These flash modifiers can control and shape light to reduce or eliminate harsh lighting from your shoe-mounted flash, resulting in more pleasing portraits.
Here's a frequently-asked question: "I use a shoe-mounted flash on my camera, but when I photograph people the light makes them look pretty bad. Is there a way to fix this so I can get more flattering flash photos?" The answer is: Flash modifiers! Here's a look at 10 flash modifiers or systems, all available at Adorama, that let you transform that harsh light source into something that will flatter and define your subject.
Unadorned, light projected by shoe-mounted flash is harsh and creates deep, unflattering shadows. Fortunately, you can improve upon this unflattering flash light. A new generation of sophisticated flash light modifiers have been introduced recently to help you control and shape the light that comes out of your portable flash, improving the quality of your portraits and other forms of photography. Let's take a look at how light modifier patterns you can get by using these products can help you improve your flash portraits.
Bend me, shape me
Flash modifiers in recent years have become increasingly more sophisticated and flexible and nobody has taken the “flexible” aspect more literally than Expoimaging, makers of the Expoimaging Rogue FlashBender (available at Adorama for $29-199, depending on size configuration. See all the options here). The FlashBender, which comes in small, medium and large sizes, is made of an optically neutral reflective fabric backed by Cordura Nylon and a material that helps it keep whatever shape you manipulate it to take, and gives you fine control over the shape of the light, from wide open to snoot. Want even finer control? The Expoimaging Rogue 3-in-1 Honeycomb Grid Flash Modifier works with the FlashBender to control the direction of light and prevent light spill. You can even add a matched set of gels to control the color of the light.
The Spinlight 360 system (shown in some of its many configurations, above; Adorama price, $149) is the newest kit on the flash modifier block. It uses a combination of gels, diffusers, scrims and reflectors that fit on one rotating ring that is fixed on the flash head. The system starts with a circular base; add gels as needed to balance the light. Finally, add the light modifier modules. The full system includes snoots, black scrims, white reflectors both larger and small, transluscent diffusers, and more. They can be mixed and matched, and because the base rotates 180 degrees, they give you many different ways to control your light.
Photo Courtesy Spinlight 360
Photo ©Joe Farace
Sock it to me!
Adorama Strobo-Socks ($8.95) soften the direct flash with a reflector that's around 5 inches that doesn't have a modeling light. Because it's a shoot-through modifier, 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. Strobo-Socks, can be used with virtually any flash unit and fits the 5-inch round reflectors of systems like Quantum, Sunpak, Lumedyne or Norman. Read Joe Farace's review of Strobo-Socks.
Until fairly recently, light modifiers for portable flashes were essentially one-trick ponies. They could bounce or reflect or soften but likely couldn’t do more than one of these light-modifications. The new generation of light modifiers are more flexible, and none that we’ve seen is as flexible as the Presslite Vertex Light Modifier (Adorama price: $49).
The concept behind the Vertex is that it can steer and shape light, creating multi-flash effects from a single flash. To do this, the Vertex uses two panels that swivel in several directions. These panels can be individually changed from white reflector to translucent material to highly-reflective mirror surfaces. While one bounces light, for example, another can point the light towards the ceiling for bounce, creating a bounce/fill light ratio that can be controlled via a simple thumb shift mechanism.
This portrait, shot in a narrow hallway, is a challenge to light well from a single source. Using the Vertex, the flash head is rotated and mirrored panels twisted to bounce light off both the right wall and ceiling, producing soft, directional lighting.
One of the advantages of the reflective surface is that it intensifies the light that’s bounced against a wall or ceiling. For wedding photographers and photojournalists who need to work fast, the VerteX offers unprecedented light output control.
While the Vertex can be used with on-camera flash, it offers even more versatility when used with multiple-flash set-ups.
Q marks the spot
Adorama has just come out with its own lineup of flash modifiers via its house brand, Flashpoint. The Flashpoint Q Series includes a 6-inch Beauty Dish Reflector, which attaches via fabric fastener to most popular shoe-mount flash models, including the Canon 480EX, 420EX, Nikon SB910 and SB600, as well as Olympus and Sony models. Using a diffuser and reflecter, the Beauty Dish widens the flash point of origin, providing a larger, more diffused light source that’s well suited for portraits.
The Q Series also includes a Diffuser Dome, which attaches to a strobe and gives an all-around even glow that’s similar to a bare-bulb flash. A Snoot will direct and narrow the light beam from a flash, concentrating it on a small area. Other attachements include a honeycomb pattern which further directs light with minimal spill-off, as well as colored gels.
The different Flashpoint Q Series modifiers can be bought separately or in a kit exclusively from Adorama for $129.95.
This photo was shot using a bare-bulb flash; the Flashpoint Q Series Diffuser Dome on a standard rotating flash will produce similar lighting. Photo by James Bailey.
