If you’re using a professional studio flash the obvious choice for soft lighting is an umbrella and for most purposes that’s still the best choice.
But it’s not the only one, especially is you want a more direct, more focused lighting effect. The goal of the reflector that’s typically provided with a studio light, like the shoe mount flash, is to maximize output not softness. The solution to that problem is Strobo-Socks, which can be used with virtually any flash unit and fits the 5-inch round reflectors of systems like Quantum, Sunpak, Lumedyne or Norman.
If the sock fits: Mary Farace was photographed with a monolight that had a slightly larger than 5-inch reflector and it easily slipped onto the reflector but removing it caused the elastic around the edge of the Strobo-Sock to break. So when it says “5-inch” believe it. In between I was able to capture this wonderful portrait using only the monolight as a main light and a reflector (see a previous Tip) for fill. The backdrop is an Adorama Belle Drape Scenic Series painted muslin background. ©2007 Joe Farace
Strobo-Socks (right) soften the direct flash but are not intended for use with flash units with continuously burning modeling lamps or so-called “hot lights.” When working with a monolight, you can use the modeling light to approximate the effect, turn it off, and then measure the exposure with the Strobo-Socks in place over the reflector. In general you can expect a one stop light loss but with a gain in softness while maintaining the reflector’s narrower focus. Need more diffusion? Two Strobo-Socks can be stacked, which is especially useful for close-up photography. The inexpensive ($12.95) socks easily fit in a shirt pocket for quick access and can be washed and air-dried just like real socks.
Joe Farace is the co-author, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Barry Staver, of a new book called “Better Available Light Digital Photography” published by Focal Press is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.