So most people don’t actually own any external flashes and if they do, it’s a very basic one that was sold as a package deal. An external flash is an external flash and that will always be way better than any on camera flash IF you use it properly. On the other hand, you can definitely get a lot better images if you understand lighting and (non destructively of course) modify your on camera flash.
First off, if you don’t have any and want to make the investment, here’s the best value in my opinion. Buy these in this order and according to your budget. Neewer Flash, Remote Trigger, …if you want to expand to a 2 flash setup, buy two receivers ahead of time to save some money and shipping time, and you can use your automatic cheap external flash from your package deal or buy another Neewer flash. I’ll explain more of this below under the multi flash setup.
Modifying on camera flash
If you’re indoors and have a white index card or piece of paper, you can try bouncing the flash off the ceiling to create a warmer evenly lit photo with more natural looking lighting. If you want to get fancy, here’s a DIY solution I found and have tried and liked.
Check out my post on modifying point and shoot flashes as well.
Because most external flashes are designed this way, you can rotate the flash to face the ceiling and bounce light off of the walls rather than directly into the faces and subjects of your photo. This creates a softer light and more evenly distributed light which creates shadows that are less harsh. We’ll go through various setups in a later chapter. Just try this general concept on your own and see how it changes the overall picture quality and mood.
Multiple external flashes
This is the fun part! This is where you can play with the combinations and different more professional lighting setups. If you will be using the automatic external flash on the receiver and trigger combination, you will not have control over the flash power so you will always be firing at full flash power. Keep this in mind. It is not too hard to compensate for or make it work in your favor, just bear with me as I explain. Use your manual flash as you main flash since you have the most control over it. Use your auto to fill the room by facing it toward the ceiling or wall. You can also try doing some high-key photography (I’ll do another chapter on high and low key photography)
I’ll probably write more in depth setups later on but for now, do what you can with what you have and expand your setup and try learning through experience. Lighting is a huge part of photography and can help create infinite moods and scenes just by changing flash positions and powers.