ATTACH A SNOOTSnoots are similar to grids, with a couple of differences. They narrow the angle of light even more, and some are flexible, allowing you to mold the light into different patterns. LumiQuest and Rogue both make simple snoots for speedlights. I really like the Rogue FlashBender snoot. This snoot has a built-in Velcro® band to attach to your flash head, with flexible metal bars that form the snoot and can be bent to change the spread of light.
Of all the methods mentioned here, a snoot offers the most precise lighting. One of my favorite techniques using a snoot is to shoot a tiny beam of light across a subject's eyes. This beam draws attention to the eyes, giving them a sparkle. Snoots also are great for adding a touch of light to a flower in the foreground of a landscape.
USE AN OVERHEAD SILKOverhead silks control the light by diffusing the direct sun and producing shadowless soft light. I think of an overhead silk as nature's softbox. You're using the sun as your light, just modifying it to fit your needs. You can't control a silk like a softbox, but it does a great job of reducing the exposure of what it shades.
But overhead silks can produce another effect: Instead of darkening a background, they can lighten it. Imagine placing your subject under an overhead silk that reduces the light by one stop. In essence, your subject is in the shade, but the sunlit background isn't in the shade of the overhead silk. If you expose properly for your shaded subject, the background will be around one stop brighter. This can be a nice technique in creating a high-key shot.
I use Lastolite Skylites for my overhead silks. These panels come in a variety of sizes and have collapsible metal frames. They use white translucent fabric, or can use reflective fabrics like gold, white and silver. I attach the overhead silk to heavy-duty Manfrotto stands and position it to produce soft light on my subject. Be sure to weigh down the stands—a little wind can turn your overhead silk into a sail.
The next time you plan a shoot, think through your lighting. Are you using available light, flash, or both? What are you trying to accomplish with the shot? Add light to the areas you want the viewer to look at and leave other areas in shadow. In the end, it's all about controlling the light.
Tom Bol is a freelance editorial and commercial photographer based in Colorado. Visit www.tombolphoto.com.