I've been a studio shooter for quite some time, so when I started getting involved with nature photography, I wanted to bring some of my studio equipment along. As you can imagine, big battery-powered strobes are cumbersome. I decided that I didn't want to have that burden when hiking and enjoying the wilderness so I opted to leave them at home. There are much easier and lighter ways to achieve a similar look by using small accessory flash units.
If you've ever photographed a subject and thought the end result looked desaturated or flat, consider the benefits of using a flash. That's why we use them in a studio. They offer so much control and can be used as more than just a way to illuminate your scene. Light, whether natural or artificial, can create a three-dimensional feel to your image, and your flash can be the tool to enhance it.
You can control the quality and power of the light from your flash to soften the look of your images, make colors pop or add a sense of drama. Once you see the creative aspects of using flash, you may go even further and begin integrating two or more units at once to brighten dark areas in your foregrounds, corners or backgrounds.
Following are some easy-to-use flash accessories. Most are created to fit over just about any flash head and help in focusing, diffusing and coloring light. These techniques and accessories often are used in studio photography, but with these handy attachments, you can create a studio anywhere.
Putting gels and filters on your flash can be a fun way to create interesting effects in your picture or simply assist in making it look natural. Let's say you want to photograph a subject around a campfire. If you use your daylight-balanced flash, you'll end up with an image that has white illumination and not the golden color of the fire glowing on your subject. A warming gel or orange filter over your flash could make that image seem like it was lit naturally by the fire.
In addition, a warming gel over your flash is key when shooting neutral subjects against a sunset, as it helps in matching the golden light of the sky. Apart from balancing your foreground and background light, try doing something completely out of the norm. Imagine doing a night shoot with a gel over your flash and turning a big green cactus red!
Warm up your subject with Sto-Fen's Gold Omni-Bounce. This easy-to-use attachment is modeled after the original White Omni-Bounce, only the Gold Omni-Bounce is used to create a warm tone on your subject. It fits directly over your flash head, without the need for an adapter, and diffuses light to prevent harsh hot spots and shadows. List Price: $17.95.
LumiQuest's FX Colored Gel System includes an assortment of gels in blue, green, red, yellow and amber that fit into the filter holder of the small softbox attachment, allowing you to get creative or enhance the color in your shots. Use green to add an extra pop to the background of your macro photography of insects and plants or try painting one side of a desert sand dune blue. The system folds down into a compact 33/8x43/4-inch size and comes in a pouch to protect the filters from getting scratched. List Price: $33.95. Read more.
Direct flash can create harsh shadows and hot spots. By diffusing that light, you create a more gentle light with softer shadows that wraps around your subjects. The result is a more balanced and pleasing image.
Diffused light in the studio often is referred to as beauty light. This quality of light also can be advantageous to nature photography, as it spreads out over an area, balances contrast in close-up shots and fills shadows in a landscape scene with the feel of natural light.
LumiQuest’s Big Bounce softens harsh and unappealing highlights. With dimensions of 81⁄2x103⁄4 inches, the Big Bounce works like a mini-softbox to bounce and diffuse the light from your flash. Lightweight and small enough to fit in your pack, the accessory attaches to your flash head via the use of Velcro®. List Price: $38.95.
Adorama’s Strobo-Sock is a white piece of nylon material that integrates an elastic band in the design, enabling you to fit it over any size flash head to diffuse your light. Quick and convenient, the tool is ultra-lightweight and can be crumpled up and stuffed in your pocket. Eliminate ugly highlights or use two socks at the same time to cut down the power of your light, which can be ideal for close-up photography. List Price: $19.95 (a pair).
Bouncing light off of a white surface is a great way to soften light. This could prove to be useful if a ceiling or wall were available in the wilderness, but since they aren’t, you can replicate this effect using the Metz MZ5422 Bounce Screen. The 8x10-inch screen creates an even light over your image, and easily attaches to your flash via Velcro®. It conveniently folds down to slide into a pocket in your camera bag. List Price: $74.
Chimera’s Mini and Maxi Lightbanks are designed like a miniature studio softbox in sizes that work for field use—12x16 inches for the Mini and 16x22 inches for the Maxi. Both offer greater diffusion than most portable units, but fold down to fit a gadget bag. These lightbanks come with a choice of a white or silver interior. White interiors give a slightly softer light while silver is more efficient in its use of light. The accessories attach to your strobe or light stand via an adapter (not included). List Price: $80 (Mini); $99 (Maxi).
A basic flash unit simply throws out light over an area without any bias. If you want it to fall on something specific or illuminate a certain area in your shot, but not in another, however, then you have to focus the direction of its output. To do this, look at the shadow areas of your scene that you wish to illuminate, point your flash in that direction and use an accessory to sculpt the burst.
Accessories that focus the spread and intensity of a flash can help you highlight a detail in a landscape. In addition, telephoto photography can require a flash with a strong output so it can reach your subject at a long distance. The Project-A-Flash is designed with a Fresnel lens that concentrates the power of the light from a wide burst to a smaller but stronger one, making it stretch farther and reach your faraway subject. Made of a durable plastic, the Project-A-Flash fits snugly over the front of your flash head and is secured by a hook and loop, which is included in the cost. List Price: $34.95.
Weighing less than three ounces, Kirk Enterprises’ Flash X-Tender is a lightweight accessory that’s easy to take with you in the field. Whether you need a main light or fill, the flash extender increases the output from your flash by two full stops while reducing the spread of the flash, an asset when shooting with lenses 300mm or longer. This is a useful tool for photographing wildlife in trees or anything that’s difficult to approach closely. List Price: $42.95.
Sometimes you just want to isolate a specific subject in your photograph without having light spill over the entire scene, such as highlighting one flower among a group of blooms. Great for forming this dramatic light, the LumiQuest Snoot conveniently attaches to your flash with hook-and-loop tabs and limits the spread of light from your flash to approximately 10 degrees. The Snoot folds flat for convenient storage. List Price: $25.95.
Adorama — (800) 223-2500 • www.adorama.com
LumiQuest — (830) 438-4646 • www.lumiquest.com
Metz (Bogen Imaging) — (201) 818-9500 • www.bogenimaging.us
Project-A-Flash (Tory Lepp Productions) — (805) 528-0701 • www.leppphoto.com/paf/
Sto-Fen — (800) 538-0730 • www.stofen.com