If you're using a hotshoe-mounted flashgun, chances are you've thought about picking up some of the best flash diffusers. Being able to control and modify your light is a critical component of making a pleasing image, especially when you're shooting portraiture or still life, and diffusers and softboxes are one of the most cost-effective methods of doing this.
"Flash diffuser" is a pretty general term, and there are plenty of different types of flash accessory that create different effects. The most popular and frequently used type of diffuser is the softbox, which is quite literally a box used to soften light. These can take the form of a rigid diffusion dome or a pop-up fabric softbox; in both cases, the principle is that by diffusing the light through a translucent material, you can take the harsh edges off it and avoid getting the kind of shiny highlights and harsh shadows you would see if you fired an unmodified flashgun directly at your subject. This is key to flattering portrait light.
Alternatively, there's a snoot or honeycomb attachment, which will concentrate light into a tight beam, eliminating spill light. This is useful if you want to create a strong light on a specific aspect of an image, such as a portrait subject's hair.
Many light kits will also contain colored gels, which allow to you give a photo a warm or cool feel. This is especially useful in tandem with an off-camera flashgun, allowing you to give a splash of color to a boring white backdrop without also giving your subject the same warm or cool glow.
There are plenty more simple tricks. Something as straightforward as flat white card can be used to bounce light onto a subject, while a black card can be used to shield other elements in a composition from the light.
You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to flashgun modifiers, but if you're just starting out, many manufacturers include a selection of modifiers in one, cost-effective kit, so you can easily experiment with different lighting effects for maximum versatility.
Here are the best flash diffusers and speedlight modifiers available now, and at the best prices...
FlashBender modifiers are famed for their bendable construction that lets one fabric panel transform from a flat reflector to a curved bounce card, or even a snoot when rolled into a tube. Add the included diffusion sheet and the panel becomes a tall, shallow softbox, which works reasonably well due to your flashgun being pointed upward in this config, which already softens its burst.
This XL Pro Lighting System kit includes a FlashBender v3 XL Pro Reflector, XL Pro Diffusion Panel v3, and an XL Pro Strip Grid to help focus the light more accurately.
Now in their third revision, v3 FlashBenders feature a new attachment strap that can fit on a wider variety of flashgun sizes, and is also made from a grippier material so is less likely to slip when fitted to your flashgun. Rogue also claims that the bendy FlashBender material is more easily shapeable.
Want to liven up your portraiture with beautiful backdrops? There's no need to splash out on multiple backdrop rolls or pop-up panels - Just slot the Light Blaster onto your flashgun and it’ll project any pattern, image or scene from a 35mm slide onto a plain surface. Alternatively, you can also purchase packs of transparencies with different themes like wings or landscapes.
But the beauty of this system over similar gobo projectors is you can mount a lens on the front of the Light Blaster to control the focus and spread of the projected image. Unfortunately the Light Blaster’s built-in mount is for Canon EF-mount lenses only, but an optional Nikon F-mount adaptor is available for a small added cost.
It’s also worth remembering that no transparencies are included with the projector, which given this is just a simple plastic shell of the blaster itself does make the price seem a little high. Even so, this is still a great way to bring portrait shots to life.
Lastolite’s Strobo range contains numerous flashgun modifiers that can attach to two universal mounts: a bracket design for use with an off-camera flash, and a mount that clamps directly to your flashgun’s head. This kit includes the latter, and it attaches quickly and securely via a Velcro strap. Inside the mount are magnets which make it a cinch to apply individual modifiers.
The attachment design isn’t quite the neatest on the market, but it's secure and we found it very easy to fit to our Nikon SB-910 test flash. What’s more, since each modifier contains a second set of magnets, multiple modifiers can easily be stacked for custom effects.
9mm and 6mm grid modifiers are included, as are a pair of gel mounts, plus a dozen gels including warming, cooling and color effect filters, along with a 2-stop ND filter and a frosting filter. The combination is great for focusing and tinting accent lights, but you’ll need to splash out on extra Strobo modifiers to really maximise the versatility of this kit, and it’s a pity there are no available attachments to soften light.
The MagMod Octa Pro Kit may look like it's designed for professionals only (especially when you look at the price tag), but it has actually been engineered to be very easy to use. The kit uses a magnetic base for quick setup: the MagMod MagRing, a lightweight universal speedlight mount that can be used with one or two speedlights (though this requires a separately sold grip, mind you) or attached to the MagMod MagShoe for handheld use or stand mounting.
The kit includes the MagBox 24 Octa FocusDiffuser, which uses a combination of grid and lens to modify the spread of the light beam, limiting spill light and allowing you to send your light precisely where you need it. Also included is the MagMod MagBox 24 Octa Softbox, which boasts an impressively even light output and is compatible with the majority of major lighting brands. Plus, you also get a correction gel set, as well as a handy carrying case.
As mentioned, all this doesn't come cheap. But if you're going to need a lot of high-quality lighting modification in a professional setting, it's an excellent buy.
The Hähnel Creative Lantern Kit is based around a concertina paper lantern that fits to the front of your flash and fans out to produce a much softer, more diffuse light source. You can use it on its own, or in conjunction with six different colored filters included in the kit to produce colored flash effects.
The kit comes with the Lantern Diffuser, a filter adapter, a wallet and the blue, green, purple, red, orange and yellow filters. It’s designed to be used with the Hähnel Modus 360 and 600 flashguns (you will need to buy a separate Module 360 or Module 600 Clamp to fit them), although the clamps are adjustable and can fit a variety of Speedlights. The Creative Lantern kit attaches to the Hähnel clamps magnetically, and the company also makes a Module Softbox which fits in the same way.
Is it a drum? Is it a spare wheel? It's big enough to be either, but it's best fitted to your camera. When it comes to light softening, bigger tends to be better. At a massive 45cm wide, the RoundFlash will dwarf even the largest DSLR, but thanks to fabric construction, it’s only about 220 grams and it folds into an easily portable pouch.
Set-up is a breeze with a pop-up design that just requires you to quickly snap five magnetic rods into place and strap your flashgun into the back. A simple web of elastic cords secures the RoundFlash to your lens, but avoid wide-angle or short prime optics as vignetting can be noticeable. No biggie though, as ring flashes are best suited to portrait prime lenses with a focal length between 70mm and 105mm.
There isn’t much room to access zoom or focus rings either, but the payoff is light so soft and shadowless that it can give a dedicated ring flash a run for its money. Just remember to crank up your flashgun's power to compensate for the hefty three-stop light reduction.