Friday, April 10, 2015

Softening on-camera flash

I don't know about you, but there are many times when I am going someplace -- usually a family or friends event -- where I want to have a decent light source with me to help with grabbing some portraits in low lighting. On-camera flashes work for this, but the light is generally both too weak and directional so that it contributes a false look to the scene. Having an auxiliary flash to fill in the light is a better solution, but it, too, is often too directional and harsh. Most softening modifiers made for camera flash units are usually too small to really smooth out the light by spreading it over a large area. Bounce light can help, if there are white ceilings, but what I have really wanted is a modifier that can both brighten the ambient light while still delivering a flattering beam to a nearby subject. I was looking more for a main light source, not just a fill light.

Recently, I was browsing through the latest offerings of the light modifiers -- always on the lookout for something new. One in particular, the Flash Disc by Fstoppers, caught my eye. It is a 12" collapsible disc that fits over the flash unit and creates a bank-like effect. On one side it is covered with a scrim fabric, and on the other it has black, gray, and white stripes to serve as a gray card. Looked like it might work, At $49.99 the price was right, so I picked one up to try out.

Both modifiers are easily mounted onto the flash. The 12" Flash Disc folds up into a very compact 5" diameter case that fits easily in a camera bag or even a pocket.  The Lightsphere collapses down but is a bit more cumbersome to pack. 

I decided to try it out against my standby favorite, the Gary Fong Lightsphere ($59.95), but began to realize it may be unfair to compare the two, in the sense that they excel at different applications.The light distribution on the subject is similar for both modifiers. Where they differ is in how they spread their light. The Lightsphere has a broader, omni-directional reach with its light, whereas the Flash Disc is similarly soft, but more localized in its throw.

While both modifiers are about the same size when collapsed, the Flash Disc compresses to a soft package for storage, whereas the re\igidity of the Lightsphere takes up more space and can't be stuffed easily into a small pocket.

In the sample images below the Lightsphere spilled light more evenly all over the room. It is designed to be omni-directional and is perfect for recording large events where overall illumination is required. The Flash Disc produces a bank-like soft light that is more concentrated in front of it with a fall off towards the back. I could see using this more for portraiture and in tandem with other flash units.

I now have both modifiers and will use the one most suitable for each situation when the time comes. I also picked up two more of the Fstoppers Flash Discs to do some really portable lighting setups with multiple flash units. I will be writing a blog post with the how-to results once I have run them through their paces.

All three light sources had the same problem when mounted on the camera. They created a deep shadow under the chin. To really use any of these sources to best advantage a low front reflector fill would be needed. 

I once saw an event photographer use nothing more over his flash than a puffed-up, white-plastic grocery bag. Total cost: nothing. Best of all, it worked, although the sight of it might not have instilled his client's confidence.

This is the final image with a bit of Photoshop work to soften the background and color it to match the girl's blouse. I also softened the deep, sharp edged shadow under her chin. Other than that, not a whole lot was needed. I was quite surprised that a single, on-camera flash could produce a pleasing portrait light. I used the Lightsphere image for this sample, but could just as easily have used the one taken with the Flash Disc. 
The Fstoppers Flash Disc can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon  

The Gary Fong Collapsible Lightsphere can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Adorama  Amazon      

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for the info - useful - will check out the light disk.