Camera flashes are highly directional light sources. This means that the burst of light is coming from a single light source, the bulb, resulting in an uneven style of lighting with a brightly lit subject in the foreground and a lot of heavy shadows surrounding the subject. This effect is especially unappealing when working with portraiture, which, of course, is the majority of situations in which you’ll find yourself working with a flash. Just as with professional studio lighting setups, however, there are a number of tools and accessories available for enhancing the output of a flash while adding powerful effects.
Most flashes include a built-in diffusion panel that flips out to cover the flash. This translucent panel softens the harsh light output by spreading the light rays produced by the bare flash bulb along the surface of the panel to more evenly distribute illumination as light rays move forward. Although the amount of overall light is reduced, as is the case with all light-modification tools, this results in better overall illumination, less contrast and reduced shadows. In essence, all diffusion solutions work in the same way as a diffusion panel, only more advanced diffusion solutions like softboxes, domes and hanging fabrics or silks give more advanced possibilities.
The Interfit Strobies Portrait Kit of accessories includes a variety of tools useful for creating high-impact portraiture from just a single flash. Requiring an optional Flex Mount to secure the system to a speedlight, the package offers an introductory assembly of the most popular tools for flash photography, including a small beauty dish, softbox, snoot, diffusion globe, barn door setup and 30-degree honeycomb grid. Estimated Street Price: $129 (Interfit Strobies Portrait Kit); $7 (Interfit Flex Mount).
LumiQuest provides several dedicated kits for flash photography, including the Location/Portrait Kit, Strobist Kit, Wedding/Event Kit and the LumiQuest Bounce Kit. The Ready For Anything Kit includes the FXtra color gel system and the LumiQuest ProMax, which offers an 80-20 reflective ceiling bounce with interchangeable white, gold and silver inserts, as well as a removable frosted diffusion screen. LumiQuest also manufactures several miniature softboxes for flashes: the LumiQuest SoftBox, SoftBox LTp, SoftBox III and Mini SoftBox. Estimated Street Price: From $21 (LumiQuest Mini SoftBox); $75 (LumiQuest Ready For Anything Kit).
Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including strip lights, rectangular panels and larger studio models with a lot of surface area like octaboxes, softboxes are the most popular diffusion accessory in photography because they soften light through a large front panel to achieve especially flattering light similar to the natural diffusion that you find on a cloudy day. Miniaturized softbox solutions for working directly with a speedlight are available whether shooting from the camera or mounting your flash to a stand.
The Apollo softbox line from F.J. Westcott features umbrella-like construction that makes the softboxes fast to set up and tear down. There are several models and accessories throughout the line, including the compact 16-inch Mini Apollo and 28-inch Medium Apollo models, a 43-inch Octagonal Apollo Orb octabox, a 16×30-inch Apollo Strip light unit and the largest 50-inch Recessed Mega JS Apollo softbox. The Micro Apollo will fit right over your flash, and many of the Apollo softboxes are available in kits with a flash mount. Estimated Street Price: From $29 (Micro Apollo).