Learning how to control your light is the first step toward producing professional-looking images. This used to involve a complicated studio setup with strobes, power supplies and plenty of gear to shape your look, but as technology progresses, many photographers are finding that the capabilities of modern camera flashes are so versatile that they’re quickly becoming the go-to lighting choice for traveling light while spending very little.
With convenient portability, powerful output and through-the-lens (TTL) automated operation, a simple, single flash is capable of turning a fairly regular shooting location into a dynamic background. Add increasingly capable wireless control over multiple flash units for still more versatility and a number of very affordable, easy-to-use accessories, and suddenly you’ll find that an entire studio setup fits into a small camera bag.
When working with flashes, a number of accessories can help you to refine and shape the light in your images. Known as modifiers, these tools can alter the direction and quality of the light to produce any number of effects.
A flash will give your subjects a clean commercial pop when working with reflectors or bounces, for instance, or a soft, flattering appeal when using diffusion panels like softboxes. On-flash diffusion uses translucent materials to restrict light output, consequently softening the quality of the light and blending it into ambient lighting conditions with less contrast. Modern flashes almost always include a flip-down diffusion panel or slots for adding small diffusion panels.
More sophisticated “shoot-through” diffusers are also available, including bounce domes, miniature softboxes and even large on-camera diffusion panels like Interfit’s Strobies Large Diffuser. Estimated Street Price: $11.
Bounce diffusion will spread the light from another surface, like a ceiling or wall. Many flashes include swivel abilities and pull-out bounce cards for this purpose. You always can use a white card or paper in a pinch, and better bounce cards are also available separately. (Whether diffusion or bounce, all diffusers will reduce the light output so you’ll need to bump up flash output or increase exposure accordingly.)
The Rogue FlashBender from ExpoImaging is conveniently bendable for use as a snoot in rolled-up form, as a flat “flag” that blocks light or as an efficiently sized reflector that acts as a bounce when anchored to a flash. Available in large or small models, it attaches to any-sized flash through an attachment belt. The white reflective surface is synthetic for easy cleaning, and there’s also a FlashBender Bounce Card/Flag that functions as either a reflector or a flag. List Price: $39 (Large); $34 (Small); $29 (Bounce Card/Flag).