Beginning External Flash – The Gear

An external flash is a flash not built in to your camera. They only work with DSLR cameras and mount on to the “hot shoe” (the metal part with a few small prongs) on top of the camera. The biggest question I’m sure many readers have is “What external flash should I purchase?” There are so many flashes to choose from in a wide price range, and it can be a bit overwhelming. I bought a used flash that I ended up hating, it didn’t suit my needs or have the flexibility I wanted, so I did more research and finally found a flash I loved in a great price range.

I purchased the YN560-II from Amazon, and it’s my favorite flash. It’s compatible with many different brands of cameras including Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and Olympus. I like the shape of the big flash head, I can use it in manual mode or TTL, slave mode (we will go over all of these modes in future blog posts), and the head swivels both horizontally and vertically. It doesn’t eat my batteries up quickly and it takes normal AA batteries, no need to purchase a $10 set of two batteries to be used up in an hour. I love how Yongnuo updates its flashes well, and the newer model, the YN-560 III also utilizes the transmitters already built in to many DSLR’s so users don’t have to purchase additional transmitters. The flash is also very affordable, at $71 for the latest model, versus the good flashes from Nikon and Canon I have found. This is a fantastic flash for those looking to start using external flash

While the flash on its own is a great tool, I really recommend one other piece of gear to make it even better. Every flash needs a diffuser for general use, and while pretty much any flash diffuser is better than nothing, I really love the Neomart 3 Color Flash Diffuser set. It’s inexpensive, and when I finally purchased one I started to notice a dramatic difference in the quality of my images, especially while indoors. These two pieces of gear are perfect for the photographer looking to begin using flash photography.

Of course, there is always more gear one can purchase. When I want to get really creative, I like to put my flash on a transmitter and stand. So far I have used the Cowboy Studio transmitters for my own flash, and they have worked just fine. Be sure to look in your manual and the reviews of the flash to see if your camera requires it to use a transmitter for use. I also occasionally use an umbrella, either a white shoot-through umbrella, or a opaque reflective umbrella, depending on the softness of the light I am going for. We will go over use cases for each of these items in a future blog post and you can decide what pieces of gear you would like to try. 

What is your favorite external flash gear? Have you struggled with a piece of gear and could use some help figuring it out? Share your stories and a link to your site or blog here!

Beginning External Flash – Introduction

When I bought my DSLR I studied so hard and learned all about using my settings in the light already in a scene. I found, though, that I was still frustrated with my results during a time when I often took photos: indoors at night. If I turned my ISO up high enough, my images were very grainy and often still blurry from the slow shutter speed. I often would eventually turn the camera back to auto with the flash on, and the built-in flash would create a cold, flat light on my kids’ faces. After reading several articles and listening to photography podcasts, I decided to take the plunge in to external flash.

Sample of my gear for a large photo shoot

Sample of my gear for a large photo shoot

I wish I could tell you my new flash showed up and suddenly all of my images were perfectly exposed, vibrant images that looked super professional. Unfortunately, it took me quite awhile to get the hang of it, but with a lot of perseverance I have really come to love my external flash. Yes, I’m the mom at Chuck E Cheese with the big camera that looks like a member of the paparazzi, but I really truly don’t care because my images are crisp, sharp, and exactly what I have been hoping to achieve.

In the next few blog posts I am going to introduce you to external flash, the gear I recommend, the settings to use with your camera, and how to create stunning images both indoors and out. If you have any questions feel free to comment on any of the posts and I will see what I can do to help you out.

Do you have any specific questions you would like answered about external flash? 

Anne’s Sweater

Anne's Sweater, knit from Green Gables Knits by Joanna Johnson of Slate Falls Press, images copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

Anne’s Sweater, knit from Green Gables Knits by Joanna Johnson of Slate Falls Press, images copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

I can’t believe it, my sweater is finally finished! I have been dreaming of this sweater since I picked up my yarn for it at the 4-H Fiber Fun Festival in my hometown. I knew I wanted to knit one, but it wasn’t until I picked up the yarn, a lovely cone of Brown Sheep Company Lanaloft Sport in the Sandstone Cove colorway, that I knew I was ready. The yarn is delicious, the pattern is simple and elegant, and the overall finished object is definitely my new favorite sweater.

Anne's Sweater, images copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

Anne’s Sweater, images copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

I started knitting my Anne’s Sweater (from Green Gables Knits, click here to read my review on the book itself) back in March. I am finally getting better about using my own measurements to customize my garments. I decided to (mostly) keep the sweater as written, except to put the shaping in the back and above the bum. I’m not exactly sure if this made the sweater fit me better or worse, I still have a lot to learn about fit. I also changed the sleeves to be shorter, I knew I would wear it more often if my arms had a bit more room to breathe, and I like the lines it creates on my overall body shape.

