Create big light from small flashes with a Chinese Lantern paper lamp shade

Mar 29, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Create big light from small flashes with a Chinese Lantern paper lamp shade

Mar 29, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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IMG_0443Speedlights often go hand in hand with shooting portraits on the street, especially at night, but small flashes have one big issue.  Due to their size, they often give very hard, harsh and unflattering light, especially if you’re forced to use one on the hotshoe.

After being asked to photograph a night time outdoor music event, and wanting the minimise the risk to expensive equipment, photographer Tom Simone came up with a DIY solution to help make that light a little bigger and provide a more pleasing look with help from a Chinese paper lantern lampshade.

You could use one on a light stand off-camera with a small softbox or umbrella, but they’re not the friendliest of modifiers outdoors if there’s a bit of a breeze blowing, explains Tom.

speedlight_lantern_001

This is where the Chinese paper lantern lampshades step in.  Being spherical in shape, they’re ideally suited to helping avoid the breeze.  Yes they’ll still catch a little wind, but when you don’t have big flat sides like a softbox, or a concave sail like with an umbrella, they’re much less susceptible than the alternatives.

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But “out of the box” they’re not particularly suitable for this kind of a purpose, and need some slight enhancements.

The first step is to cut out a couple of pieces of aluminum foil.

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One piece covers half of the inside of the sphere.

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The other seals the hole in the top, preventing big chunks of light from escaping, and between them, they help to bounce all of the light being expelled from the flash forward, and towards your subject.

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The speedlight is then placed inside, facing towards the back foil providing a more even diffusion and spread of light, and to help avoid hotspots.

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It might not be the best looking modifier for high end weddings, but for only a couple of dollars it’s a great DIY alternative to more expensive alternatives like the Impact Smoothy 360 Degree Glove Diffuser (and a lot easier to eat the cost if it dies a horrible death out on the streets).

YouTube video

Here’s a few examples of images Tom shot with it during the evening music event.

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Whether off-camera or sat in the hotshoe, it certainly beats a bare speedlight, especially when you’ve no walls or ceiling to bounce off.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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7 responses to “Create big light from small flashes with a Chinese Lantern paper lamp shade”

  1. James Thomas Avatar
    James Thomas

    Looks pretty much identical to the results I get with my 12″X12″ speedlite collapsible softbox.

    1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
      Kay O. Sweaver

      Agreed, but there’s a psychological component here as well, especially at a festival or party. People see a photographer with this weird flashing sphere and they’re intrigued. I drew a happy face on my diffuser and it actually makes people smile.

      1. tomsimone Avatar
        tomsimone

        This is a good point, although weirdly no one seemed to take any notice of the lamp shade on a stick, perhaps as it was a halloween event with lots of other stuff going on.
        However, in reply to James, I’ve used a cheap ebay softbox and found it broke very easily and didn’t give as good a spread of light.

  2. Stewart Norton Avatar
    Stewart Norton

    Cool always like to see ideas like this…DIY photography living up to its name ?

  3. bobastill Avatar
    bobastill

    i have used this for at least 20 years
    I thought everyone knew this
    Directors of photography have also used the china ball for as long
    Chimera also makes one

  4. Andrew Hovie Avatar
    Andrew Hovie

    How do you mount this on your speedlight?

    1. tomsimone Avatar
      tomsimone

      hey, sorry for slow reply – I bent a metal clothes hanger to maintain the rigidity of the lampshade, and then used lots of gaffer tape. Not very elegant!