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To use a Gary Fong diffuser?

CarlZandCarlZand Member
edited January 2014 in the gear
Hello, Neil. I was wondering what do you thing about this little item here? The Gary Fong diffuser. I found one that is generic, and was wondering if you have any experience with this one. Thank you. Cheers from México.


  • In a studio, a Gary Fong diffuser makes no sense. You can use much better lighting equipment. As to whether it's useful outside of a studio, that's another question. I've used it a few times, and in public, you do get quite a few weird looks. I think if you are shooting in a location where you are the dedicated photographer, e.g., at a wedding, then it could be useful, but what you gain in more diffused light, you lose in controlling light going to specific areas.

    I shoot mostly street photography, and Martin Parr is well known for using the Gary Fong diffuser, and gets very good results. However, if you check his photos, everything is usually equally lit. Do you want that look? Also, he usually shoots with an assistant and usually on assignments. He's able to get all the right access. For an amateur street shooter, you tend to stand out a mile if you use the GF diffuser so it's better to use smaller flashes with simple plastic diffusers.
  • I find that type of diffuser basically throws away the direction of the light we work so hard to achieve.
  • The funny thing about the ad linked in your question CarlZand is that the photos with the product (the 'after' photos) are not very good. Nothing flattering about those faces and after pointing out the strong shadows in the 'direct flash' 'before' photo, the product's 'after' photo still has shadows.

    If you want to use a portable plastic diffuser, and I think there are times when they can help, you should get a Sto-Fen cap (you can get anywhere such as B&H). It's about $15 dollars or so (instead of $298 for the product linked here). I use them outside with portraits instead of direct flash if I haven't got a better set-up (such as a mini softbox or an assistant to hold a reflector). If you use one and knock back the flash power it can produce nice soft fill light that works with the natural light. It's never going to replace off-camera flash but it can be helpful at times and help you produce great photos. Also, I use it inside if there are cathedral ceilings too high for bouncing or all dark wood ceilings and walls and I'm running around at, say, an event where a lighting set-up would not be feasible.

  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited January 2014
    The whole thing about the lightsphere or the stofen is they are not a magic bullet. They cannot break the laws of basic physics. Light travels in strait lines and both (even though the sphere is bigger) are small light sources thus produce hard light as a stand alone units. Even the term omnibounce from the stofen implies bounce. These devices need something to bounce off. Floors, desks, chairs or almost anything that will play pool with light.

    If you follow Neil's teachings you can almost find anything to bounce off even if there is a high dark ceiling. If you can't then with modern day high ISO capable cameras you can shoot with very high ISO, a wide open lens and get decent usable flash images even if you shoot direct. At that point the flash is just a fill and you can achieve decent images. A bit flat but the subjects still do not look nuked. Great when you are in a pinch.

    If someone understands that and wants to use those devices all the best. Each to his own. At one period I spent a lot of money looking for the latest and greatest diffusers. After learning about flash here and other places I gave all my diffusers away. Since then I've always had a bit of a gripe about how a product is advertised and what it can actually do. I don't want to get anyone in trouble but just check adds out about what the GF claims the Puffer is capable of.

    So in summary again - each to his own. I roll this way these days and it has made my on camera flash work much simpler and enjoyable except when I walk into a room and get a strained neck looking for places to bounce off.


  • hoyaterphoyaterp Member
    edited January 2014
    Many many moons ago I was at a wedding and noticed the photographers had a layer or two of Kleenex taped to their flashes as a diffuser. They got good results with no expensive gimmicks, probably similar to the pricey Tupperware of today. No need to spend lots of money on photographic snake oil.

    But that's not the real point. I've read Neil's above-mentioned article 4-5 times or more trying to drive the truth into my brain. It's really about understanding light, controlling it, and making it work to deliver a message, a feeling or sense of moment. No overpriced piece of snap-on plastic can ever give me that.

    That's just my opinion, but I could be wrong. :)

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Nope, you're not wrong, for then you'd be in disagreement with me. ;)
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited January 2014
    I have to wonder what kleenex taped to the flash would accomplish? It is still a small light source thus produces hard light. I cannot see any benefit with kleenex over a bare flash in any way unless it was installed at it's full sheet size over a home made gizmo. Even then the benefits are minimal if shooting at distance. A macro of a bee or something small would make a significant difference.
  • Z, Kleenex is just a very cheap Sto-Fen, and I imagine it diffuses just as well, which is to say not great but better than bare flash, yes it's still a small light source but now at least softened. Someone once said, instead of buying expensive plastic just throw a translucent to go deli container in your bag to use as diffuser in a pinch. You'll just have to figure how to attach to flash. I once saw a photographer use a hanky.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited January 2014
    I still can't see how it can soften light. Soft light is all about the size of the light source and distance to subject. I may change the colour temperature a bit. The stofen as well. As a stand alone it does almost nothing. It technically is not a diffuser but a light scattering device. It throws light all over the place hoping to bounce off ceilings, floors tables, lamp shades, table cloths at events, other people, etc. That is what it was designed to do.

    I did a few lighting workshops for our local club.

    1. In the first diagram I know that a softbox at 50 feet away is ineffective but just go with it for now.

    2. In the second diagram (which is animated) I illustrate that it impossible to curve light. Also if we placed a huge sheet of kleenex over the diffuser it is still not going to make the light any softer. The light source is still the same size.

    3. Now we move the softbox to within 5 feet of the subject.

    So based on the basic physics of light if we go back to a flash head I can't see what a hanky would do either besides perhaps change the colour temp a bit.

