Even though "photographer" isn't my day job anymore, I still am one! I get questions, with some frequency, from knitters who just want their photos to look better. Knitting is hard to photograph. It's often small, we do it in our homes (living rooms are notoriously dark), and since most knitters aren't professional photographers, we have to make do with whatever equipment we happen to have.
Today's post is geared (ha!) toward any knitter who has a digital or film camera that will accept an external flash.
The top photo is the set of flashes I use. The one on the left is from when my mom was in college (1970-ish). The center one I bought last year when my old Nikon flash died after many years of service. I bought the one on the right the morning after my junior prom in 1996 at a camera swap meet. I remember because my dad took me and I bought that flash and my trusty Nikon FM2. I still have that camera, but film and processing costs mean that it's mostly a nice keepsake now.
Those weird little things you see below the flashes are called optical slaves. For less than $20, they will turn any flash unit into a remote flash that will work well as long as the light in the room isn't too bright (I don't recommend them for outdoors) and you have a direct line of sight between your units. Fancy, expensive flashes used to come with built-in optical slaves. Alas, those days are no more as camera companies prefer to build in radio-controlled slaves, when they build them in at all. Radio control is awesome, but I'm not about to replace everything I use (including my Nikon D100!) just to take advantage of a feature I can buy for less than $100.
Rant over. Sorry. BTW if you want to drop serious money on just making sure your flashes will fire, I recommend Pocket Wizards. I used that system the entire time I worked at newspapers, and they never, ever let me down. For relatively inexpensive "studio-style" lighting gear, Alien Bees are hard to beat, too.
You don't need a fancy flash to take great photos, but it helps a lot if it has a tilt and swivel head. Just check for that option when you're comparing flashes. The two flashes on the right in the above photo have that, and it just opens up your options a lot.
The second photo is probably even more important than the first. Fresh batteries. You can use rechargeable if you want, but always, ALWAYS have a spare set of hand and ready to go. There is nothing worse than being ready to shoot and finding out that your batteries aren't working.
Also, unless you use your flashes at least one a week, never, ever store batteries in your flash. Batteries can leak. The stuff that leaks out of them will almost always ruin your gear! I don't use brand-new batteries for every shoot, but I often keep little snack-size ziplocks in my bag and pop the batteries out when I'm finished shooting. I store batteries on a shelf, neatly lined up so that the ends don't touch each other. That can cause a short, which can cause a leak. If you can get a box of batteries that is resealable, that's even better.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you how to set up a temporary studio and show you my messy basement. Look away, mom.