my choice of on-camera flash modifiers
There is a fundamental principle in lighting : the larger your light source, the softer your light.
Using any of the myriad of flash modifiers that are on offer, helps in achieving that – spreading the light from the on-camera Speedlight much wider, thereby creating softer light that direct flash would’ve given. However, (and this is a big however), these flash modifiers also throw light forward. Ultimately all flash modifiers do the same thing – they disperse a lot of light around the room, while throwing some measure of light directly forward to lift shadows under the eyes and bring a sparkle to the eyes.
That is a huge step up from using direct flash – (or poorly bounced flash.. ie, flash at 45′ or 60′ forward) – but won’t be as good as directional light. Directional light falls onto your subject from a specific angle. This direction can very often be carefully chosen even when you use an on-camera flash indoors.
For this candid portrait of the ring-bearer, I touched up the WB in RAW, and that’s that. Simple, and it looks just great. The light is soft, and the little guy wasn’t bothered by any direct flash … since there was NO direct flash at all.
The way I achieve directional light from my flash is by adding what is in effect, a half-snoot on my on-camera flash. The half-snoot (or flag) will partially block the light, and also direct it.
This piece of black foam around my Speedlight has two advantages:
1. Directional light. I can now much more precisely direct where I want my light to come from.
2. Less annoying to others. In turning my flash to the side or to point behind me, I would risk blasting other people directly in the face with flash. This piece of black foam keeps that from happening. I now direct my flash over people’s heads, and I don’t blitz people in their faces with direct flash when they stand next to me or behind me.
To further explain this, here’s a video clip where I demonstrate how to use the black foamie thing to flag the light from your on-camera flash.
I also very often when shooting in tungsten light, use a filter on my flash to bring the cold light of the flash closer to the warmer tones of tungsten light. I simply stick a piece of gel over the head of my Speedlight with some gaffer’s tape. It is low-tech, but it works.
By gelling my flash for tungsten I change the grungy orange backgrounds to a more pleasing warm tone.
The gel used in the image of the baby above, was full CTS. I keep my camera’s WB to Tungsten. And in post-production I fine-tune the WB, since by bouncing my flash, it picks up an additional color from the walls and ceiling. The gel shown in the illustration here is 1/2 CTS. I then keep my WB of my camera to 3800 K, which is still much closer to Tungsten, than the 5400K of flash.
The black half-snoot / flag that I add to my Speedlight is just as simple. It’s a piece of thin black foam bought from an arts store, and then cut smaller. I keep the piece of black foam tied to my Speedlight with a hair band that I stole from my daughter. Yup, low-tech and simple … and it works!
It can also be manipulated and shaped. Also check out this follow-up article on why I chose a piece of black foam to flag my flash, rather than using something white. And that is the flash modifier I most often use. Total cost is less than $2.00
If you want something more elegant and less home-made, then there is the Spinlight 360
And there they are – the only light modifiers that I use when I use on-camera Speedlights. In my work as an wedding photographer in New Jersey / New York, I often do use off-camera lighting, whether Speedlights or Q-flashes. But with on-camera strobes, these are the only light modifiers I use. And they are all I really need when working indoors.
gelling your flash
Since I frequently gel my flashguns to turn the WB of my flash much warmer (usually for Incandescent light), I use these gels that I cut up and tape to the top of my speedlight’s head. One of these sheets (which aren’t expensive), will give you a lifetime supply of these filters. For me, these gels are an invaluable part of flash photography.
Tape the gels down on your lens hood when not in use.