Saturday, November 8, 2008

"What is that thing on your camera?"

Often when shooting with a flash, I use a ‘diffuser’ on the flash to prevent the harsh, washed out look that can take place when using direct flash. Hence, one of the first questions I receive. “What is that on top of your camera?” When I use the Gary Fong Lightsphere, I get the statement. “Why do you have a Tupperware bowl on your camera?” My response, so I can carry breath mints around for subjects with bad breath. [ok, I don’t say that but I do want to carry them around even for me. Especially, when I ate something bathed in garlic.]

Diffusers come in many ‘flavors’. Lumiquest, Gary Fong’s line, and others are available for purchase. Photographers also have the option of making one of their own. Today, I will focus exclusively on the Gary Fong’s LIGHTSPHERE-II since I have experience using the LIGHTSPHERE-II and in a future post I will discuss multiple diffusers/light modifiers from Lumiquest. I have used Lumiquest products for at least five years and my favorite is the Promax since it is multiple diffusers/light modifiers in ‘one’.

Gary Fong P1 Clear Lightsphere II Inverted Dome Flash Diffusion System.

Before I get into discussing each type, let us review why a [in my opinion] diffuser should be used. Typically, when a flash is used to light a scene, it can be very harsh which washes out the subject. Have you ever taken a photo and wondered why the faces or other subject lack detail and the highlights are all ‘blown out’? It is because all of the light from the flash is directed in one area of the scene. If you are attempting to light a large room, we all pity the person directly in front of the flash. They cannot see for days and the person in the back of the room is dark and in shadows. The person directly in front of the flash seeks the number of the nearest eye doctor while you stand there and wonder how to fix the image in Photoshop.

There are many diffusers/light modifiers on the market and most of them claim to be the best. Keep in mind the role of a diffuser is to control the light. Some diffusers/light modifiers move the light through a ‘mini’ soft box and others will shoot the light in many directions with the intent to bathe the scene with light. When you purchase or build your diffuser, keep in mind your intended use. A diffuser which is the same size as the flash head is not a soft box since the light is not distributed to a larger area but it is diffused to reduce the harshness from the flash.

In theory, you can use a wall as a diffuser. If you aim your flash at a wall, it will bounce the light and the entire wall could become your diffuser/light modifier. Make note, if the wall is a bright red color, your light will have a red tint to it.

Another larger form of a light diffuser is a soft box or umbrella. The focus of this lesson is not either of these two tremendous tools. Typically, if you are shooting an event you cannot carry around a light stand for your strobe and umbrella.

Another valuable reason to use a diffuser is to reduce the dreaded ‘red eye’. Yes, I understand if you are shooting the company Christmas party and your boss had one too many to drink, red eye might be unavoidable regardless of any lighting technique.

Most of the discussion today will be around using a diffuser/light modifier for an external flash. [Basically, the flash that is not part of the camera.] There are diffusers for the pop-up flash, which will help in reducing the harshness of the flash and the potential for red-eye. They can be made from an old ping-pong ball by cutting an opening in it or from a Styrofoam cup. I have one I purchased from Lumiquest in my bag in the event either I do not have my external flash with me or I need to take a fast picture and I do not have time to set up the external flash. [They work in a ‘pinch’ and can be bought for approximately $10.]

Lumiquest Soft Screen, a Diffusion Sheet for On-Camera Pop-up Flashes.

On to the Gary Fong LIGHTSPHERE-II.

I have been using it for a few months and I highly recommend it! The image above was taken in a hallway with the subject very close to the wall. Notice there are no harsh shadows and virtually no shadow from the subject against the wall. I was close to the subject using a 50mm Nikkor on my d200.

Notice in the second image there are no harsh shadows against the wall and the light is very even across the subject.

The Lightsphere-II causes the flash to bathe the subject with very soft light rather than harsh light from a direct flash. [Gary Fong has multiple videos on his site which demonstrate the Lightsphere in great detail.]

I have used the Lightsphere-II in many different situations with the same results each time. Group photos in a tight or open space come out very even using the Lightsphere-II.

Again, I highly recommend it and use it almost always when using a flash indoors. It is pricier than other diffusers and therefore I recommend looking for a used one on Amazon.

Gary Fong P1 Clear Lightsphere II Inverted Dome Flash Diffusion System.

My subject was portraying the part of Queen Ester in a dramatic presentation of the Power of One.
Winter is fast approaching with many new photo opportunities. Get out and enjoy the beauty of life!

No comments: