My Choice of Flash Modifiers

When using devices to modify the output from my on-camera flash, I try to keep close to that fundamental principle in lighting: the larger your light source, the softer your light.

Using any of the myriad flash modifiers on the market today will help in achieving that softer light. These modifiers spread the light from the on-cam-era speedlight much wider than it would otherwise be, making it much softer light than direct flash would be. However—and this is a big however—these flash modifiers also throw light forward. This creates lighting that is not only soft, it's flat. I much prefer soft, directional lighting.

The way I achieve soft, directional light from my flash is by bouncing the light from the flash off different surfaces—and by not getting much spill light on my subject. This is accomplished by flagging my on-camera flash. Flagging is the term used to describe directing or blocking light. For plate 9-7, I did this

PLATE 9-7. In this photo of a little ring-bearer wanting to smell the bride's flowers, I bounced flash off to my left and upward toward the ceiling away from me. The direction from which the light is falling can easily be seen from the modeling of light on the boy's face. An additional advantage in bouncing the flash like this is that the light comes in at a low angle, so there will be a catchlight in the eyes to give them that bit of sparkle. (settings: v/50 second, f/3.2, 2000 ISO; FEC +0.3 EV)

PLATE 9-8. By gelling my flash for tungsten, I change the grungy orange backgrounds to a more pleasing warm tone. The gel used in the image of the ring-bearer (plate 9-7), was full CTO. I keep my camera's white balance to tungsten when shooting this way. Then, in postproduction, I fine-tune the white balance (because I bounced my flash, the light picked up an additional color from the walls and ceiling). The gel shown in the illustration here is V2 CTS. When shooting with this, I keep my white balance at 3800K, still much closer to tungsten than the 5400K of the flash.

PLATE 9-8. By gelling my flash for tungsten, I change the grungy orange backgrounds to a more pleasing warm tone. The gel used in the image of the ring-bearer (plate 9-7), was full CTO. I keep my camera's white balance to tungsten when shooting this way. Then, in postproduction, I fine-tune the white balance (because I bounced my flash, the light picked up an additional color from the walls and ceiling). The gel shown in the illustration here is V2 CTS. When shooting with this, I keep my white balance at 3800K, still much closer to tungsten than the 5400K of the flash.

PLATES 9-9 AND 9-10. This simple black-foam modifier allows me to keep direct flash from spilling onto the subject.

by adding what is, in effect, a half-snoot to my on-camera flash (see below) for an image of this). This half-snoot partially blocks the light, but it also directs it.

For the photo of the ring-bearer, I also gelled the flash to bring the color balance from the flash close to that of the available (tungsten) light. This helped bring the cold light of the flash closer to the warm tones of the tungsten light. I simply stuck a piece of gel over the head of my Speedlight with some gaffer's tape. It is low-tech, but it works.

The black half-snoot that I add to my speedlight is just as simple. It's a piece of thin black foam bought from an arts store, then cut to size. I keep the piece of black foam fastened to my speedlight with a hair band that I stole from my daughter. Yes, it's low-tech—but it's simple and it works!

PLATE 9-11. The additional advantage with this light modifier is that you retain the cool, all-black, stealthy ninja-photographer look.

PLATE 9-11. The additional advantage with this light modifier is that you retain the cool, all-black, stealthy ninja-photographer look.

PLATE 9-12 (LEFT). On one of my Stofens, I cut a hole in the top so that the majority of the light can be thrown wherever I want it to go.

PLATE 9-13 (RIGHT). To be able to flip the Stofen in and out of position, I keep it down with a piece of gaffer's tape. If I want to take a shot without it, I simply flip it over.

PLATE 9-12 (LEFT). On one of my Stofens, I cut a hole in the top so that the majority of the light can be thrown wherever I want it to go.

PLATE 9-13 (RIGHT). To be able to flip the Stofen in and out of position, I keep it down with a piece of gaffer's tape. If I want to take a shot without it, I simply flip it over.

This piece of black foam around my speedlight has two advantages. First, it lets me create directional light, putting the light precisely where I want it. Second, it is less annoying to others. When turning my flash to the side or to point behind me, I risk blasting other people directly in the face with flash. This piece of black foam keeps that from happening. I now direct my flash over people's heads, so no flash hits bystanders directly in the eyes. That is the flash modifier I most often use. Its total cost is less than two dollars.

The only other light modifier that I use is a Stofen Omnibounce, which I use when I am in a situation where I do need light thrown directly forward. I also use it in rooms where the ceiling would not allow me to successfully shoot bounce flash with the black half-snoot. This can be the case when the ceiling is too high, when it's painted a dark color, or when you encounter a wooden ceiling. I also specifically use a diffusion cup indoors when I am working close to a subject and can't move back; without a diffuser, the bounced light can look too top-heavy in this situation.

However, I still want a measure of control over where I direct my light. Therefore, I cut a hole in the top of a Stofen so that the majority of light can still be thrown in a direction of my choice, instead of being scattered all around. (I do keep a spare Stofen on hand that is unblemished.)

These diffuser cups do come in handy for specific uses; I recommend that any photographer who uses flash have one of these handy in the camera bag. However, there are some things to keep in mind with these diffusers. Most importantly: they do not soften light, per se. They scatter the light, but that does not, in and of itself, give you softer light. The reason for this is that your light source is pretty much the same size with or without the diffuser cup (when shooting with the flash directly forward). To get softer light, you need to have a larger light source in relation to your subject and taking distance into account. (For

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