On and Off Camer Flash Modifier Samples

Started Dec 3, 2011 | Discussions
Mike Ca
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On and Off Camer Flash Modifier Samples
Dec 3, 2011

There have been questions about different kinds of flash modifiers, and I decided to do some experiments to compare them using a very co-operative model that promised not to move while I changed the lighting.

This is the basic setup in my living room. It has high ceilings that are off white.

All of these test were taken with a Canon 60D in Manual exposure mode. I used a Canon 580 EX II flash and set it to Manual power/Zoom mode. I metered all the exposures and adjusted the power to give correct exposure at f/5.6, except when I was forced to use wider aperture. When I say the flash power is say -2 f-stops, that means 2 f-stops less than full power, ie 1/4 power. I PP all to Flash WB, except were noted.

These pictures are all on camera flash. The first is direct flash at -5.3 f-stop power and zoomed to 70mm. This is very flat lighting. Notice the hard shadow under the chin.

Next test uses the built in white card in the 580 flash pointed straight up. Flash is at full power and I still had to go to wider aperture. Notice we have picked up a color cast from the ceiling, since most of the light is reflected.

Below is the same image, but WB set to 4000 deg. This looks flat, but softer than the direct flash. Shadow under the chin is not as hard.

Next test is flash pointed toward ceiling left and behind camera. Flash is at full power and I had to go to wider aperture. Again off color from the walls.

Below is the same picture with the WB manually adjusted. This is much softer light, but very flat. The shadow under the chin is gone.

The next test is with the Hanson Fong reflector (not to be confused with Gary Fong). This is at -1.3 f-stop power and zoomed to 35 mm. This is slightly softer than direct flash. Shadow under chin is a little softer.

The next is the Lumiquest Pocket Bouncer. Flash power is -1.7 f-stops.

The next is the Rouge Flash Bender. Flash power is -1.7 f-stops.

To my eye the ceiling bounce or white bounce card gives the softest light. The on camera modifiers give slightly softer light than direct flash, but not by much. Notice that all the modifiers make the flash work much harder.

Next I will post some off camera flash results with this same setup.

Canon EOS 60D
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Mike Ca
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The Off Camera Samples
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 3, 2011

This is the setup I used for the off camera flash tests.

This shows a small soft box and the reflector on the other side for fill. Below I have samples with and without the reflector. The flash was triggered using Pocket Wizzard Plus IIs.

This is direct flash. at -3.7 f-stops and zoomed to 14mm. Flash was about 3 ft from model.

Same direct flash with a reflector for fill. This lighting now has some shadows with hard edges.

Next is the tests with the Rouge Flash Bender. Flash power was -3 f-stops. Zoom was at 35mm. The flash was at 3 ft from model.

The Rouge Flash Bender with a reflector. This has slightly softer edges to the shadows than the direct flash.

The Hanson Fong and the Lumiquest Pocket Bouncer are very similar to the Rouge Flash Bender. If you want to see them, the test images are in my gallery. The Hanson Fong are images IMG_0535 and IMG_0536. The Pocket Bouncer are IMG_0532 and IMG_0534.

The next test is the Lumiquest LPt softbox. This is the largest Lumiquest softbox and it is too large to be used on camera. Flash power was -3.7 f-stop. Zoom was at 14mm to illuminate the softbox more evenly. The softbox was about 2.5 ft from the model.

The same setup with the reflector. This is the image taken with the setup in the first pictured. Even this small softbox can give a significantly softer edge to shadows when it is position this close to the model.

I think all of these pictures would look better if I had positioned the flash a little closer to the camera angle, so the nose shadow would have been shorter.

To my eye the last image is clearly the most pleasing, although harder light can be used for effect sometimes. Remember a small softbox like this must be very close to the model to give soft light (soft edges to shadows).

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Mike Ca
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The Off Camera Umbrela Samples
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 4, 2011

Here are the setup I used for reflective and shoot thru umbrellas.

These are the test for the reflective umbrella. The reflective surface is about 5 ft from the model. Flash power was -2 f-stops. The zoom was 14 mm to illuminate the umbrella more evenly.

The same reflective umbrella with a reflector for fill.

Next the test results from the shoot thru umbrella. The umbrella is about 3 ft from the model. Flash power is -1.7 f-stops. The zoom was 14 mm to illuminate the umbrella more evenly.

The same setup with a reflector for fill.

