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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Photography for Dummies, By Dummies: Episode 02

Ever had a question about photography you wanted to ask, but felt it was too stupid? Now you can feel stupid in private instead!

Today, we will be dealing with light modifiers. Any monkey with a few coins can buy a flashgun. Hmmmm...... monkey flash..... 

Anyways, as I was saying, the significance of lighting.

Basic knowledge of lighting is imperative in making good photos. Get the lighting right, and your just around the corner from a pro photo. More than just to point the buggers in one direction or to dial down the flash's power, you've gotta know how diffuse and/or bounce light.

I am a self-confessed light mod junkie. I currently own 7 different diffusers and light modifiers of all makes and purposes, to go with my Canon 580EXII flash gun of course, and I hope to share some of my experiences with you right here. Lets do this in stages:-

1. Do I need a flashgun?

Yes you do. It's called flash photography. Next question.

2. How come some of my photos are too bright and/or have uneven lighting?

Where flash photography is concerned, this may easily happen when a particular light source is too SMALL and CONCENTRATED. Of you could just be standing too damned near your subject. Of course I disclaim liability to my advice if your subject happens to have really oily skin. Then you don't need a photographer. You would require a facial. Not for YOU, your subject.

3. How do I fix this?

This is where diffusers come in handy. In a perfect world, our light sources would be soft, huge and spread out evenly. Like butter. But regular flash heads do not have any these qualities, besides having a diffuser plate and a bounce card installed (not available for all models, although you can easily purchase one).

4. What is this 'diffusing light' business?

This is a crucial element of photography expecially where there is one or more artificial light sources. Diffusing light makes the light source(s) less harsh and makes the shadows softer. There are generally 2 ways to get this done:-

1) You can reflect the light source off a surface, spreading out the light and thereby reducing the power' or harshness of the light, using i.e. bounce cards, a wall, a ceiling, reflectors; or

2) You can filter the said light source by placing special diffusing plates or a diffusing medium in front of the light source thereby reducing the strength of the light as the light passes throught his medium, using i.e. diffuser caps, softboxes.

In my personal experience, there is a HUGE difference between the two. Effectively, bouncing the light may result in; a. cutting down the amount of light (whcih is lost when you bounce the beam of light) as well as b. increasing the size of your light source (when you shoot your beam of light to the ceiling to bounce it, the ceiling becomes your new light source). Just plain diffusing means that the light's power is merely cut-down.
Which one to choose? I was at a concert/dinner the other day, shooting a few shots for myself. A fellow photographer (one of the hired ones at the event) commented on the Demb Flash Diffuser Pro I was sporting on my 580 EXII. She was using a diffuser cap (like the Sto-Fen one) and asked if it was worth buying the Demb. I mentioned in passing that I've seen pros use all manners of diffusers, even home made ones.

Please allow me to show a few diffusers or light modifiers which I have had personal experiece with.

1. JJC FC-26A Diffuser

Considered as standard equipment for all flash photographers this is one of the most commonly used diffusers out there. You can buy this one for about RM 28 - or you can buy the Sto-Fen for RM 80. It is attached to the head of your flash (like a cap) and its broad usage is testament of its effectiveness. 

2. Lambency Flash Diffuser C4

Slightly different from the 'Condom' Diffuser, the Lambency Flash Diffuser was my next purchase. In the same manner the JJC Diffuser was essentially a Sto-fen knock off, the Lambency is in a sort of a way a (much cheaper) copy of the Gary Fong Lightsphere. My model came with several additional 'caps' of various colours. Although helpful, I never did exercise the full potential of this light modifer. The Lambency is attached to the flash head and while it is more common for the photographer to keep the flash upright (bounce) while using the Lambency, it is also common usage to point using the Lambency. 

3. LumiQuest Quik Bounce Light Modifier

This model of light modifier came at quite a cost but was interesting to us. Effectively a bounce modifier, the Quik Bounce allowed you to either bounce the light 100% (for high - no ceiling)
or you could open the 'barn doors' located above and bounce only 30% of the Quik Bounce by allowing 70% of the light to flow through (for low ceilings). This light modifier requires that you attached the piece with your flash head rotated to the side. This is to allow you to shoot photos in Portrait orientation without having to remove the Quik Bounce.

4. JJC PD-3 Universal Flash Softbox

In my everlasting quest to find perfect lighting, I chanced upon this China-made softbox. It cost abotu RM 38 from Shashinki and although the plastic construction was SO SO horrible, it actually served me well for at least several shoots. The size was great, big enough to diffuse light, small enough so that it would not block the flashes Auto Focus assist IR beam.

5. LumiQuest Softbox III LQ-119

Since the construction of the China-softbox was so terrible, I almost immediately resumed my search for a better softbox. I came across the Lumiquest Softbox I - which was a pretty cool piece of equipment. It has a groove on the underside of the softbox to allow your flashes AF-Assist beam. However, I could not find that anywhere in the country! In my desperation I ended up buying the Softbox III which was far too big and much much softer, but not particularly practical. I paid good money for it but unfortunately - its far far underused.

6. O-Flash Ring Flash Adapter

Where do I begin with this baby? Ring flashes are primarily used for shadowless macro photography. Since actual ring flashes would cost anywhere from RM 400 to RM 2,350 I decided to be a cheapskate and spring for an ADAPTER instead which cost about RM 170. This purchase was fairly an experiment since I thought I could use the adapter as a regular flash. Unfortunately, my results showed that the Adapter works better with macro photography (it did as I expected it to) but for regular photography, it was severely restricted.

7. Demb Flash Diffuser Pro

Finally we come to my current modifier. This is amazing. So simple, yet amazing. At the end of the day, the best type of diffuser is simply a bounce card. But a bounce card which can be adjusted to different angles as the situation requires, is so much better (the Flip-It)! For good measure Demb decides to throw in a flexible diffuser, attached by velcro, on the front (which is known as the Pro specs). This picture you see above is the new version (the one I have). The older version is slightly uglier with a black Flip-It instead of a clear plastic one. It cost me about RM 150 but I hardly regret buying it. I think this one is here to stay.

Until next time.

By the way, if you were wondering, all the pictures above are NOT taken by yours truly, but sourced from various websites using the GOOGLE image search. So there.

Click here for an express link to Episode 01!

 For those of you who like statistics:
Vital Stats for December: 5 posts 162 pics 
Vital Stats So Far: 35 posts 1,272 pics


  1. I'm seriously thinking of getting a Demb Diffuser Pro for a long time now for event shooting and portraits.

    My current fake stoffen diffuser is a little too harsh, where the effects is a lot more apparent when I'm shooting in really low light situations.

    Any Advice? :)

    Btw, really nice post

  2. I'm not sure if you're a lighting pro, but assuming you're like me and we're learning this together, my advice is: Learn about lighting in general first. Diffusers are just the tool.

    As for the Demb? Well, I'm still using it.. ;-)

    If you like, e-mail me and we can discuss this further. My e-mail is

    Cheers mate & thanks for dropping by!