Ring flash that goes beyond macro
So, you’ve seen the shadow-eliminating effect of a ring flash and would like to try it yourself…but not necessarily on macro subjects, which is what ring flashes are primarily used for. Enter the ExpoImaging Ray Flash Adapter, available from Adorama for $199.95, which takes light output from specific flash units and redistributes it through a system of prisms, reflectors and light shapers so the light is distributed evenly around the lens.
Because it shapes the light of powerful flash units with lots of light output--the Nikon SB800 and Canon 580EX II—the Ray Flash Adapter throws much more light and therefore lets you shoot more distant, non-macro subjects. Fashion and weddings and can get the same shadowless images as you can get photographing flowers with a regular ringlight. You simply can’t get this kind of output from a traditional ringlight flash, which is designed only for close work.
The powerful flash light coming from all around the lens creates a unique, shadowless effect that can be used for stunning portraits or fashion shots. Photos courtesy ExpoImaging.
The ExpoImaging Ray Flash adapter is available for several camera/flash combinations:
Canon 580EX flash on Digital Rebel DSLRs
Canon 580EX flash on EOS 5D, 40D, 30D, 20D and 10D DSLRs
Canon 580EX flash on EOS 1D, 1Ds and 1V DSLRs
Nikon SB900 flash with Nikon D1, D2 or D3 DSLRs
Nikon SB900 flash with Nikon D300, D200, D70, D80, D50 and D40 DSLRs.
A classic modifier lives larger
A favorite of many strobists, the LumiQuest SoftBox III (Adorama price: $31.90) offers a big 8x9-inch shoot-through diffusing surface that spreads out the light for more flattering results. Designed to fit most flash units via a fabric fastener system, the thickness is center-weighted to compensate for edge light falloff. If you've used other LumiQuest products before, you know the drill—and you also know that they get the job done. The only downside? The diffusion surface is so big it covers the flash's on-board AF assist and exposure sensor, so you'll have to shoot in manual mode.
Honl's flexible approach
Photographer David Honl has developed an impressive lineup of inexpensive portable strobe light modifiers. The HolPhoto Start Kit, at the Adorama price of $123.95, includes a Gobo/Bounce Card, an 8-inch Snoot Reflector which serves to both narrow light or to give it a wider bounce area for a more diffused look—depending on how you attach it to the flash—straps to attach it, a Honeycomb-pattern Speed Grid, which focuses and narrows the light coming out of the flash and prevents flare-producing light spill-off, and straps to hold it all to the flash unit. Filter kits, different snoot sizes and other accessories are available.
Because some Honl accessories are made of flexible material, photographers have greater control molding the shape of the light coming out of the flash. Furthermore, you don't need to buy versions for specific flash models, because the fabric fastener straps can be quickly adapted to any flash shape, as long as the flash has a rotating head. Read our product review for more about Honl modifiers.
Shape shifters: Samples of the kind light effects you can create using Honl flash modifiers with off-camera hot-shoe flash units.
Professor Kobre's lighting lesson
Many a photojournalist started out with a dog-eared edition of Professor Ken Kobre’s classic tome, Photojournalism: The Professional’s Approach. Now, any on-the-go photographer can benefit from Professor Kobre’s latest project, the $29.95 Adorama priced Lightscoop. This control isn’t mean for any fancy add-on flash but instead works directly with the little pop-up flash on your starter or hobbyist-level DSLR. (Pros wouldn’t be caught dead with such a puny flash, so most pro DSLRs don’t have a pop-up flash although it can be useful in certain situations—but that’s another story!)
Normally, the little flashes project a bit of direct, harsh light and when used with the wrong subject or lens, could create red-eye. The Lightscoop redirects the light and diffuses it, creating a more natural lighting effect. And it’s been an instant hit: American Photo magazine gave it the Editor’s Choice award in 2008 for innovation and utility.
To use Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop, simply slip it into your camera’s hot shoe, pop up the little flash, and shoot away. Be sure to adjust the ISO to 800 so you will have a good, natural balance between the flash and ambient light.
Softer: Harsh light from on-camera flash (left) is softened by Professor Kobre’s Lightscoop. Photos courtesy Lightscoop.
No, you won’t be able to light up a huge room with it, but it’s great for photographing the kids in the playroom from a few feet away and getting natural-looking lighting. And that’s great for family photojournalists.
The Gary Fong Lightsphere spreads the light around, softening the overal immage as if lit by a bulb.
Gary Fong's major dome-o
While most flash modifiers rely on your pointing the flash towards your subject, Gary Fong's Lightsphere is based on shooting up and into a diffuser that spreads the light up, out and around, lighting up the entire room like a light bulb. The effect? Softer, more flattering images. The Gary Fong Universal Cloud Lightsphere Kit, at the Adorama price of $86.67, allows you to fine-tune this diffused ligh. An opauqe Vinyl diffuser can further soften the lighting as it diffuses; the ChromeDome increases light output dramatically, while the Amberdome warms up images, which is great for matching ambient light during the Golden Hours after sunrise and before sunset.