If you have CS6, I would learn to use that for editing, I use Canon’s ZoomBrowserEX for viewing a folder full of images. I just keep images in folders based on year and month. If I am shooting a lot, I might also have day folders. I usually do that when I get over a couple of hundred in a day because the smaller folder size increases performance of the software, which is trying to generate thumbnails of everything.
Photo Mechanic is recommended for people who shoot a lot in a day. I tried it out, and liked it, but have not purchased it yet. It suits me better than Lightroom. A pro in Oakville that has a blog, seems to like Lightroom a lot. Different strokes.
Highlights and shadows are what make a lot of photos. Some photos look good with low contrast and others look good with high contrast. There is no “right” answer. It is a taste thing. My wife likes bright restaurants. She also likes to see everything in a photo and starts to give me grief if my shadows are dark. Joe McNally quoting one of his mentors said “if you want something to be interesting, don’t light all of it.”
In September, I entered a slightly cropped version of this in a contest, and won! It is mostly shadow, and highlight. It helped that the theme of the contest was sunset in the city.
I have also done the photocopy paper trick. And used table cloths, tea pots, someone’s black coat… Lots of things. A grey card is 18% grey, which is what your camera’s meter tries to set everything to. Using the card, you can get white balance and exposure all at the same time.
Flash falls off at the square of the distance, so pretty fast. How far depends on the guide number of the flash and power setting. I always love seeing the point & shoot crowd in a concert, firing their flash. They are 500 feet from the stage with a flash that is good for 10 to 20 feet! If you crank ISO, you can get further, but not with a point & shoot. A 600 EX RT has a guide number of 60, I think, so you could boost ISO and get a couple of hundred feet with it at full power, but at a concert it is bright enough you just need a good lens and a bit of ISO, without flash, so save your batteries. I don’t have a 7D so I have no experience with that flash. Try placing your model at 10 or 15 feet, whatever is comfortable, then try full flash, and keep taking photos while adjusting flash compensation until you are at minimum power. Look at them all on the computer to see which one you like best. If I am using on-camera flash, I usually use ETTL mode and P, Av or M depending on what I am looking for. When I get into more lights, off camera, then M is the way to go for both camera and flash because it simplifies what is going on. The camera in other modes has certain expectations and they may not be reality if it does not know about all the flash that is provided.
I don’t have the details but I know Atlanta has a camera club that meets regularly, has a contest of sorts where the judge critiques each photo presented. I don’t know if you are into that sort of thing. I can try to find out more if you are interested.