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So far, I was using my Android phone to shoot pictures and some basic point and click cameras. I would say that I am a low intermediate camera user. I know the basics about focus, depth of field, aperture, shutter speed iso etc. and I have played with different options.

This year I decided to upgrade and bought a Sony A6100 kit with SELP-16-50mm lens. I realized that it is "too weak" to shoot in low light (my home) and bought also Sigma 30mm f1.4 (aps-c) prime lens.

My main need is to take family photos, mostly of my children. And this equipment is great when there is enough light. But now I have come to a dead-end and need to find a way to fill a shooting scene with light when necessary. The built-in flash on my camera is too strong for portraits (or I don't know how to use it), I usually bounce it off walls, but it is very awkward to hold it in that position while shooting (it is not intended to be used for bouncing).

My question is: does it make sense to buy Speedlight? Will it cover most everyday situations where I would need to shoot children photos (birthdays, portraits, children playing etc.) or would you recommend some other solutions for me? I am not looking to set up a home studio, so heavy equipment is not my thing but something light and versatile will be perfect. Which one would you recommend? Is there some best buy option where intensity of light can be adjusted?

Also, a recommendation for a beginner tutorial on how to use it would be great.

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    Obligatory link: Strobist 101
    – Philip Kendall
    Jul 9 at 12:38
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    @PhilipKendall Stobist is great for learning manual flash. But TTL has come a long way since David Hobby started shooting. Since he hasn't shot TTL in probably 40 years, he may not be as well-rounded as some folks give him credit for being. He's not going to recommend anything based on TTL capability and performance.
    – Michael C
    Jul 9 at 15:31
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    @PhilipKendall, no Tangents before Strobist. And Strobist always with a rider on off-camera TTL, and footnote redirect to Joe McNally here and here. :)
    – inkista
    Jul 9 at 19:07
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    Off Topic. Couldn't this be a sign that you may need to reconsider the lighting in your apartment? If you have a lot of bright and dark spots lighting might not be very comfortable.
    – FluidCode
    Jul 11 at 12:37
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    It always depends on how much you want to carry with you, but if you shoot primarily portrait photos at home, you could consider buying a "soft box" instead of the speedlight. Or maybe two LED panels with tripods.
    – U. Windl
    Jul 12 at 10:21
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Does it make sense to buy [a] Speedlight?

Absolutely if what you want to learn and achieve is good on-camera bounce flash. That is exactly what a speedlight with a head that tilts and swivels is designed to do that a pop-up flash cannot.

However, very few of us would think a pop-up flash is "too strong". It's likely that you still need to learn that flash exposure is controlled by iso, aperture, power, and distance. Your subject may have been too close, your ISO too high, or your aperture too wide, and that caused the flash overexposure. Speedlights are actually more powerful than your pop-up, while still being on the low power-output end of the spectrum when it comes to lighting gear.

Will it cover most everyday situations where I would need to shoot children photos (birthdays, portraits, children playing etc.) or would you recommend some other solutions for me?

Again, absolutely. I've never felt a need to go beyond speedlights. And it's the ideal solution for you as a beginner. A hotshoe flash is unique among lighting tools in that it can be used both on-camera and off-camera and being battery-powered, it's very portable.

I am not looking to set up a home studio, so heavy equipment is not my thing but something light and versatile will be perfect.

The magic here is that you can also use speedlights off-camera, Strobist-style to set up a home studio, and still have something light and versatile and portable.

So which one would you recommend? Is there some best buy option where intensity of light can be adjusted?

Absolutely. But the models I recommend today in 2021 (Godox TT685 and TT350) are not the models I would have recommended even six years ago, and they are likely to be replaced and superseded as models in a year or two from now, being 5-6 year old models today. There are reasons we don't like shopping questions on Stackexchange.

So, instead, I point you to this Q&A: What features should one look for when selecting a flash?, where you can put together a list of features you think you'll need and then match them up against existing current models. Because, like lenses, which one you need is up to you and how you shoot and personal preferences, as well as budget.

Also, a recommendation for a beginner tutorial on how to use it would be great.

For on-camera bounce flash, I always recommend Neil van Niekerk's Tangents website. He's a professional wedding and portrait photographer and he's a wizard with an on-camera speedlight. He can also teach you off-camera flash, but the main go-to source on the web for that is David Hobby's Strobist website. But. Learn to walk (on-camera bounce) before you run (off-camera flash). And, if you don't know how to stand yet (exposure triangle mastered; comfortable in M mode), that must be solid before you can start learning flash. Because while ambient-only exposure is juggling three balls (iso, aperture, shutter speed), flash+ambient exposure is juggling five (iso, aperture, shutter speed, power, and distance), while riding a unicycle (balancing flash against ambient). :)

See also:

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  • You touch on power but don't mention it explicitly in the following sentence. I assume you're referring to flash power adjustment? For instance, on my old (2011) camera I can adjust the flash power between -3 and +3. For close up portraits -3 does a great job versus the default (0) which is a bit too bright.
    – Michael
    Jul 11 at 19:21
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A speedlight is a great addition to your kit.
I suggest learning about bounce flash. As you experienced, the built-in flash on your camera produces garish results because it's inline with the lens. Moving the flash off camera is a way to improve the lighting, but that is cumbersome. Bounce lighting has the effect of moving the light off your camera even though the speedlight is mounted on your camera.

