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If you're just starting to use flashes or you're just thinking about it, you could easily feel overwhelmed. There is something about using flashes that gets beginners thinking this is an expensive way of shooting and it can only be done with generous resources.
Not everyone has a high budget for flash photography and many photographers can only afford one flash gun. Furthermore, if you're just learning, one is all you need. That's where it all starts and you might surprised to find that there are several pro photographers, with admirable careers who still prefer to photograph with just one flash.
There is something inspiring about the simplicity of the whole thing. It allows you to focus more on photography rather than settings and exposure values.
(Success Tip: Improve your photos with this simple deck of cards.)
The very basic way to use an external flash is to have it mounted on the camera hot shoe and pointed directly at the subject. Of course this might produce a flat, unpleasant type of light, the kind that sends most amateurs away from flash photography altogether.
Now, the real way to get creative is to take the flash off the camera and start experimenting by placing it in different positions. That's actually one of the coolest parts about this kind of shooting. You get to play with that flash and observe the results after every change of position. You will need a light stand for it, but if you're really on a budget, just ask a friend to help you. It's even better because friends have been known to respond to verbal commands.
Using a bare flash might cause the light to be a little harsh, and that will be particularly noticeable on cloudy days when the natural light is soft. To overcome that you can use a mini-soft box. They're cheap and while they may not be game changers, they do soften the light a little bit.
A single flash can play a lot of roles. You can turn it into a key light or a hair light. You can use it to highlight the shape of the face or to separate the subject from the background.
The most important thing is to experiment as much as possible. Some say it's even harder to shoot with one flash than with two or more. That all depends on the kind of shooting you do, but on some occasions that might prove to be correct.
Kay W from DigitalRev has made a cool video about using a single flash for portrait photography. Watch and learn.