Modern on-camera flashes are so powerful that many photographers are looking at them as a primary light source, and not just for events. Many of the advanced capabilities that used to be reserved for much more sophisticated and expensive lighting systems are now found in speedlights.
Like traditional studio lighting, adding any of several light-modification tools can enhance and alter this light output as needed for your project. This makes multiple flash setups extremely simple to use and maneuver, especially since the bodies are so compact that they can be hidden, often right in the scene.
Learning to control light is essential for pro results, and thanks to the large variety of affordable solutions for shaping light from your flash, a portable and sophisticated lighting system now can stow right into your camera bag.
Diffusion products reduce and affect light output by passing the light through any number of semitransparent materials. The quality and nature of the material changes the light as it passes through, diffusing (and also reducing) the total output, which results in images with a much softer light spread and far less contrast. Softboxes, octaboxes, domes, silks and fabrics are the most common types of diffusion products.
Softboxes combine a panel of soft white material with a reflective interior, often in white, silver or gold, for channeling light forward with minimal light loss. Lastolite’s Ezybox II softboxes are a great value because they fit battery-operated on-camera flashes, as well as larger studio flashes, through available adapters. There are removable inner and outer diffusion baffles for adding or reducing diffusion. The Ezybox II is available in several sizes as both a square or an Octa softbox system, as well as the Large Ezybox II Switch with a 35×35-inch square front diffuser and a narrowing zip device that will squeeze the panel down to a 17.25×35-inch rectangular shape for two configurations with just one product. Estimated Street Price: From $135.
Gary Fong’s Lightsphere Collapsible Pro Kit, which fits most popular flash models, includes several versatile tools for enhancing output. The kit includes a soft white diffusion dome that folds down, making it easier to carry compared to hard plastic models. Red, yellow, green and blue gels affix to the Lightsphere Collapsible for adding creative color looks, as well as correction for tungsten and fluorescent. Also included in the kit, the PowerSnoot with removable PowerGrid has a chrome-reflective interior and channels light for a powerful spotlight separation or farther throw. The warming AmberDome and power-boosting ChromeDome with Adapter Ring also are included for use with the Collapsible. Estimated Street Price: $129.
The Strobros Globe Diffuser from Impact is a simple, yet effective diffusion solution. It slips over on-camera flashes, and softens and spreads the output for more natural light spread with less contrast, which makes it ideal for event photography and portraiture. The Strobros will fit to most common flashes, and the small form factor makes it a good choice when using wide-angle lenses (larger on-camera light mods like softboxes can reach into the frame when shooting extra wide). Estimated Street Price: $25.
With models sized for most available flashes, Sto-Fen’s Omni-Bounce is a small, but effective diffusion device that fits right over the head of the flash. The pocket-sized Omni-Bounces are very affordable, and they’re also available in green for proper white balance under fluorescent lighting and gold for added warmth. List Price: $19 (most Omni-Bounces); $17 (Omni-Bounce Green/Gold); $29 (Omni-Bounce Green and Gold Set).
Westcott’s new Rapid Box softbox system for on-camera flashes opens and folds much like an umbrella, making it very fast to set up and use. The shallow depth of the design is ideal for working from tight areas, and each includes a one-stop diffusion panel and an adjustable shoe mount that’s compatible with most modern flashes. Currently available in three sizes, the 10×24-inch Strip provides the benefits of a standard low-profile softbox, while the larger 26-inch Octa and 20-inch Octa Mini feature an octagonal front panel for better catchlights and a more even light spread compared to rectangular softboxes. An optional Deflector Plate also is compatible with all three for converting the softbox systems into an open-face reflective beauty dish for fashion and portraiture. List Price: $169 (20-inch Octa Mini, 10x 24-inch Strip); $199 (26-inch Octa); $23 (Deflector Plate).
DIRECTIONAL CONTROL AND BOUNCE
Flash heads often incorporate swiveling and tilting designs in order to bounce light output from walls or ceilings. This results in a much more natural overall light spread with less shadows, for much more flattering candids and portraits.
When shooting outdoors or in larger spaces, however, bounce can be ineffective or even detrimental because you’re pointing your flash away from the subject. Tools that shape, channel or bounce the light from your flash will give you control over the direction of your light output even when shooting outside. Popular tools for directional control include reflectors, bounce cards, beauty dishes, grids and umbrellas, as well as flags and gobos, which actually control light by blocking it.