The trick is to aim the speedlight at a wall or ceiling that has a neutral color (white or gray). Heck, you can even bounce off of the back of someone if they are wearing a white shirt. This produces a broad light source (good for softening shadows) and lights your subjects from an angle which produces pleasing shadows. I suggest watching In Camera Artistry: Using Any Light Source where Jerry discusses bounce flash. After you absorb the bounce light segment, rewind to the beginning and watch the whole video.

While we're on the subject of lighting, take note of window lighting which is covered in the video. No speedlight needed and can produce wonderful results.

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    I've used a cutlery knife to good effect to redirect a built-in flash, to take better picture of dinner guests. :)
    – Kaz
    Jul 11 at 1:11
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Manual flash is great for exposure control -- especially when using flash mainly for fill (shooting in harsh direct sun, for instance, or in shade with a bright background). However, that makes it less than ideal for a beginner.

What I'd recommend is at least a flash with some auto exposure capability, or ideally one that can work with the camera's metering and computer to make it easy to get "How much light?" right while you work on knowing "Where to light?"

I learned manual flash when there was no affordable alternative for a teenager (ever heard of flash bulbs?), but I never really learned to deal with flash other than directly on camera, toward the subject. My early flash photos were saved from the "edge shadow" by the large reflector on bulb flashes that were old when I was young in the 1970s, and from redeye (mostly) by the large reflector putting the light far enough from the lens that it didn't reflect too much (the blue filtration on the bulbs helped, too).

Don't learn the way I did -- make use of the technology. Use the steerable light you have built onto your camera, learn about diffusion and bounce -- and yes, get a remote trigger and a speedlight, too, so you can start to learn about multi-flash. Two light sources are almost always better than one, if the flash will be your primary light, and with digital, as with Polaroid when I was young (and couldn't afford to feed one), you can see your results in time to adjust your lighting.

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Definitely. Even though that camera has some bounce flash capabilities built in (most pop-up flashes don't), there are still several significant reasons to own a separate flash:

  • External flashes are less prone to red-eye because they're more vertically spaced from the lens.
  • External flashes are less prone to visible shadows from wide-angle lenses.
  • External flashes often have built-in diffusers, white card reflectors, etc. that can make them considerably less harsh.
  • External flashes don't run down your camera's main battery.

I can't recommend any specific models for Sony cameras (and even if I did, they'd become out of date quickly). Mostly you should figure out the trade-offs between features and size, and then buy the most capable flash that is small enough that you can stand it. :-)

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The a6100 built in flash is on a flexible mount that can be tilted back to bounce its light off of a low ceiling. This will reduce the amount of light falling on the subject and what light falls on the subject will come from a better direction. This reduces the “deer in the headlights” look typical of much flash photography…which is probably what you don’t like.

Dedicated flash units tilt and swivel to provide a similar set of possibilities but provide more power. They can also be moved off camera and triggered remotely.

My favorite on camera setup uses a “Garry Fong” style diffuser. The light is great, it doesn’t depend on low ceilings or nearby walls, and is relatively compact.

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    OP already said they were tilting the a6100's flash to bounce it. And a lot of folks hate the tupperware diffusers and argue all they do is eat light, not so much diffuse, since they're basically just making a fresnel head flash a bit more like a bare bulb. It really only softens/diffuses the light if there are low ceilings and nearby walls to bounce off (hence "omnibounce").
    – inkista
    Jul 10 at 0:46
  • @inkista the “Fong” style diffuser bounces light off its own upper surface. And walls. I did not say anything about anyone liking them other than myself. Have you tried one yourself? . The bounce of the Sony cameras is somewhat particular to it. It is the simplest solution and learning to do things as habit that seem like work is a normal part of learning photography for many people. Jul 10 at 1:21
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For indoor photography of a few subjects, dealing with light trough a speedligth makes sense. This is not an equipment dedicated to advanced photographers, it only matters on the needs you have.

Just avoid direct lighting and use the walls or the ceiling to reflect and diffuse the light in a natural way.

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Yes. Also: Get filters. There are TWO kinds of filter sets: One consists of all kinds of chipper colors, using these in eg building ruins (off camera!!) is immense fun. The other consists of color matching filters, and is pretty vital if you want to add an accent to indoor lighting without getting very strange color balances. You want both.

Also, get a remote trigger, optimally one that is TTL capable.

Also, get a few IKEA Regolit china ball lantern shades. A TTL flash inside one of these can yield quite impressive results.

Also, get in the habit of marking your battery sets (eg, if you have a speedlight that takes 4 AAs, take groups of 4 fresh batteries and mark them with the same symbol or number). Use and charge a set together, always. Does not matter if rechargeable or not. Just trust me on that, you will save yourself some quality frustration.

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