Best flash diffuser for portraits and weddings?

Discussion in 'Lighting and Hardware' started by ecphoto, Mar 29, 2012.

  1. ecphoto
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    ecphoto New Member

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    I know that this is subject to choice and preference and there is no one right answer.

    I however have been fiddling with various flash techniques and diffusers and am still back at square one.

    I have tested the DIY scoop, the light sphere, 3x5 card and a mini softbox.
    All of the above have their faults and benefits IMO.

    I know a lot of people swear by the light sphere. I hate that it weighs so much because if I move too much or
    incline forward too much the whole thing flips forward. That's very annoying.

    I haven't tried the stofen or the "flip it", how well do these work?

    what does everyone else think of this stuff or what do you prefer to use?
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  2. Big Mike
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    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member

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    You had it right in the first sentence. There is no single 'best' answer.
    Rather, the best solution is to learn & understand the ins and outs of your flash, and of light in general.

    The biggest issue I see with flash accessories, is that the people using them don't really understand light and thus use these accessories inappropriately. For example, I can't even remember how many times I've seen photographers using a Fong Dong (Lightsphere) or an Omni-Bounce outdoors. Like most accessories, they are made to be used when there are surfaces (walls & ceilings) around you that you can bounce the light off of. When used outdoors, they just waste a lot of light, sending it out into space. The same can apply in large indoor locations as well.

    The quickest and easiest way to improve the light from your camera mounted flash, is to bounce the light off of a good surface....usually walls or the ceiling. So if you can do that effectively, you may not need a flash diffuser/accessory. But a common problem when bouncing (usually off the ceiling) is that you end up with a directional light coming down on your subject, similar to shooting outdoors under midday sun....and you get raccoon eyes on your subject etc.
    So that is why most flash accessories are best you when you are bouncing the light, they split or spread the light, so that some of it goes up for the bounce, but some goes directly to the subject, or bounces off other surfaces (hopefully there are other surfaces).
    So...the key to using these things effectively, is knowing what they do and when & where they will be beneficial...and also knowing when they won't help (and would hurt you) so that you can take them off.

    This is why my favorite accessories are ones that are adaptable to different situations.
    Like many photographers, I've tried a handful of different flash accessories. I could work with any of them, it's just a matter of convenience and preference.

    I've got the Lumiquest Promax 80-20 (I think that' the name). It's a nice kit and works well if the flash is above the camera. It folds down into a nice flat package, which is perfect for keeping in your camera bag. I don't use it much though.
    I've made one or two of those DIY scoops. Unlike most accessories, these actually soften the light because they greatly increase the size of the light source. But the bigger they are the more unwieldy they get. My DIY ones looked pretty crappy, but I do have a more professional looking 'Super Scoop' from Lite Genius. It lays flat, which fits nicely into the laptop sleeve of my camera bag, so it's easy to take with me on a shoot. I use it on occasions where it's not feasible to bounce the flash.
    I have one called the 'Flip It' by Demb. It's basically just an adjustable bounce card. But I like it because it's very quick and easy to adjust the angle of the card. By changing the angle, I can control how much light is directed forward, while I send most of the light up for bounce. I can tilt it to 45 degrees to send all the light forward, or turn it all the way back and use bare flash. In other words, it's adaptable.
    The Super Scoop I mentioned above, is better than my DIY scoops because it has a flexible metal frame in the foam...so it is adaptable as well, although not as much as the Flip It, and I actually ripped the foam by bending it too much (They replaced it for me...I'm actually a product tester for him).

    Actually, a better option that accessorizing your camera mounted flash, is to get the flash off the camera...which is what I do as often as possible. In that scenario, the flash it usually either bare, or bounced into an umbrella or shot though a diffusion screen etc. I'd like to get a small(ish) softbox for that though.
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  3. 2WheelPhoto
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    2WheelPhoto New Member

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  4. MReid
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    MReid New Member

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    For weddings...indoors...I point my flash (on a bracket) straight up and put a demb diffuser between it and my subject, not over the front of the flash itself blocking the light, but on the front edge of the flash.
    I use high iso, shoot wide open and a lot of ambient, the flash adds general light to the room, and some shadowing.
    Outside if I use flash I use it straight on with no diffuser, keep the power as low as possible, just to provide fill.

    Outside for portraits off camera flash is the only way to go.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
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  5. Mike_E
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    Mike_E Well-Known Member

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    Monolights.

    .

    Even if you have to put them out of the way and aim them at the ceiling with cheap wireless triggers. Get a battery pack for them with an extra battery or two and you can even take them to the reception.
  6. Robin Usagani
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    Robin Usagani Well-Known Member

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    Naked for me! Bare flash FTW!
  7. 2WheelPhoto
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    2WheelPhoto New Member

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    bouncing cheater heh [​IMG]
  8. ecphoto
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    ecphoto New Member

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    Sadly after spending so much on friken flash diffusers I've found that I get the best results from using ceiling bounce and rubber-bands / index cards lol.

    I found this cool comparison page http://www.the-meissners.org/2006-small-albums/2006-flashmod/index.html

    $IMG_2494.jpg
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  9. Robin Usagani
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    Robin Usagani Well-Known Member

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    I have said it before and I will say it again, why do you feel you need to diffuse and use small bounce card? Are you not satisfied with your bounced flash work?
  10. LuckySe7en
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    LuckySe7en New Member

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    +1 for index cards and rubber-bands!
  11. ecphoto
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    ecphoto New Member

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    I love my results with just bouncing, but the issue I've run into is high ceilings and ones with color. That is where my pursuit of good diffusers started. Outdoors I usually just stick to natural light and the occasional fill.
  12. MReid
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    MReid New Member

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    My hat is off to those of you that bounce with good results in the fast paced environment of a wedding....that is a science unto itself.
  13. Robin Usagani
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    Robin Usagani Well-Known Member

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    OK.. Now I know you understand. It is just so many people wanting diffuser right away without learning how to bounce bare flash first.

