A lot of people see all of these perfectly lit images of celebrities at the Red Carpet from events such as TIFF. While some Red Carpet events have more elaborate lighting, most journalists and paparazzi go for the more conventional approach of using a hotshoe flash!
A hotshoe mount flash is like a portable sun in your pocket; you have the ability to maximize image quality whenever you need to do so. That’s why there is always a speedlight, a radio trigger and some key hotshoe flash accessories in my ‘go’ bag.
In this article, I am going to focus on the modifiers that I have come to depend upon from Rogue Photographic Design.
Speed lights are awesome but the source is by design, very small. You can certainly stick all manner of plastic lids, caps, domes and other Tupperware-type stuff on your speedlight but none of them really make the source larger and softer, they are only diffusers that spread the light. Been there, done that, don’t recommend any of it.
A larger source is softer than a smaller source. A closer source is softer than a distant source. We all get this, and certainly have heard it over and over, but still there are folks struggling to get flash images that don’t like an arrest booking photo.
First step, even if the flash is on camera, is to make the source larger. For this task, I use the Rogue Flashbender Large kit. It simply velcros around the head of your speed light and makes for a bigger, and thereby softer source. It’s also directional, unlike the domes, so you don’t waste power lighting what doesn’t matter and the flexible frame allows you to shape and contour the light. I’ve tried dozens of on flash modifiers and nothing works as effectively, consistently or flexibly as this kit.
You can buy it standalone, or as a complete kit, which is the way that I recommend it. The Kit includes a silver face that Velcro attaches to the white face. White and Silver reflectors produce the same colour temperature; silver simply has a higher reflectance and therefore greater range. Use white when you are in close, silver when you need to throw the light further. Could not be simpler and mounting or dismounting the silver panel takes only seconds.
Also in the Kit is what Rogue calls the Diffusion Panel. Kudos to them for getting things right. When you mount this, using Velcro again, you create a very shallow softbox. While not as soft as a true speed light softbox, such as from Lastolite, it does encourage more diffused light which can appear softer when you are in close.
When you are working as a run and gun photographer, the effect is useful and noticeable without excess bulk or something flopping all over the place. You will want to be sure that your flash head bounce mechanism can hold this stuff. Some of the cheaper off-shore speed lights have fairly lousy locking mechanisms. Better speedlights work fine.
Sometimes you don’t want to soften the light, you want to direct it and this is where a snoot can be very helpful. Snoots are really popular on speed lights used for hair lights but can work wonderfully when you really want to tighten the spread of the light.
The Rogue 3 in 1 Flash Grid kit provides a folding snoot system that works well and that can be further tightened up by installing either of the two (or both) of supplied grids. A grid cuts spill. The tighter the grid, the tighter the spill control. In the kit you get everything you need for this, including a starter pack of gels cut to fit the unit.
So let’s talk next about the value proposition of gels. Flash is typically pretty darn close to daylight. If you need to fill in with flash, you want to adjust the flash colour to match the ambient. If your dominant source is tungsten, you want to add a CTO gel (CTO stands variably for Colour Temperature Orange or Convert to Orange depending on the source you prefer). If shooting under fluorescents, you want an FL conversion.
You may also want to just warm up or cool down the flash colour temperature a bit and gels exist for this too. Or you could be shooting a subject against a plain backdrop and want to use your background light to not only light the background but also change it’s colour. There are gels for that too. You can get all the gels you will need in a handy case with mounting strap in the Rogue Flash Gels Combo Kit.
In addition to core kits you can also get Jumbo kits that contain multiple product offerings in one place.
Making your hotshoe flash more useful makes it more usable. You get a better return on your investment and you will be inclined to learn and use your flash more often. Ambient light is great, but to make an image really great, sometimes you need to augment that light and having a portable sun and modifiers in your bag will take you a long way to getting there.
Until next time, peace.