ExpoImaging has a large selection of light-modification tools specifically designed to enhance flash output, including a number of versatile kits like the Rogue Starter, Rogue Portrait and Rogue Master Lighting Kits. Each system combines several bounce and diffusion tools, like the FlashBender Reflectors, which act as bendable, but stiff white reflection panels that can shape and channel reflected light much like a snoot. (They also can be used as snoots by twisting them into a cone.) The Rogue Master Kit offers four diffusion and bounce panels, a honeycomb grid and two gel kits. Estimated Street Price: Begins at $99 (Rogue Starter Lighting Kit).
Beauty dishes are popular for fashion photography and portraiture because of the soft, flattering effect of bounced light and the beautiful circular catchlights that the round open-face fixtures produce in the eyes. Flashpoint offers the 6-inch Q Series Beauty Dish Reflector in "A" and "B" sizes for accommodating most popular flash models. They also have a larger 12-inch Beauty Dish Kit for Shoe-Mount Flash, which comes with a bracket, deflector, honeycomb grid and fabric diffuser. Estimated Street Price: $54 (Flashpoint Q Series 6-inch Beauty Dish Reflector); $89 (Flashpoin
t 12-inch Beauty Dish Kit for Shoe-Mount Flash).
Available in silver, gold and white, umbrellas are similar to softboxes in effect with soft, flattering light that will wrap around the subject. They reflect the light, so there’s more side spill and hence less output, but they’re also much simpler to set up and tear down, and are generally also more affordable than softboxes.
Photoflex makes several umbrella mount solutions for flashes, including the DualFlash 45-inch Adjustable Silver Umbrella Kit and the newer, very inexpensive ShoeMount/SpeedLight Umbrella Kit that offers a white interior for use as a fill, a tabletop light or an additional background light. It includes a ShoeMount MultiClamp, LiteReach XS LiteStand and ADW 30-inch adjustable umbrella. The more powerful DualFlash incorporates a highly reflective silver interior, an adjustable umbrella and mounting brackets for not one, but two flash units, as well as two wireless triggers. It also includes an eight-foot LiteStand. Estimated Street Price: $99 (ShoeMount/SpeedLight Umbrella Kit); $189 (DualFlash 45-inch Umbrella Kit).
Sunbounce’s Bounce-Wall Set affixes a reflective panel to an adjustable extension arm which, in effect, brings the wall to your flash. The Bounce-Wall Set includes the Silver Double-Sided Bounce-Wall panel, and several other reflector panels are available in a variety of combinations for changing the color temperature of the reflected light: Zig-Zag Silver/White, Galaxy Gold, Gold, Zebra Gold/Silver, Zig-Zag Gold/White and Silver. Estimated Street Price: $125 (Bounce-Wall Set); $32 (Bounce-Wall panels).
Gels offer color correction and diffusion, making them an ideal solution for achieving perfect white balance or color effects even in mixed lighting situations.
Honl offers several filter kits for flashes with ready-made packages like Color Correction, Color Effects, Hollywood, Autumn and the CTO Kit for color-correcting strobes when working with tungsten, fluorescent or daylight. The Creative Filter Starter Kit includes one Speed Strap, necessary for affixing Honl products to your flash, and a Filter Roll-Up for carrying up to 30 gels. It also comes with the complete Color Effects, Hollywood and Autumn filter kits. The Creative Lighting Starter Kit, on the other hand, includes the Speed Strap and a 10-piece Sampler Filter kit, as well as light-modification tools like a five-inch Black/White Speed Snoot, a Black/White Speed Gobo and a 1/4 Speed Grid for channeling light spill from your flash for a more powerful burst with a lot of contrast. List Price: $69 (Creative Filter Starter Kit); $99 (Creative Lighting Starter Kit).
The LumiQuest Ready For Anything Kit is aptly named, with several tools to cover a variety of situations. The ProMax system of six filters includes an 80-20 bounce card (for an extra-diffuse fill spread of 20%), an FXtra gel holder, several special effects with color correction filters and a diffusion panel with gold, silver, white and diffusion inserts. The whole system fits into a storage wallet. Estimated Street Price: $85.
The extremely affordable Rogue Flash Gels Color Correction Kit from ExpoImaging includes a well-honed selection of the most commonly used gels. This includes a 1/4 CTO, 1/2 CTO, Full CTO, Plus Green and 1/2 CTB gel for correction of fluorescent and tungsten lights. List Price: $29.
F.J. Westcott Company
Sunbounce (Hasselblad Bron)