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amandarine

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Be wary of what you bounce your light off. If you bounce light off a coloured surface then it'll be picked up by your subject. The best thing you can hope for is a medium-height, white ceiling.
 
In addition to bouncing it off the ceiling, you could also try to bounce it off a wall. Get someone to stand beside a wall. But have the wall just a bit out of the frame. And then swivel the flash unit to bounce it off the wall and onto you subject. (White or neutral walls preferred, but not essential). It will diffuse the light and give you a taste of directional off camera flash.
 
I'm glad I'm not the only nightowl up on this die of the ocean it seems! (Mot)

I've also read that a lot of people have had their photos come out either underexposed or washed out with this flash - have you found this to be the case?

I would argue that many who give that viewpoint have yet to really learn how to control their flash. Flash lighting is flash lighting and whilst the 430EXII comes with some very good and nice additional control features the very basics are the same for a cheap all the way through to larger studio strobe lights.

The Strobist 101 guide is a good starting point: Strobist: Lighting 101
As is the book Light Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting - now into its 4th edition.

There is also
Understanding Flash Photography: How to Shoot Great Photographs Using Electronic Flash and Other Artificial Light Sources by Bryan Peterson - however I've not heard many/any viewpoints on the content of this book. However Bryan is popular with many of his other introductory books (including Understanding Exposure) and so I'd expect this book to form a good foundation/beginning point for a photographer (maybe feeling a bit short on some advanced methods/concepts).
 
I do not use TTL, so these are manual settings.

Try this at home once you have the flash.
- Camera set to manual mode.
- Aperture set at f/5.6
- Shutter speed between 1/160 to 1/200
- ISO set to 100 to 200
- Flash power to 1/2

Bounce the flash off the ceiling and see the result. If it is overexposed, dial down the flash to 1/4 (or aperture to f/8). If it is underexposed, set the flash power to full power or change the ISO to a higher value.


If the birthday events has a ceiling similar to you home, then the settings should be about the same, plus or minus.
 
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I've just purchased a Speedlite 430ex II to use with my 350D/Rebel XT. It should arrive here on Tuesday in time for me to take photos at a birthday party next weekend.

Nice! It's a good flash.

From what I've read online so far, I've noticed there is a strong preference for bounced flash rather than straight-on.

That's right. Straight on flash from the camera tends to look very harsh and isn't flattering. Bounce it off something white, like a ceiling or a wall.

I've also read that a lot of people have had their photos come out either underexposed or washed out with this flash - have you found this to be the case?

it is a possibility. learn to use manual flash and you'll have very good control over it. But you can also use flash exposure compensation. On the back of the flash is a little button, with two semi circle buttons on either side. If the flash is too powerful, press the middle button until the display blinks and then press the buttons on the sides to adjust your flash exposure compensation. The left one reduces flash power, and the right side increases it.

Basically looking for any useful practical information about this flash and/or more specifically using this flash with a 350D.

Learn how to use flash exposure compensation, bounce flash and fill flash and you'll be getting some great shots.
 
Glad you're having fun!
 
Sooo my flash arrived today (yippee!) and I've had a little play with it, so far I am very very impressed. I don't have any people to use as test subjects at the moment though. I tried your suggested settings Dao and they were spot on!! The ETTL mode wasn't too far off the mark either but a bit on the warm side when compared to the manual settings you gave me. Overall very happy and thank you so much for your help Dao.


Glad that works out for you. Once you are familiar with the settings, whenever you are in a similar situation, just dial the settings on the camera and the flash, fire couple test shots, make some adjustment if needed and you are good to go. (Especially for indoor events) The exposure of the photos should be about the same.

Once you feel comfortable with the settings, you may also read some more about "dragging the shutter".
 
Another tips that I learned. Sometimes, I bump the ISO slightly so that I can lower the flash power output. With lower flash power output, the batteries last longer. And most important, it lower the flash recycle time. So it allow you to take shots more frequently.

i.e. Change ISO from 100 to 200, it allow you do cut the flash power 1/2. such as 1/4 to 1/8
 

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