Welcome to this multi-part series of articles on Exploring Small Strobes by Yanik Chauvin from Yanik’s Photo School.
In part 1 on Exploring Small strobes, I looked at why using flash guns instead of the built-in flash and studio strobes. In part 2, I went through the importance of using your speedlight off camera. In part 3, I covered how to trigger your small strobes off camera. Today, we’ll look at accessories made especially for speedlights.
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The popularity of speedlights over the last few years has brought on a whole bunch of creative accessories tailored form them. The list is big so I won’t be able to cover all of them in this article but I’ll guide you through my favorite ones. If your favorites aren’t listed here, please post them in the comments.
Let’s start off with 3 light diffusers. We all need to soften our light and DIYP has some great articles on that but lets look at 3 non-DIY options out there.
Just like its big brother, the studio softbox, the speedlight softbox provides a way to enlarge your light source. This is why the first one on my list is the EZYBox Softbox from Lastolite.
The advantages of this softbox over regular studio ones is its portability and light weight. It actually folds up just like a diffusion panel so it’s compact and can be tossed in almost any camera bag. The complete kit retails for roughly $205 which is a great deal considering other options for softboxing a speedlight. If you want to use your small flashes with your existing studio softboxes, you’ll need to purchase an adapter like the one from Westcott for roughly $230.
Here is an image that was taken under a bridge. A small softbox was added on camera right to provide some directional light.
Next is the Gary Fong Lightsphere. Actually, Gary Fong has a whole collection of light diffusers but for the purpose of this article I’ll stick to the Lightsphere. I actually own 2 of them and just love them. They’re made of soft plastic and fit in most camera bags. They fit right on top of your flash. I’ve compared them with my 2×3 studio softboxes and the results were impressive. The shadows weren’t as soft as the softboxes but pretty close. And for roughly $50, they fit almost anyone’s budget. The lightsphere works by bouncing the light in all directions and having the bounced light fill in the shadows. The only minus for those is the fact that they don’t work well outside or in rooms with dark walls.
This image was taken with an off camera fonged flash. As you can see the lightsphere bounces the light off the walls and help to fill in the shadows. (Heck, you can even see the sphere on the glasses).
Last on my diffuser list are the good old trusty umbrellas.
Umbrellas are probably still the #1 light diffusers used with small strobes. The reason being is that they’ve been around for ever, they’re cheap, lightweight and diffuse really well. They also come in a variety of sizes and styles. You can have shoot-throughs or white, silver or gold bounce. They won’t fit in a camera bag though and you’ll need to purchase a separate bracket (like the one in the above image) to secure them. But you can’t beat the price/light quality ratio! You can get them for $10 each and roughly $15 for the bracket.
The main light in the image below is an umbrella – it is the fastest light to set up, and I just love to use it for quick-high-quality images. (Read more about this image here).
What if you want to do the opposite and focus your light, narrow your beam? You have a few options out there that are very interesting.
I really like the Honl products for this purpose. Let’s look at the snoot and the grid.
Both the snoot and the grid have the same purpose; to focus your light into a narrower beam. The snoot does this by restricting the beam down a “tunnel” while the grid changes the light spread angle. The advantages of the Honl products are that they look professional and are built to last. The main disadvantage is the cost. Both the 8” snoot and the grids go for $25 each and you’ll need the Velcro speedstrap ($10) to hold them to your flash. Considering the DIY cost alternative, you might want to think twice especially if you’re not shooting in front of clients. You can make a snoot with cardboard and tape for pennies, make your own Velcro strap and grid as well.
I used a few small gridspots to take this image. Read more about the setup here.
OK, so we’ve diffused and concentrated our light. What else can we do? How about color!
Adding color to an image can create wonderful moods. I think gels are an essential tool in any photographer’s bag. Especially gels for speedlights! You can actually get sample packs out there and they fit small flashes perfectly Rosco discontinued their free packs and are in the works to making a “strobist” pack but I see that B&H still has them in stock. Lee Filters has some samples as well. To hold your gels, you can use the flip-down diffuser integrated into the strobe, use tape or this DIY version. If you want to get fancy about it, you can get the the Honl pack with Velcro or the cheaper and cool looking Lumiquest FXtra.
Here’s a test shot I did at a workshop in Calgary. That back wall was beige so I put a blue gel and the speedlight on camera right had a red gel.
With all these cool small strobe light modifiers, your creativity is now endless!
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Yanik Chauvin is a professional photographer from
Ottawa, Canada. His main focus is on stock and commercial photography.
As a teacher with more than 10 years experience, he started Yanik’s Photo School as a way to give back to other passionate photographers.