The pattern itself is very easy to understand and follow. As a top-down raglan, it is knit mostly in stockinette with ribbing and a clever pocket treatment. (Seriously, pockets on a sweater? Swoon!) I worked really hard on it for a month or so, and as I started the final ribbing I made a big mistake on the pocket (my own fault for paying too much attention to Battlestar Galactica) and I decided to put the sweater in time out for awhile. After I returned from Stitches Midwest, I felt completely inspired to finish some projects in my stash and get ready for fall. This was the first project I pulled out, and I knew I definitely wanted it done. In fact, I had bought several dresses on clearance at Old Navy, and I knew the sweater would match all of them. I whipped up the pocket and ribbing, and even though I normally hate ribbing, this pattern really makes it a sanity saver. 

Anne's Sweater, images copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

Anne’s Sweater, images copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC


Pattern: Anne’s Sweater from Green Gables Knits by Joanna Johnson

Yarn: Brown Sheep Company Lanaloft Sport, “Sandstone Cove” colorway

Needles: US 4 (Ribbing) and  US 6 (Stockinette)

Size: 36 bust with a few modifications

Ravelry Project Page

This sweater is a perfect match for so many outfits in my wardrobe. It goes with cute dresses, t-shirts and jeans, and I even find myself tossing it on during random days when the weather is chilly enough to wear it. I didn’t block it for a few days because we had a short rainy season, and I couldn’t wait! I honestly don’t think I would change anything about it, it really is my new favorite sweater!

Have you made a project you knew you would wear with everything? Please tell me all about it, and feel free to link to your blog or project page!

How To Achieve Perfect White Balance In Camera

White balance is a tricky subject in photography. Different types of light emit different colors, though our eyes often adjust to these changes on their own. Cameras, however, need a little help adjusting their color input. We change the way our cameras see light by using the White Balance feature. 

When I started using white balance, I kept running in to problems. There is a lot of terminology that can seem overwhelming, and sometimes using the “right” setting doesn’t always create the correct color temperature in the final image. Is a light tungsten, fluorescent, or shaded? Sometimes it’s all three, and I found myself frustrated with overly yellow or blue images. While I can definitely adjust my image in post processing (especially when shooting in RAW, which I will write about some other time) I really prefer to get it right in camera, when I can.

For this tip, you will need to use a DSLR camera with the “Custom White Balance” feature (Canon) or “Preset Manual” white balance feature (Nikon). (Be sure to check your manual for a custom white balance feature, different models and brands have it under different names. I use a Nikon D5200, so I will show you the steps I use to create perfect white balance in camera. 

On the left I accommodated for the incandescent (tungsten) lights, on the right I accommodated for the flash. Both are definitely not the coloring I was looking for.

On the left I accommodated for the incandescent (tungsten) lights, on the right I accommodated for the flash. Both are definitely not the coloring I was looking for.

I recently did a photo booth for a women’s event at our church. I brought a grey and white bedsheet from Target and hung it from my Background Kit. I wasn’t sure which source of light to consider when setting my white balance, and when I tried accommodating the settings on my camera using premade white balance settings, I kept coming up off.

I photographed only the gray and white background to set my white balance.

I photographed only the gray and white background to set my white balance.

I finally took a moment and photographed something gray or white in the entire frame. In this case, I was lucky because the entire background was gray and white. This can also be done with a gray card, as long as it fills almost the entire frame and is in all of the lighting you are planning on using in the final image. My image was still a little yellow for my liking.

Next, I went in to the White Balance menu on my camera (Be sure to check your manual to find where your white balance setting is). Usually there are several options to choose from, though none of them were working quite right for me.

White Balance menu with presets in Nikon

White Balance menu with presets in Nikon

Using my Nikon D5200 to adjust the white balance in camera

Using my Nikon D5200 to adjust the white balance in camera

If I scroll down past these, settings, there is another option called Preset Manual. I click the right arrow to enter the options for this setting. I then can choose to use the photo I just took of the gray and white background. (“Measure” is another chance to take a gray or white photo to use). I choose the photo I want to use, and my camera automatically calibrates the white balance perfectly. 

My camera also saves this setting as the current “Preset Manual” until I reset it. If I wander around different locations but come back to this one, I can select “Preset Manual” and I don’t have to recalibrate the white balance again.

The rest of the day in the photo booth went swimmingly. I loved not having to worry about different colors of light affecting my images, and I had a blast with these wonderful women!


