external flash-diffuser?

Discussion in 'Photography Beginners' Forum' started by jrwillden, May 29, 2008.

  1. jrwillden

    jrwillden TPF Noob!

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    I was reading a site that talked about covering your external flash with a bag (like one from the grocery store) to create a softer light. Is this always necessary when shooting indoors? I imagine this was for those on a budget. Does this method work?

    Also, when using an external flash what conditions warrant using direct flash rather than bouncing it. I am taking some indoor portraits this weekend...just for fun and experience...
     
  2. Alfred D.

    Alfred D. TPF Noob!

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    A grocery bag is probably too crude a method, jr, but there are far better and cheaper ways to achieve flash light diffusion than using the expensive "Tupperware" diffusers.

    The "ABBC" is one.

    Bouncing eats into the amount of light reflected from your subject. So you get less light, and less DoF. If that gets too low you can't make the picture, so you will be forced to increase the amount of light. Direct flash does that (relative to bounced flash).
    The trade-off is of course that you get harsh, flat lighting, with sharp-edged, and very dark shadows.

    Have fun!
     
  3. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    The softness of light is a result of two things. The size of light source and the distance to the subject.

    A larger light source and/or having it closer to the subject...will make it softer.

    So if you use a bag (or Tupperware or whatever) to increase the size of the light source, then yes...the light will be softer. Keep in mind though, that you will also be loosing the light that the diffuser absorbs and also loosing range because you interfere with the beam that is created by the flash head.

    Bouncing the light is a very good way to get soft light. When you bounce off of a wall or ceiling...that surface then becomes the light source...and it will probably be a whole lot larger than the flash head. Again, you loose light that is absorbed and you need to be aware of the range/distance because the light must get to the surface and back to the subject. Also, watch for the color of the bounce surface because the light will pick up that color as it bounces.

    If I can't bounce, then I will usually shoot direct. I keep a close eye on the image and turn down the FEC if I think it's looking 'over flashed'. Also, I use direct flash when I'm concerned about the amount of light/power than I'll need. As you stop down the aperture, you need more flash power. So when shooting a group or a shot that requires a deep DOF....I don't want to loose power by bouncing or diffusing. This is especially important when shooting outdoors and trying to balance the flash with the ambient.

    A lot of the 'diffuser' accesories for external flashes are quite gimmicky. They are good when used indoors, because they allow you to bounce the light off of multiple surfaces and/or send some of the light directly to the subject while bouncing the rest of it. A simple bounce card will do the same thing.

    A lot (and I mean A LOT) of photographers seem to think that many of these accessories make the light softer, simply because they are opaque. This isn't really true because they don't really make the light source any bigger or any closer than a bare flash head would.
     
  4. jrwillden

    jrwillden TPF Noob!

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    So how about when you are using film and cannot see the image?

    My family would like a few group shots inside a civic center. I can be as close or far as I want to be but I want the most flattering shots. (I suppose much of that is composition.) There will be approximately 20 people in a picture. Is this a situation where direct flash would be best? I don't believe the hall will be dark but not completely lit either. This is the first, possibly last time the fam with be together so I'm feeling some pressure. Sorry for all the rookie questions.

    I only have with me an 80-210mm & a 28-200mm.

    Oh and i will check out ABBC.com. Thanks for the link!
     
  5. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    For a group shot like that, I'd try to bounce off of the ceiling if it's a good height. You would want it to be high enough to give even light to the group but not so high that your flash can't handle the range.

    Ideally, you will probably want to have some good ambient light, and then just use the flash as fill. You will want to watch out for the distance spread of the group....you don't want to have some people a lot farther away from the light than others...because the light falls off over distance.

    Then you just have to trust your exposure & flash settings...and maybe bracket your shots if you are unsure. Color neg film has a better latitude, which does allow you a bit more leeway.
     
  6. jrwillden

    jrwillden TPF Noob!

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    Thanks! I'm feeling more confident.
     

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