So back around Halloween I had posted about diffusing on-camera flash light for better indoors night time photography. If you remember I did a number of DIY pinterest tutorials and then compared the results on my model “Hilda”.
Well since none of the DIY models worked out as well as I had hoped, (and for the couple that did decently they weren’t convenient to use), I turned to Amazon.ca to scope out some cheap but technically designed alternatives! And to my surprise there were a number of affordable options.
I ended up purchasing three different models, two diffusers and one bounce. The diffusers would be the equivalent (higher quality equivalent anyway) of the tissue paper or construction paper DIYs while the bounce would be the equivalent of the business card trick or pie plate reflector. Diffusers are designed to filter the light as it passes through onto your subject where as a bounce is designed to do just that – bounce the light off of something else so it falls over the subject more evenly.
The two diffusers I bought are the puffer style and a soft box style where as the bounce is a one way mirror with sold exterior lines to prevent light spreading out the sides.
All three are advertised to fit on/over the pop up flash on a DSLR camera, two of which do so by actually connecting into the hotshoe on top (the puffer and bounce), while the third has a scrunchie style opening on the bottom that slides over the flash. This is the only one of the three that I believe is also designed to fit over a speedlight or external flash (it has a scrunchie opening on the back and on the bottom). The only downside to this approach at least on the pop-up flash is that I didn’t find it stayed on securely enough. Unlike the others attached via the hotshoe, I still had to jiggle a little to make sure the flash wasn’t sitting too low inside the soft box.
Above here you can see what the soft box diffuser looks like put together and on the interior. It is made from a fabric vinyl material with reflective material on all 5 sides of the interior designed to direct the light solely through the white filter on the front.
A soft box is generally recommended for portrait photography as it still hits the subject squarely on, but filters it to reduce the whole ‘deer in the headlights’ look.
Next up, our second diffuser – the puffer.
The puffer works essentially the same way, the light is directed through the plastic translucent cap which filters the light as it hits the subject. Because it’s not closed in like the soft box, however, it does not diffuse all of the light.
And lastly, the bounce.
Like the puffer above, this device attaches straight to the hotshoe so once its on you don’t need to mess around with it. It’s quite large – bigger than what I thought it would be, but once I got it on it didn’t change how I used my camera too much.
As I explained above, this device is quite simple in it’s execution – the light hits the mirror square on and bounces off it onto whatever is behind the mirror (ceiling for landscape shots or wall for portrait angle)and then back onto the subject. By this point the light is much softer and more evenly distributed across the subject and room.
A potential challenge in this is that if you have a particularly high ceiling, no wall on the bounce side, or a funky coloured wall, it could still mess with your lighting.
So let’s try them out for real now! But this time, I think I need to call in a professional – plus Hilda’s been packed away for another year! So enter my always (hahaha) willing model – my husband.
First up, a shot with straight flash and one with no flash or device. None of these photos are edited and to be honest I can’t remember what my settings were but I think for every one other than the no flash/no device image, the white balance was set to ‘flash’ and the ISO reasonably low.
Can you guess which shot is which hehehe!
So first up I attached the puffer using similar settings to the flash shot and it resulted in this image below:
Not bad, but not a whole lot of difference. On my big screen for editing I could see the points where the image was softened a bit but overall the shadows are still there and Andrew was not impressed with the amount of light hitting him in the eyes. He didn’t feel there was much difference between this one and the one with no device.
Next up, the soft-box:
Now this one had an obvious softer effect than the puffer but the image was more underexposed. On the one hand I could have put more effort into adjusting my settings to something better tailored to this device but for the purposes here, it’s just to show the straight on differences.
With the settings as is, this device produced a brighter image than no flash, a darker image than the flash straight on, but created more shadows than I really like to see. It didn’t distribute the light as well as I had hoped for.
In terms of portrait photography this might still be a great find but for those candid shots in darker scenarios, maybe not. There’s also the added annoyance that unlike the puffer, this device is not securely attached to your camera therefore it jiggles and moves around and you may have to help it stay in place.
Last but not least – the bounce.
Now, for this one I took a few shots and had to adjust my settings more than once to get it right.
First I took the shot above without paying attention to which direction my camera was pointed. I happened to be in a room that had only 2 and a half walls as it was open concept on the left side. Of course that was the side I had the bounce directed at! So as a result the light was bounced away from the subject but had nothing to bounce it back! Learning #1.
So I corrected my angle and camera position and bounced off of the wall to the right instead and that resulted in the image below:
This one had a nicer end result though unfortunately still underexposed as I didn’t have the ISO up high enough. There were still some shadows on his face and particularly his left side (on the couch and wall), but otherwise it was reasonably evenly distributed. Another side effect of bouncing from the wall was that the colour of that wall (in the evening lamp light) is somewhere between yellow and green instead of its more neutral beigy yellow during natural light times. That colour affected the white balance a little and so you’d have to have that compensated for in your settings or be prepared to take the shot in RAW so as to repair in editing after. Again, these images were not edited in any way – I just wanted a quick comparison!
Last but not least, a landscape angle shot to show the bounce effect off of the ceiling. The best of the options in my opinion as it reduced the shadows more than the portrait angle and kept the lighting more even across the board. Underexposed for sure but again adjusting the ISO prior to taking the images and a little editing afterwards could have fixed that right up!
So all in all, I spent between $30-$40 CDN on these devices (altogether) and think it was a worthwhile expense. My favourite of the three is definitely the bounce. It produced the best lighting with most comfortable effects for my subjects (though careful if you’re taking the shot through Live View as you will unintentionally blind yourself when that flash gets redirected backwards!!!), and I found it to be the most consistent. Aside of course from when the camera is pointed in the wrong direction!
I’m looking at this post now thinking perhaps you can’t see how well the bounce really did work! Examples of this are the images from when M came over to visit and open her first Christmas presents which I shared on Christmas eve. Again these were just candid shots but I had my settings better aligned to the needs of the shot.
So as you can see, in a candid pinch, you can still grab the shot with a diffused light!