For even more control, a growing number of light-shaping devices or modifiers are designed to fit over a shoe-mount flash head, including grids, snoots, barndoors, softboxes, gels, ring lights and reflectors. The purpose of such tools is to influence where light goes, how it looks once it’s there and, ultimately, how it affects your subject and overall image quality.
The biggest misconception about flash is that it’s only useful when there isn’t enough light. Whether it’s twilight or midday, shooting with a flash can enhance the quality of almost any photograph by improving exposure, contrast and color. All flashes have power-control settings that allow you to dial in the intensity of the flash to match the available light. The advantage of E-TTL systems is that the strobe and camera work together, analyzing both the flash and ambient light to determine the proper exposure.
Simply slipping a flash onto the camera hot-shoe and firing directly at your subject is likely to result in pictures with harsh shadows, little depth and red-eye (if you’re shooting portraits). The easiest way to take care of harsh strobe light is to rotate the flash and bounce it. Most speedlights today have rotating heads that can tilt for bouncing light off of a large neutral surface, such as a white ceiling, and reflecting it back onto your subject. This produces soft, diffused lighting free of harsh shadows. Even more effective is taking these units off-camera to light photos from more creative angles.
All of the major camera manufacturers offer flash units designed to work with their systems, but there are also several third-party options worthy of consideration. Just make sure they’re compatible with your DSLR’s features.
Nissin offers several flash units that range in size and power, with the Di866 Mark II offering the most features. The upgraded version comes with a metal foot, replacing its predecessor’s plastic foot for increased durability. The redesigned zoom head is quieter, and the range of the wireless sensor is improved. A handy "sub-flash" can be used as fill when bouncing the main head off the ceiling. The flash head tilts up 90° and rotates horizontally 90° to the right and 180° to the left. The Di866 Mark II is compatible with Canon E-TTL and E-TTL II systems, and Nikon i-TTL. It can be used in concert with Canon and Nikon flash units, either as a master or slave. Estimated Street Price: $349.
The Metz Mecablitz 58 AF-2 Digital replaces the Mecablitz 58 AF-1 with an upgraded metal base, a quick-lock system, a revised motor zoom mode and an improved high-performance flash tube. The wide-angle diffuser was adapted to work at focal lengths as wide as 12mm. Metz has integrated a flip-out reflector card for the vertically tilting and horizontally swiveling reflector, which tilts up 90°, down 7° and horizontally 300°. Thanks to the integrated and system-controlled secondary reflector, bouncing flash adds more light to close-ups—for example, catchlight to the eyes—and offers three partial light-output settings—full, half and quarter power. With a USB interface, firmware updates are easy to do online. There are five dedicated versions of the 58 AF-2 for Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic/Leica (Four Thirds TTL System), Pentax and Sony. Estimated Street Price: $399.
The Qflash TRIO Basic is a more affordable version of Quantum‘s Qflash TRIO shoe-mount flash. The TRIO Basic incorporates all of the features of the more advanced TRIO minus the built-in FreeXwire TTL radio, which allows the flash to act as a master controller of off-camera units. The unit delivers full TTL dedication for Canon and Nikon DSLRs with high-speed sync, manual, auto, autofill and program (presets) functions, which are all found in the TRIO. Other features include full directional tilt and swivel capability, unlimited rapid fires of full-power flashes, a removable reflector, and long and short power cords. Estimated Street Price: $645 (TRIO Basic); $875 (TRIO).