Flash photography tips: using flash diffusers
A flash diffuser is a good alternative to bounce flash and works in a similar way by spreading out hard, directional light into a larger, omni-directional source.
This minimises red-eye, weakens shadows and creates softer, more flattering lighting. Taking diffused flash off-camera enables you to create even more natural results.
You can buy various types of diffusers for external flashguns. High-end flashguns often ship with a translucent diffusion dome, which looks a bit like a plastic ice-cream carton and fits snugly over the flash head.
If you don’t have one, try the white, green and gold Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce diffusers, which are available for different makes and sizes of flashgun. LumiQuest makes a similar device called the UltraBounce and a built-in pop-up flash diffuser called the Soft Screen.
For a dirt-cheap substitute, tape some tracing paper or soft tissue over your flash window. Or you can follow our popular DIY Photography Hacks tutorial to make a simple foam diffuser for your flashgun.
To create a more powerful diffusion effect you need a miniature softbox, such as LumiQuest’s Softbox or Mini Softbox. Lastolite also makes a mini Micro Apollo softbox in three different sizes that attaches to any make of flashgun with Velcro.
For the ultimate in soft, shadow-free lighting, combine off-camera bounce flash with a diffuser, adding a wide-angle adapter for even greater diffusion.
This method’s great for close-ups and portrait work, but because diffusers also reduce flash output by up to two stops, you could be looking at a light loss of five stops in total.
Products like the LumiQuest UltraSoft overcome this problem by combining a mini reflector and diffuser in one completely enclosed modifier that keeps light loss to just two stops.
Flash photography tips: wireless flash
Using two or more flashguns will extend your lighting options considerably. To avoid nasty multiple flash exposure calculations and cumbersome cord connections, the simplest, most effective way to connect several flashguns is via a wireless TTL multi-flash system.
Nikon and Canon’s wireless TTL flash systems allow up to nine ‘slave’ flashguns to be controlled and fired simultaneously via a ‘master’ flashgun on the camera. The remote slave units can be divided into three distinct groups.
Flash mode and flash output level compensation values can then be set separately for each group and the master unit. If you want to use all your flashguns remotely you can control them via an infrared flash trigger on the camera’s hotshoe.
Being able to position several units anywhere up to ten meters from the camera has many benefits. Most importantly, you’ve got the freedom to create natural looking lighting that eliminates shadows and emphasises the subject’s form, texture, tones and colours.
You can also illuminate dark backgrounds, highlight secondary elements, cast coloured lighting – the possibilities are practically endless.
Usually, only top-of-the-range flashguns have the ability to control multiple flashguns in a wireless TTL setup. If your flashgun isn’t wireless-enabled, but features a PC cord connection, you can create a cheap and cheerful, non-TTL wireless system by attaching a PC slave flash unit to it.
This sticks to the top of the flashgun and plugs into the PC socket, allowing the flash to be triggered wirelessly, either by your camera’s built-in flash or an on-camera auxiliary flashgun.
A cheat sheet for getting the best results possible from your external flash
The portraits below were shot using an 80mm lens and a single Nikon SB-800. The four accessories above were introduced at various stages to illustrate their effect.
To see the larger version of this cheat sheet, click on the image to expand the graphic. Or drag and drop it to your desktop to save.