a surface.  Here is Chia Obama, this time with the Speedlight oriented half-way up (about 40 degrees or so).  I actually think this might be my favorite of the series: the flash is enough to expose the details and depth of the face, but not so overwhelming as to flatten out everything.

And here he is again, this time with the Speedlight aimed straight up at the ceiling.  These last two shots were much better, right?  I mean, a mere mortal might actually look decent under these lighting conditions?

Since mere mortals do need all the help we can get, I invested in a flash diffuser, the Sto-Fen Omni Bounce, which caps right over the Speedlite.  I don't know why a piece of plastic should be $12, but if it can give me a flawless on-camera face, I suppose I shouldn't complain too much.  Anyway, this shot was with the Speedlight and diffuser, flash aimed directly at the object.  Not great, but definitely not as harsh as the version above sans diffuser.

Here is the same shot, but with the diffused Speedlight aimed about 40 degrees up.

And here is the same shot with the diffused Speedlight aimed directly at the ceiling.  There's not a significant difference between the diffused and non-diffused flash when the Speedlight is aimed at an angle or directly at the ceiling, but I think that's just because Chia Obama is made out of a uniformly colored terracotta.  My guess is that the diffuser would make a bigger difference with real people, and would provide a much softer light for faces.

Okay, I'm off to water Chia Obama now.  His "hair" is sprouting only on the back of his head, because I keep forgetting to fill him up with water.  I hope this flash experiment has been useful for some of you.  And for you pros who are masters of light, I'd love to hear your tips!


Mo March 8, 2011 at 1:15 AM  

Chia Obama is such a good model.

I adore my Canon Speedlite! I'm definitely not a master of light, but I'm happy that our apartment has white walls, which I use to bounce the light off of.

If I take a self-portrait of myself, I face the flash directly at me so that the light washes out my blemishes and lines. :)

Mrs. Hot Cocoa March 8, 2011 at 7:49 PM  

@ Mo: Ooh, thanks for the tip. I hate taking photos of myself, but if I ever had to, I'll know to aim the flash directly at me.

Susan Amestoy March 10, 2011 at 1:04 PM  

I am writing a book called "So...How Did You Meet Anyway?" It is a collection of people's "how we met" stories.
I have posted the stories which have been sent in on;
So...How Did You Meet Anyway?
I am always shopping for stories and I would like to add yours. Please check out the site, and if you would like to contribute your "how we met" story contact me at;
Take care and...congratulations!

Nellie March 22, 2011 at 3:20 PM  

love it. We should do a photography walk in Cambridge or Boston or something. You know.. like walk around in a group and model for each other and take pictures. It looks like a bunch of peeps are trying to learn more about photograhy!

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