Have you ever used a custom white balance in your photography? What is the biggest benefit you have found? Is there a part of customizing a white balance you have found difficult?

30 Day Sweater Challenge

Around Christmastime last year my dad asked me if I would be willing to make a sweater for my mom. He offered to buy me pretty much whatever yarn I wanted for it (within reason of course) and  we jumped on a Knit Picks sale and picked up a sweater’s quantity worth of Capretta, a DK weight merino/cashmere blend. Long story short, I knitted the back of the sweater WAY too long, it felt boring (totally stockinette) and it just wasn’t what I wanted to gift her. I am frogging the whole thing later this week, but I wanted a really fresh start for my mom’s sweater. 

Acorn Trail Cardigan, images Copyright Amy Herzog Desings

Acorn Trail Cardigan, images Copyright Amy Herzog Desings

She mentioned recently that she is going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming at the end of September. My wheels started turning and I decided (on a spur-of-the-moment, not paying attention to my schedule, forgetting how much I hate knitting on a deadline train of thought) that I would try to have a sweater finished for her trip. I had been eyeing the Acorn Cardigan by Amy Herzog, knowing it would be the perfect type of style for my mom. She loves all things fall, and finding a sweater design inspired by autumn in New England was just the right project for her. I visited The Loopy Ewe and picked up six skeins of Shepherd’s Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill in a gorgeous brown. It’s technically a heavy worsted, but I figure it will still be pretty easy to get guage for an aran weight, especially as I knit pretty loosely anyway. 

Shepherd's Wool Worsted in Brown

Shepherd’s Wool Worsted in Brown

Now I am challenging myself. She is leaving for her trip on September 25, leaving me 30 days from today to have this sweater finished and on its way. I have knit a sweater in a month before, but it is still going to be quite a challenge. I plan on documenting the entire thing, start to finish, on the blog so you can follow along. I guess I better get started, thanks for reading! Blessings!

What projects have you challenged yourself to knit in a set amount of time? Did you reach your goal? Please tell me all about it, and feel free to link to your own blog or Ravelry page!

Book Review – Green Gables Knits

Green Gables Knits by Joanna Johnson of Slate Falls Press

Green Gables Knits by Joanna Johnson of Slate Falls Press

**I was gifted a copy of this book for the purpose of review by the publisher. All opinions expressed are solely my opinion and do not reflect the opinions of the author, publisher, photographer, or any other parties related to the book.**

When I heard the book Green Gables Knits was being written by my friend Joanna Johnson, I knew it was going to be a welcome addition to my library.  My great-grandmother gifted me the entire set of the Anne of Green Gables books when I was young, and I fell in love with witty and spunky Anne,  her sweet yet somewhat vain best friend Diana, and the wise and loving Marilla and Matthew. I have vivid memories of being horrified with Anne when she dyes her hair “black,” and worrying for Diana drinking too much Strawberry Cordial. The movies to this day are still my Grandpa Don’s favorite movies, and I remember snuggling with my Grandma on her sheepskin couch watching them.

Anne's Carpet Bag, Marilla's Apron, and Matthew's Vest, photos courtesy of Slate Falls Press

Anne’s Carpet Bag, Marilla’s Apron, and Matthew’s Vest, photos courtesy of Slate Falls Press

Green Gables Knits: Patterns for Kindred Spirits by Joanna Johnson of Slate Falls Press is a timeless interpretation of the classic Anne stories. Joanna worked with the heirs of L. M. Montgomery to create patterns that reflect the characters we all have loved for generations. Quotes from the book and vintage photographs from L. M. Montgomery’s life are woven throughout the book, adding to the rich setting. 

Eight patterns remind us of the characters that hold a special place in our hearts. Joanna starts off with Anne’s Carpet Bag, knit in Brown Sheep Company’s Shepherd Shades and felted, adding a fantastic handle and purse bottom. I have seen this bag in person, and it is ONE GREAT TRAVELING BAG. It’s sturdy and well constructed and represents Anne’s character so well. From there we see kind and gentle Matthew’s Vest, Marilla’s Apron (beautiful, yet practical when knit in Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece, which washes like a dream), and Diana’s Hat, my new go-to gifting pattern for my own dear-to-me friends. Rachel’s Table Runner and Miss Stacey’s Shawl are beautiful pieces that are simple, down-to-earth, and elegant. Finally, Anne’s Sweater and Gilbert’s Scarf bring our favorite couple in the story to life. Both are timeless pieces with just enough texture and are stunning in their simplicity.