    Every time I see a person shooting outdoors with a GF lightsphere I want to pull the car over and talk to the person but my wife won't let me.imageimageimage
  • Here is a recent link to POTN where this question is asked often and answered by pro photographers.

  • Interesting diagrams Z. Thank you. Visuals like this can really help explain concepts well. So.... would it be correct to assume in your first image -- based on the third -- that if the light source (50 ft away) were much larger, the red lines would in fact then reach the back behind subject's head and eliminate/avoid the shadow?

    On the diffusing issue, you're making me question my Sto-Fen. So, if it doesn't diffuse the light perhaps reducing the light power, and thereby softening, would be more accurate description. But not sure. For instance, my Alien Bee studio flash has a big softbox around it. If I used it without the softbox but at same distance it would be much stronger and harsher like a big lightbulb. So surely the softbox is diffusing that light. Is the difference then that the softbox greatly increases the size of the light? If I stuck a Sto-Fen on my Alien Bee I assume the light would be softer -- but not diffused? I do know that if I use the flash outside without a Sto-Fen the light is way way harsher than if I use a Sto-Fen. I always use Sto-Fen with flash head pointed up, never at subject.

    If the Sto-Fen and others are trying to find surfaces to bounce light off of then, yes, the thing makes no sense because if there were surfaces to bounce off of we'd just bounce and not bother with the Sto-Fen. I do think if it as a little tiny softbox on the flash.
  • ZenonZenon Member
    edited January 2014
    Yes if the light source was larger at 50 ft away in the first image then the light would be softer. The sun which is many times larger than the earth is so far away it looks like about this size of a basket ball. If you look under cars in the mid day summer sun you see hard distinct shadow lines. On an overcast day the shadows less noticeable or more even because now the clouds are the light source and spread across the whole sky. If the sun was large enough to cover the
    whole sky at the same distance then again there would be soft light and soft shadow lines but we would be barbecued.

    I still don't think by reducing light power it creates softer light. Just less light. Remember light runs in strait lines. If there nothing to bounce off then yes the stofen will be a much harder light source at the same distance compared to your softbox. You would need to test this in a void. That is the problem. You don't know how much light is bouncing off everything around you when you are using the Stofen to do a controlled test. We just know it is does that.

    Some people use the Stofen on a speedlight with a softbox or umbrella to scatter more light to the outer areas which can balance out the light a bit. Remember with a Stofen on or not, your softbox is the source of light, not the Alien Bee. Using the Alien Bee you get all kinds of power. Using a speedlight you can lose 1 to 2 stops of power which can really put a drain on your batteries or simply there may not be enough power to get good exposure.

    Not sure how not using the stofen produces way way harsher light outdoors. Using the Stofen pointed up you are lighting planes above you and people all around you. A bit of a drain on the batteries. The surface area of the Stofen when pointed up is about the same surface area that your bare flash is. Only the light at the front of the Stofen, not the sides, back or top are is making it to your subject. The light on the sides, back to top is not being curved back to towards your subject. Physically impossible. I'm thinking that you are just overpowering your flash when in direct orientation. The Soften is acting more as a fill light which has nothing to do with the physics of soft light. Fill can be just as easily achieved with direct flash unless you are powered down to the lowest setting and it is still overexposing. With the Stofen you lose a stop or two and only a small portion of light form the flash is reaching your subject.

    If the Stofen works for you by all means continue. I have no issues shooting direct flash, indoors or out. I took lighting courses so I'm a person who was convinced in the physics of how light works so my brain works that way.
  • Here is an example of a Lightsphere. In an environment that has nothing to bounce off the surface area if the light that actually makes to to your subject. Indicated in red and only 2 to 3 times larger than your flash head. Not a significant contribution for soft light at normal shooting distances. 10+ feet to your subject.

    The area outside of the red zone is based on the curvature of the dome. Some light will may make it to the subject but the majority will be in the red zone.

  • Thanks Zenon. I do get results I'm happy with with the Sto-Fen but, again, I am using it outside as fill only. I knock back the power somewhat. Pointing upwards eliminates harsh light on my subject, I've heard it described as a soft light bulb on top of camera. I imagine doing it this way feathers the light by reducing it and keeping it from being direct. I have also used outside a bigger rectangular attachment (which I saw Joe McNally use in a lecture) and that one I do point at subject. (Yes, I could probably use bare flash powered way down as fill too.) Inside, though I use it only rarely, the Sto-Fen becomes the main light source with OK results, not ideal but the layout of many events prevents the use of better lighting equipment because it would be in the way and because you're moving around too much. Sto-Fen will throw shadows on walls (supporting your description of it as a small light source without much diffusion) so it can be very tricky inside and is almost a light modifier of last resort.
  • This was an excellent conversation. There is always something to learn.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Zenon said: There is always something to learn.
    Indeedy there is! :)
  • Gee, thanx! Definitely will not get the damn tupperware! instead, I`m going to focus on trying the BFT.
  • Although and excellent tool which I use you can do great without it. I avoid spill from the flash by what I call the reverse bounce if a decent ceiling is available when I am on a hurry. One of my favourite techniques however. I will angle to the left or right but then at one point the BFT may be required to control spill. If there are walls/corners as well even better.

    First image. Just throw the flash over your shoulder. A technique I found at POTN by a member called smorter. As you see the detailed illustration on the right shows the shadow reduction under the chin, etc and no spill. Neal has commented on his images at POTN and I know one was using this technique was at what looked like a reception.

    Second image. It also makes you less bound trying to get minimum 45 degree angle to minimize shadows with a forward bounce. Using the forward requires the BFT for spill.
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