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Diffuser or bounce card?

Andrew Kraker , Mar 27, 2008; 11:35 a.m.

I currently have a 420EX and 430EX both with stofen diffusers. Would it be better to use a bounce card instead? Is there anyone that doesent even use a diffuser when using a flash on a bracket (pointing the flash directly at subject with flash above lens)? If so, wouldnt that create unattractive hard light with portraits?

Responses

Craig Shearman , Mar 27, 2008; 11:49 a.m.

I've used a Lumiquest Softbox, various homemade cardboard bounce cards and the Stofen. Much prefer the Stofen. You're right -- direct flash without any diffusion or bounce makes the unflattering light, so use something. Better yet, diffuse/bounce the flash and also get it off the camera.

Rand McNatt , Mar 27, 2008; 12:50 p.m.

If the diffuser doesn't make the light source any bigger, it won't really soften it at all. "Softness" relies on the angle subtended by the light, which basically means how big it looks from the subject's point of view. Bigger=softer. A small light very close in can be soft, a very big light far away can be harsh (like the sun: 1,400,000 km across but 149,597,892 km away).

A Stofen Omni Bounce works by changing your flash to a "bare-bulb", and with on-camera direct flash will have a fill effect indoors, since it directs light to the walls and ceiling (and floor), but in a large, dark room or outdoors all it really does is lower your flash's light output. The same applies to a plain ol' diffuser panel: it directs some light out to the walls and ceiling, and so fills the shadows, but doesn't really soften the lighting by much. The mini-softbox styles work somewhat better.

Vivitar used to supply a bracket for the 283/285 (I've still got one somewhere) designed to hold an 8x10 gray card (white side out) as a bounce card. I don't know if anything like that is still available. It looks funny, but works pretty well, since it both enlarges the apparent size of the light source (almost like a soft box) and lets some light escape to bounce off the walls and ceiling.

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Mar 27, 2008; 01:52 p.m.

There are diffusers that diffuse, there are diffusers that soften, given large bouncing surfaces. There are bounce cards that soften, given large bouncing surfaces. The same bounce card can just redirect the light off the bounce surface in the absence of large bouncing surfaces, resulting in less soft light which almost approaches direct flash. So your question can't be answered without first determining what effect you want from a diffuser or bounce card, and also analyzing the location in which you will use the diffuser/bounce card.

The OmniBounce is fine for softening in small white rooms, but so if just about any modifier, including no modifier, just the flash head tilted.

I use the flash head direct outside when using the flash as fill. The level of flash is so low that the "bad" direct flash patterns do not even show up. I also use the flash direct outside when filling against bright sun because bright sun is already hard light and you aren't going to change that with fill, plus, for shooting anything except close ups, you don't have flash power to "waste" in bouncing or in modifier use. I also use the flash head direct outside for portraits in multiple and off camera lighting. Again, the fill pattern is not what determines the overall quality of light. The key or main light does that. Not to mention you have nothing to bounce the light off outside, unless you have the side of a building or something and again, you are close to your subject.

I recommend, since it is easy to make modifiers or approximate the expensive commercial modifiers at home, that you make a variety of modifiers and use them in real life situations. Do not test in your white living room using stuffed animals or something smaller than your actual subjects. If they are humans, use human sized subjects, if not humans themselves. Small modifiers always look good used to photograph small figurines, due to the modifier size to subject principle explained above. Most diffusers/modifiers have a wide range of results depending on the actual environment.

Zvia Shever , Mar 27, 2008; 03:14 p.m.

Andrew....I posted a similar question regarding bouncing and diffusing flash a month or two ago and Nadine was kind enough of offer some great advice. Specifically, I was asking what small bounce/diffuser attachments work best to soften the light(I have a 430EX). I ended up purchasing Gary Fong's LS and the Demb flip-it and diffuser (together called the Demb pro). Per Nadine's advice, I also read ALOT about flash diffusion, bouncing, light loss etc.... Personally, I seem to have the best results from the Demb Pro. You can angle the flip-it part to dial in more or less flash, which worked great for me when trying to get close ups of my son playing basketball. The diffuser that attaches to the front works well for me in portraits to eliminate/cut down on shadows. As Nadine says, you should buy a few and make a few and see what works best for you. Good luck.

Wayne F , Mar 27, 2008; 07:58 p.m.

My own opinion is that the purpose of these devices is usually not understood. I know there are many fans that believe in magic, but this is not magic, these are very simple devices.

In both cases (small "bounce" card, or the clip-on diffuser), what always does the vast majority of the work is bouncing the flash from the ceiling or walls. Light bounced from the ceiling or walls is all-powerful in regard to softening the light on the subject (because that ceiling or wall is quite large, a large light source, so to speak).

There are a few large "bounce" cards that actually do cover the flash head enough to prevent any light from going up to the ceiling, and instead all the light goes forward then. These have the effect of converting the two inch flash head to be perhaps 6 or 7 inches in size, which is not a huge change. May be portable, but it does not begin to compare to a 45 inch umbrella for example. "Large" is always the effect we seek.

The small "bounce" cards do not interfere with the majority (near 100%) of the light from still having a clear path to the ceiling. The ceiling is what bounces, and is what looks good. But the small cards do redirect a tiny portion of the light directly forward to subject, to be a frontal fill, and also to provide a visible catch light in the eyes of the subject (which is very valuable). This small card is a very powerful tool (possibly the best one), combined of course with the large bounce effect from the ceiling. Again, the "bounce" part is from the ceiling, not the card. The card part is more direct, but is very helpful and useful for slight fill and catch light.

The clipon diffusers mostly route the majority of the light in all different directions other than to the subject (they are normally pointed up), so that most of the direct light no longer hits the subject. If not hitting the subject, this would be useless and wasted in that regard, EXCEPT indoors, all that redirected light now possibly bounces from the ceiling and walls to return to illuminate the subject softly. Does still leave a smaller proportion of some direct light for fill and catch light.

Pretty much all of the softening effect from either device is from the ceiling or wall bounce, the ceiling being a very large reflector, a large light source so to speak, and this largeness is what makes the light be soft. Not the little card, and not the little diffuser.

Bottom line, we ought to learn to cherish and appreciate the ceiling/wall bounce effect, of which these devices are only slight extensions.

Outdoors, neither is going to have much effect, with no ceiling or walls to bounce back from. The majority of the light is simply wasted outdoors (with these devices). Outdoors needs direct light to even reach the subject. Draping a handkerchief over the flash head surely gives a better diffused light then, more diffusion, and less loss from the subject outdoors, but something like an umbrella would be optimum.

Russ Butner - Portland, OR - Vancouver, WA , Mar 27, 2008; 10:26 p.m.

http://www.dembflashproducts.com/

Russ

Rick Shanahan , Mar 28, 2008; 09:35 a.m.

I agree 100% with what Wayne said.

Dennis Mansour , May 18, 2008; 10:07 a.m.

Do you use any diffusers for large groups indoors ? appr. 15-20 people? Or direct flash ? thank you , rollsman

william bray , May 18, 2008; 05:22 p.m.

Has any one got a rough guide of what to do when you are inside and there is nothing to bounce from. I'm doing a wedding where the building where the ceramony is going to be held has a tall celling clad in pine boarding and the walls are red brick. I was going to do some test shots before anyone arrives,but my first choice would be the demb jumbo flip it with the diffuser attached,if that was no good I was going to use the stofen pointed direct at the couple or just slightly tilted up not all the way to 45 degrees. I have tried the lightsphere in the past and I didn't think much of it, and I'm quite sure that with it's 360 degree spred of light my canon 580 won't be powerfull enough. Has anyone got any sugestions?

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