Diana's Hat, Rachel's Table Runner, Miss Stacey's Shawl, photos courtesy of Slate Falls Press

Diana’s Hat, Rachel’s Table Runner, Miss Stacey’s Shawl, photos courtesy of Slate Falls Press

The patterns themselves are easy to understand, well-constructed, and accessible to a variety of skill levels. (Each pattern’s difficulty is marked by a number of adorable carrots.) So far I have knit Gilbert’s Scarf, Diana’s Hat, and most recently Anne’s Sweater. (I am working on photographing my new sweater this week and writing a separate blog post on it, but let me say that this is definitely my new favorite, wear-all-the-time, goes-with-everything sweater.) Every time I knit a pattern by Joanna I feel like an intelligent knitter; there aren’t a lot of surprises or difficult techniques, but the overall effect she creates is gorgeous. Each of the patterns includes techniques and stitch patterns that can easily be utilized in future projects. Brown Sheep Company yarn is used throughout the entire book, creating a textured, earthy feel to each project while staying on a more manageable budget. Many of the projects would also look beautiful in handspun yarn.

Anne's Sweater (top) and Gilbert's Scarf (bottom), photos courtesy of Slate Falls Press

Anne’s Sweater (top) and Gilbert’s Scarf (bottom), photos courtesy of Slate Falls Press

The book itself is printed in paperback in a smaller square shape, making it easy to fit in my knitting bag with my project. The only thing I would have changed about the book is to have it spiral bound, but this is easily remedied with a few dollars and a quick trip to Kinko’s. The price point is also very reasonable, at $14.95 for a paper edition or $12.00 for a digital copy. Of the eight patterns, I definitely plan to knit at least five of them and the techniques I learned make it a great value. The photographs are also fantastic, showing the details of each piece while capturing the setting of Green Gables using character-appropriate models and beautiful lighting technique. 

Overall, I feel this book is a fantastic addition to my knitting library. Thank you, Joanna, for gifting me this book and giving me the opportunity to share it with my readers and listeners! Be sure to check out her Etsy shop, where you can find Green Gables Knits, along with her other books like Pheobe’s Birthday. 

Which of the patterns in Green Gables Knits is your favorite? 

Harp Photography – Fill Flash

In my last post about my sister’s harp portraits, I explained how I did the silhouette effect in camera. Today, I will show you how I took my favorite shot from the day using a fill flash.

Copyright Emily Straw Photography, LLC

Copyright Emily Straw Photography, LLC

Copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

Copyright Emily Straw Photography LLC

For starters, I used the same camera and settings I had used on the silhouette images. I used the meter focused on the sky for my exposure, I wanted to easily see the details of the sky and the beautiful sunset. I started by setting my ISO at 100, ensuring a lot less light entered the camera and no noise reduction was necessary in post processing. I set my shutter speed at 1/125 for two reasons: I wanted to capture the ambient light from the sun and on the harp, and I needed it to be slow enough to sync with the external flash. I then set my aperture to get the correct exposure for the sky; for this image I set it at f/16. I loved using the high aperture and slower shutter speed instead of the other way around, the entire image is sharp and the ambient light pouring on the subject is gorgeous.

The biggest change in photographing this image compared to the last post was the use of an external flash. I use the YN-560 on a Cowboy Studios transmitter, mounted to a flash stand. 

ISO – 100        Shutter Speed – 1/125 sec.

Aperture – f/16         Fill Flash – medium/high

This flash is an inexpensive, very powerful tool for experimenting with flash. I pointed the flash straight at my subject with absolutely no diffusion. I started with the flash on a medium-low power and slowly increased it to get the correct exposure. I wish I could remember what power level the flash was set at for this image, sadly I do not but I remember it was pretty high. When she was sitting I had her tilt her head and moved the flash to be in line with her nose. This eliminated some of the harsher shadows on her face, making it look even and symmetrical. When she was standing the flash was further to her left and illuminated the side of her body more than the front, and combined with her body’s angular lines and posing it created a very flattering and slimming effect. I also loved the specular highlights on the harp on the second image, the angle of the flash was perpendicular to the top of the harp in the first image and it created a very flat light. 

Overall I was really pleased with the effect I was able to create in camera. Very little post processing was done, I lowered the highlights so you can see the sky even more, and warmed it up a bit to enhance the sunset feeling. I added a bit of contrast and sharpening, deepened the blacks a bit, and and added a vignette. There are definitely a few things I would have changed if I did the session again, but I really love the images I created and my sister was extremely pleased with them. 



Have you tried creating a studio lighting setup in an outdoor environment? Share your tips and ideas here, and leave a link to your work!