Whether artificial or natural, light that comes from a single source is directional and harsh, which results in images that have a lot of contrast and heavy shadows. Generally, this is unflattering to a subject, especially when working with people. Even with limited swiveling abilities and wireless control over multiple flash units, this unfortunate fact makes on-camera flash a very limited lighting solution when used on its own.
Adding any of several very affordable accessories, however, can turn your single flash into a much more versatile lighting solution while gaining you a lot of control over existing ambient lighting. Many of these compact accessories are great for working off-camera, as well, which can give you an extensive amount of lighting options when working wirelessly with multiple flash units.
Keep in mind that the automatic TTL (through-the-lens) metering of your camera will be affected greatly by light-modification tools. Learn the manual functions of your camera and flash so you can accommodate for this, but even if working in TTL mode, you’ll get better light if you learn how to adjust basic exposure levels by adding or subtracting exposure value through the flash.
ENHANCING LIGHT: REFLECTORS AND UMBRELLAS
Many flashes include swiveling or rotating heads for bouncing light from nearby walls or ceilings to reduce shadows and contrast by spreading out the light. This is the same reason why flashes incorporate diffusion or bounce panels for refracting light at a 90° angle. Pointing the flash away from your subject, of course, reduces illumination a great deal.
Reflectors work in the same way to give you control over the strong directional light coming from your flash, as well as any other more powerful ambient light sources like the sun. They’re used to diffuse or enhance directional light by reflecting the light rays of your flash or ambient source into a more even spread. They also can be used as a mirror to reflect light into a scene for key lighting, highlights, fill-flash and other unique properties like image warmth or reflected catchlights for adding life to a subject’s eyes. Reflectors are available in a variety of materials and textures that can be as simple as a white bounce board. Most common reflector solutions are available in silver, gold and several types of white, as well as mixed or switchable combinations of these surfaces. Silver will give a specular pop to a subject, while gold adds a warm, "late-afternoon" glow. White will reflect or diffuse light that’s true to the output of the flash.
Umbrellas are another great choice for spreading out directional light. Just as with reflectors, they’re often available in gold, silver or white. The spread of light is very soft and flattering, similar to a softbox, but with less control over the side spill of light than a forward-facing paneled softbox can provide. Most lighting companies offer a number of umbrella solutions.
ExpoImaging’s versatile Rogue series of FlashBenders and Diffusion Panels are a perfect example of what you can do with a flash when you combine it with a simple light modifier. There are three sizes in the line, each malleable with plain white material for shaping reflected light into tight spots or for bouncing to gain a more natural spread. The Rogue FlashBender Bendable Bounce Card/Flag can bounce light and can restrict or shape light as a "flag" via the black fabric attachment, or by bending the white surface toward the flash. The Rogue FlashBender Small Positionable Reflector can be used as a reflector, a flag or as a smaller snoot by shaping the material into a tunnel-like enclosure. The Large Positionable Reflector bumps up the 10×7-inch dimensions to a larger 10×11-inch solution, and all three are available together as a kit. Estimated Street Price: $29 (Bendable Bounce Card/Flag); $34 (Small Positionable Reflector); $39 (Large Positionable Reflector); $99 (Rogue FlashBender Kit).