    When I am in this situation I usually just use the wide angle plastic attachment and use it as a little bounce card. My 580EX II has a little white bounce card. Sometimes i try to bounce it on people's shirt, furniture, etc. you name it. When nothing works, I just ask my assistant to hold my flash and follow me around and just do direct flash off camera.
  14. ecphoto
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    ecphoto New Member

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    Yesterday I took this. $liana2.jpg
    The ceiling in the house we were in had a pale blue paint on it and gave me results I didn't really like.
    I counter acted it by using the Fong-Dong pointed head on from about 6 feet away.

    I've found that the Fong doesn't really do much better than regular ceiling bounce normally,
    So I might stop using it all together. If I have to point it head on like I did here what would
    you suggest, could you link the wide angle plastic attachment your talking about?
  15. Big Mike
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    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member

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    Pointed head on, the Fong Dong or the wide angle panel won't really improve your lighting at all. Well, the Fong will help a little if you are really close to your subject, but otherwise, not much.

    The main thing that we are trying to do, to improve the light from our flash, is to soften the light. The ONLY way to soften light, is to make the source bigger and/or move it closer to the subject. In other words, to make it softer, it has to be bigger, relative to the subject.
    So with that in mind, look at all the flash accessories. The Fong Dong does make the light source a little larger, but not by much. At the same time, it's throwing light everywhere. The Omnibouce doesn't increase the size, the Flip It barely increases the size, the wide angle panel doesn't increase the size at all. No any of those options, doesn't really give you softer light...when it's being used directly to the subject.

    But that's why we bounce. When you bounce light off of the wall or ceiling, the light source becomes the area that the flash beam is hitting...which will be quite large (unless you are really close to the subject). So that's why most of these accessories are meant to be used in conjunction with bouncing the light off of walls or ceiling etc. So when you consider that, the quality of the surfaces around you, will dictate how effective these accessories can be.

    If you are in a situation where you can't (or don't want to) bounce...then your best bet for improved light from your flash, is to enlarge it (or, of course, get it off the camera). So it enlarge the light source, you could use something like an umbrella or softbox (not a great or possible when the flash is on-camera). That's why I carry the Super Scoop. That is about as big of an object that I can have attached to my camera/flash.

    Of course, with all this talk of improving your flash....you still need to able to control your flash exposure and your ambient exposure. And being able to control the balance between the two. If you can't do that, the accessories won't matter much.
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  16. ecphoto
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    ecphoto New Member

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    Well I usually control the balance of ambient and flash with ISO and longer shutter speeds when needed. I stopped using Av in this scenario because I don't like how little control I get. One of my friends uses the scoop and swears by it, is a DIY scoop good enough or is it not as good as the one by light-genius?
  17. Big Mike
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    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member

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    When I'm shooting with flash (and usually when I'm not), I've got the camera in manual mode...which makes quick and easy to control your ambient exposure, in relation to your flash exposure.

    A DIY scoop will probably work just as well. It's just a sheet of white foam. Of course, the bigger the better (for softness). As I mentioned, my DIY scoop worked, but it wasn't flexible because it used a plastic mesh for rigidity. The Scoop that I have, a metal wire frame, so it will slightly hold the shape you bend it to. Another factor was that my DIY scoop looked homemade. Not a big deal, but when I'm being paid to shoot a classy event (like a nice wedding), then I'd prefer to look more professional and less 'home made'.
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  18. Mike_E
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    Mike_E Well-Known Member

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    One thing that gets forgotten in the diffuser wars is that no matter how diffuse the light is, if it's coming straight on from the camera it's going to be flat light and doesn't give dimensionality to your subjects. Not only should there be highlights there needs to be shadow.

    The shadow comes from either having the light off camera or bouncing it off of a reflective surface.

    On camera tupperware tends to fail at both of these.
  19. 1holegrouper
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    1holegrouper New Member

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    Gosh this varies almost every time. I guess if I was down to bare bones I would use my ETTL cord and a StoFen. It's nice though when you can set up your lighting ideas and fit the situation to your vision then think about what tools to use instead of vv.
  20. ghostdog
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    ghostdog New Member

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    Big Mike, thanks for this. I'm glad I read this as it gives me some confidence that I at least have been trying to do it the optimal way. I struggle with flash and only have had acceptable results when bouncing bare flash or at least with a sto-fen pointed to the ceiling. It's not easy, it requires some geometry, and I'm terrible at it. I'll keep experimenting.

    I was going to post a new thread, but it seems this topic is very close, so I'll continue it from here. I hope this doesn't come across as a hi-jack.

    I need some advice on outdoor flash, where fill light is required, but all you have is an on camera flash and can't bounce since you're outdoors. I mostly take pictures of my kids at play - so what I do is not critical, but I want my shots to look the best I can make them. I've tried pointing the flash directly with and without using a sto-fen, and in many cases the flash comes across too harsh, too directional, with too much shadow. I was thinking that maybe I should try a mini softbox like the one linked earlier in this thread (5" x 8"). Have you had good results with this type of deal outdoors? Do they make the light "big" enough in your opinion when compared to a sto-fen? Lastly, I was thinking about just going the extra step and getting a softbox/stand and go off camera. I'm using a 430EX II. Maybe overkill, but do you think this would produce noticeably better results?

    Thanks.

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