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Light up your photos

Tara W. has worked for Crutchfield since 2004. She writes about whole-house music and video gear, and works on Crutchfield's video team.

More from Tara W.

I've been using my digital SLR camera's pop-up flash for the past year. I found, though, that the flash doesn't project enough light for certain situations and creates a lighting effect that's too harsh in other settings. Subjects close to the camera have a harsh shadow behind them, and subjects farther away from the camera aren't illuminated enough. All this led me to search out another alternative — an external flash.

External flashes come in a variety of styles and a variety of costs, but I chose Nikon's entry-level SB-400 Speedlight. It connects to my camera's accessory shoe and runs on 2 "AA" batteries.

The SB-400 is much more powerful than my camera's simple pop-up flash, and it solves the problem of getting light to distant subjects. It can light up practically all of my apartment's big living room.

I can also tilt the flash for different lighting effects. I leave it in its traditional, "forward-firing" position for getting the most light around my room, but I tilt the flash when I want to create more natural photos of close subjects. The flash tilts upward to 60, 75, and 90 degrees. This let me bounce the flash off walls or ceiling, and it instantly improved my indoor photos. The subjects of my photos no longer look like deer in the headlights. It's the next best thing to actual rays of sunshine.

For the point-and-shoot camera owners out there — this may work for you, too. Some non-SLR cameras also accept external flashes. Look for an accessory shoe on the top of your camera to see whether it's an option.

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