I am a casual photographer who does not know a lot about the technical aspects of photography. I have a Nikon D5000 and I have been experimenting with different settings to achieve a soft light in low-light situations, like indoor parties. I do not like the lighting with flash because it is too harsh and the subtlety of the colors gets lost. Without flash the backgrounds look good, but the people are always blurry. In social situations I do not have time to really experiment with the settings as much as I would like, so am looking for some advice on ways to maximize the quality of my pictures without taking a million pictures and annoying everyone when I ask them to "take just one more." I already find my camera pretty bulky for taking to parties etc.. so I don't want to increase the amount of equipment I am lugging around too much.
1.) Is there a setting or technique I am missing that would solve this problem? I think I am holding the camera steady, but maybe not?
2.) Do I need to buy a tripod? If so, is there a very small one I can buy that is not too expensive?
3.) Someone suggested I buy a ring flash, would that help? I have read that you have to be pretty close up to your subjects, which seems like it would not be right for parties etc.. If this is what I want, which one should I buy that would not be exorbitantly expensive and not too bulky?
4.) I've also thought about the flashes that bounce off the ceiling to decrease the harshness of the flash. Is this what I need, or is it the ring flash? Or neither? If this is what I need, any suggestions on compact and relatively cheap ones?
I would appreciate any tips on whether I really need to be buying more equipment and if so, what I actually need.