To my eye these pictures are all better than any of the other modifiers. Umbrellas give a more wrap around quality to the light that makes it softer. Even with out the reflector the lighting is not too bad. You can reduce the amount of fill by moving the reflector further from the model.

Note with umbrellas, if you move them farther away from the model, the light will not be as soft.

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Gord SW Ont
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Thanks Mike!
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 4, 2011

Thanks for taking the time and effort ... enjoyed all three posts.

Where did you get the "model"? It could save a lot of stress rather than trying to get family members to pose. ;^)

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Sailor Blue
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Re: The Off Camera Umbrela Samples
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 4, 2011

Thanks for posting the results of your testing Mike Ca.

They pretty well show exactly what we should all know, to get soft light we need a diffuser that is large with respect to the subject. It all comes down to the range of angles at which the light strikes the subject - the larger the family of angles, the softer the light.

All those tiny little diffusers and reflectors really only work if you get really close to a subject or if they bounce the light off the walls and ceiling, and as your photos show, bouncing can cause problems if the ceiling or walls are colored.

It would be nice if you could post the distance from your camera to the model and from the off camera flash to the model.

Thanks again, and I hope you don't mind if I refer other people who should learn about what they can, and can't do with small reflectors and diffusers to your work.

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Mike Ca
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Re: Thanks Mike!
In reply to Gord SW Ont, Dec 4, 2011

Gord SW Ont wrote:

Where did you get the "model"? It could save a lot of stress rather than trying to get family members to pose. ;^)

My model is Megan. She can be found on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0049UO8FU/ref=oh_o05_s00_i00_details

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Mike Ca
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Re: The Off Camera Umbrela Samples
In reply to Sailor Blue, Dec 4, 2011

Sailor Blue wrote:

It would be nice if you could post the distance from your camera to the model and from the off camera flash to the model.

The camera was 6 ft from the model.

I think I posted the distance of the lights from the model when off camera. Most of the flashes were 3 ft from model. The small softbox was 2.5 ft. I used Westcott 43" umbrellas. The reflective surface was about 5 ft from model, because it was behind the light stand. The shoot thru umbrella was 3 ft from the model.

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Michael Thomas Mitchell
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Re: On and Off Camer Flash Modifier Samples
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 5, 2011

Excellent work. Amazing how little difference the on-camera modifiers made. This is why, to me, almost nothing beats a basic reflector card and bouncing for on-camera flash. The Stofens are also a common tool in my bag. Obviously, you have to have something to bounce off of in the first place, but the Stofen enjoys the advantage of utilizing walls 260 degrees around the photographer, which helps even if the ceiling is too high. The Gary Fong stuff (which you didn't include, I realize) is just an overpriced version of the Stofen (which is overpriced for what it is, too). The Lumaquest stuff is more window dressing than actually functional, especially considering the bulk.

All the gadgets just don't replace good old flash basics.

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Zee Char
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Re: On and Off Camer Flash Modifier Samples
In reply to Michael Thomas Mitchell, Dec 5, 2011

I have long ago stopped using on camera diffusers. I will always try ti bounce first. If I can't the flash goes on a bracket and I shoot direct.

As for your test results shooting strait up with a bounce card try this next time. Red indicates shadows.

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Zee Char
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Re: On and Off Camer Flash Modifier Samples
In reply to Zee Char, Dec 5, 2011

I see you already did that.

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BAK
BAK
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Backward bouncing
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 5, 2011

I like the backwards facing flash shot, bouncing off the walls and ceiling.

Sometimes, when the ceiling is too far away, I hold a white or silver reflector, like theone in your shots, in my left hand, beside my head, and a bit back of it.,

I twist the flash head around so it points at the reflector, and bingo -- much better, softer, light having the flash point forward.

This would work even better if I invested in a Lastolite Trigrip, (which has a nice hand-holdable handle) or if I bought a stand like you have to hold the reflector.

Thanks for all the work you did on your tests. You've helped lots of people.

BAK

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Slate Mike
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Re: Backward bouncing
In reply to BAK, Dec 5, 2011

Great stuff. I learned a lot from your demos and appreciate the work that you put into preparing them. Thanks.

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gl2k
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Re: The Off Camera Umbrela Samples
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 6, 2011

Great comparison. Thanks.

Next time you could add a grey card to the head so you can "scientifically" (ha ha) check how much light from the walls bounces back and adds color. Use the color dropper tool in PS to see the difference.

