Okay - Since I was the catalyst to this thread starting I will jump in. While I'm not comfortable posting pictures given the level of work that started it off, I've got to start somewhere and won't learn otherwise. Hopefully this will help some other beginning flash users as well!
I'd like to focus on the lighting aspect of my photo, and try to avoid tearing me apart otherwise - that can be a different thread.
I feel like I'm having a hard time getting a feel for where to start. Unfortunately, these were shot in ETTL so I don't really know if there is much I can learn.
Basically, I've read that many people start by dropping the ambient about two stops and then use fill to bring the subjects up and make them "pop". In my first image I dropped the ambient about 2 stops (actually, maybe I didn't, I used evaluative metering, and metered the SCENE down 2 stops, which is probably wrong given the subjects were in the shade? This is the stuff I'm trying to learn). I feel the result was a crappy, fake flash looking photo.
In the second photo, I think I under exposed the scene just a hair below 0, maybe a 1/3 stop (manual mode), and used my flash for fill as the subjects were shaded. Unfortunately I don't have a non flash shot of the scene. The second shot I feel is must more natural looking (can't tell there is a flash as much), and much more pleasing and balanced.
I guess, considering I took only 2 shots to get the result that I'm happy with, I don't really know when to under expose the background, and when not to?
My other question is, this was lit with a 430 EXII, shooting through a 40" umbrella. Would a larger light source or modifier (or some other change to the lighting setup), have made photo number 1 look better, or did I initially come at it with the wrong approach?
Oh - another question - is there a way to extract the actual power level the flash fired at when shot in ETTL mode?