While the umbrella light is very soft I believe the umbrella creates a wild mixture of direct and diffused (reflected by walls) light. A bit like the bounced light. Probably OK for amateur wedding shots but not good enough for high quality portraits.

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Mike Ca
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Re: The Off Camera Umbrela Samples
In reply to gl2k, Dec 6, 2011

gl2k wrote:

While the umbrella light is very soft I believe the umbrella creates a wild mixture of direct and diffused (reflected by walls) light. A bit like the bounced light. Probably OK for amateur wedding shots but not good enough for high quality portraits.

I think these pictures show that. You can see the color cast from the ceiling and walls, especially in the picture with the shoot thru umbrella. This is why most professional photographers use large softboxes rather than umbrellas for portraits. Large softboxes are more directional with the light, so you get less scattered light. This is also why most professional studios have black walls.

For portraits, you can correct for these color casts well enough in PP. You can use a grey card and/or color checker to make it easier.

If you are doing color critical work, like shooting products for ads or catalogs, then you need tight control of your lighting.

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Donald B
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Re: On and Off Camer Flash Modifier Samples
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 6, 2011

i enjoyed your post, thank you. learnt something new.

cheers don

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Graystar
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Missed a couple of options...
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 6, 2011

You didn't try ceiling bounce, but with the flash turned and tilted to put the flash spot to the side of the subject. The bounce card should be used, but in most cases can't be with the head turned, so use the back of a business card...strapped to the head with a rubberband.

You didn't try varying the zoom to create different sized spots on the ceiling. You can create a dramatic change in lighting just by pulling down the wide panel (on a Nikon, at least. Not sure on Canon. I know that auto zoom defaults to 50mm when bouncing...dunno if pulling out the wide panel changes that.)

I'd be interested in seeing your version of these options.

Also, a comment. When bouncing from the ceiling, one has to be aware of the angle between the spot created on the ceiling and the subject. The angle should never be more than 45 degrees, and 30 degrees is better. In your test setup, you say you have high ceilings, and the subject height appears far lower than normal. This will create an unusually high angle between the subject and spot on the ceiling...even more so if you are tilting your camera downwards (ceiling spot isn't directly overhead, but slightly forward.) I think you need to raise the subject and also give us some idea of the angle that was created between the subject and ceiling spot.

.

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Mike Ca
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Re: Missed a couple of options...
In reply to Graystar, Dec 6, 2011

Graystar wrote:

You didn't try ceiling bounce, but with the flash turned and tilted to put the flash spot to the side of the subject. The bounce card should be used, but in most cases can't be with the head turned, so use the back of a business card...strapped to the head with a rubberband.

You didn't try varying the zoom to create different sized spots on the ceiling. You can create a dramatic change in lighting just by pulling down the wide panel (on a Nikon, at least. Not sure on Canon. I know that auto zoom defaults to 50mm when bouncing...dunno if pulling out the wide panel changes that.)

I'd be interested in seeing your version of these options.

None of the set up pictures show this, and I guess I never said it, but this room has high sloped ceilings with a large beam running the length of the room at the peak. It is not a good room for using bounce flash. That is why I had to use so much flash power in the bounce shots.

I could try pointing the flash in different directions and varying the zoom, but I'm not sure that is a very useful experiment in this room.

(On the Canon 580 EX the zoom defaults to 35mm I think when bouncing, but can be manually adjusted, at least in manual mode. There is a diffuser panel that gives 14mm when you put it down.)

Also, a comment. When bouncing from the ceiling, one has to be aware of the angle between the spot created on the ceiling and the subject. The angle should never be more than 45 degrees, and 30 degrees is better. In your test setup, you say you have high ceilings, and the subject height appears far lower than normal. This will create an unusually high angle between the subject and spot on the ceiling...even more so if you are tilting your camera downwards (ceiling spot isn't directly overhead, but slightly forward.) I think you need to raise the subject and also give us some idea of the angle that was created between the subject and ceiling spot.

Given the slope of the ceiling, you are always going to get some weird angles in this room.

If I do any more experiments, I think I will do them in the family room, which has a normal height white ceiling, although the walls are colored.

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Zee Char
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Re: Missed a couple of options...
In reply to Mike Ca, Dec 6, 2011

This may or may not be helpful.

http://www.talkphotography.co.uk/forums/showpost.php?p=1382030&postcount=17

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There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

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operator1
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Re: Missed a couple of options...
In reply to Zee Char, Dec 29, 2011

Thanks a lot for time invested to show us difference in lights set up

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