Photo lighting can be a complicated subject. In low-light situations outside of the studio, a flash is a must. Unfortunately, the bare bulb on the flash can create a bright blast of harsh light that is less than ideal for your photos. This can cause the shots to look washed out.
Combined with harsh shadows, the resulting photos may lack detail and appear overexposed. Your subjects may even have the dreaded red-eye, especially when shooting portraits.
With a speedlight modifier, you can alter the external flash to suit the conditions you are shooting in. You can diffuse or reflect the light for a softer or bolder look without the orange glow of a flash.
If you want more control over the on-camera flash, here’s everything you should know about using modifiers.
What Are Flash Modifiers?
First, what is a speedlight? It’s simply another name for an external flash. You may also see them referred to as on-camera flashes or hot shoe flashes, as they connect to the hot shoe mount on top of the camera.
The modifiers are components that attach to the on-camera flash to modify the light. These pieces of equipment come in a variety of designs and materials to provide different effects.
You can get modifiers that help diffuse the light, spreading it throughout the immediate area. You can also find modifiers that help reflect light or concentrate it at your subject.
These items basically increase the versatility of the on-camera flash. Instead of the harsh glare that you typically get from the bare bulb, you can choose to modify the lighting to get the desired effect you want for your shot.
Why Should You Consider Using a Speedlight Modifier?
The main reason to use a modifier is to gain more control over the bright flash.
The direct light that lands on your subject is often harsh. It can also create dark shadows and greater contrast between colors.
One solution is to direct the on-camera flash to reflect off another surface, such as a nearby wall or ceiling.
Unfortunately, you don’t always have access to a reflective surface. The walls or surfaces nearby may also cast an unflattering hue.
Flash modifiers help solve these problems. With the right conditions, you can make it appear as if you didn’t even use a flash.
If you need the light from the flash, but don’t want the traditional bad lighting that it provides, a modifier provides an easier solution.
Diffusers and Reflectors – What’s the Difference?
When you first start shopping for modifiers, it’s easy to get confused by the various options. Some of the most common choices include:
- Dome modifiers
You can find many types of speedlight modifiers, but these contraptions mostly fall into one of two categories – diffusers and reflectors.
Diffusers help diffuse the light from the flash. Instead of a concentrated blast of harsh light that drops heavy shadows on the subject, the diffuser softens and spreads the light.
Reflectors provide a reflective surface when there are no other surfaces for the light to bounce off. Using a reflector modifier provides similar results to using a white photography umbrella. You get stronger light and a more consistent color and temperature.
Besides diffusers and reflectors, you may come across modifiers labeled as domes, softboxes, or octaboxes. While these terms describe the style of the modifier, the products still either diffuse or reflect light.
Dome Modifiers Help Diffuse Light
Domes are the most used modifiers, as there are many affordable options that do a good job of diffusing the light from the flash. As the name suggests, these modifiers are often dome-shaped.
The most basic domes are semi-translucent plastic caps that fit over the on-camera flash. It’s a simple way to instantly diffuse the light.
The Neewer Flash Bounce Light Diffuser Dome offers the perfect example of a simple, yet effective, dome modifier. It snaps into place in seconds. You can even store it on the flash, so it takes up no extra space in your photography bag.
While this modifier only fits the Nikon SB-900 flash units, there are many other domes with the same basic design. The dome just snaps on and snaps off. If you use a different flash, just search for the model number and include “dome modifier.”
- Diffuses light to help eliminate heavy shadows
- Reduces harsh glares and the orange hue of the flash
- Easy to mount on almost any on-camera flash
- The most affordable types of modifiers
- Does not spread the light very far
Softboxes Provide a Larger Reflective Surface
A softbox helps diffuse light, but in a different way compared to the dome. As these modifiers typically have larger surfaces, they can help spread the light out further.
Keep in mind that the more you diffuse the light the softer it gets. These modifiers work best with powerful flashes.
The other issue is the size. Softboxes need to provide a larger surface, resulting in a larger piece of equipment that you need to attach to your camera. The larger size makes the modifier a little awkward to handle compared to the basic dome modifier.
If you want the larger surface without the hassle, the Kachifoto 2-Pack Flash Diffuser Reflector Set, is a great choice. The double-sided design works as a diffuser or reflector, depending on how you attach it to the flash.
The diffuser/reflector features an elastic strap that secures the softbox over the flash. You don’t need to snap it into place or worry about compatibility. It works with any flash.
One side of the modifier has a white surface to help soften and diffuse the light. When you flip it from the white side to the silver side, the reflector surface adds more power and contrast.
These modifiers are a little smaller compared to most softboxes, measuring just 8 x 7.5-inches. With the FOTOCREAT 12-Inch Portable Mini Round Soft Box, you get a slightly larger surface.
The design is still compact and easy to transport, but it doesn’t provide the double-sided surface. However, it does offer a black card on the back for helping to set white balance and exposure.
- Larger reflective surface spreads the light out more
- The extra diffusion helps eliminate shadows, giving your photos a more natural feel
- Despite the larger size, many softbox modifiers are still very affordable
- Due to the larger size, softboxes are less convenient for street photography
An octabox is a type of softbox with an octagonal design, resembling the eight sides of a typical white reflective umbrella. Basically, they’re portable umbrellas.
With the eight-sided configuration, these modifiers tend to feature collapsible designs that fold into compact shapes for easy storage and transport. This also allows the modifier to open to a much larger size, giving you more surface for reflecting additional light.
The Godox 120cm Portable Octagon Softbox offers over three feet of reflective surface for reflecting more light. The interior lining of the octabox features a silver reflective material, but it also comes with a white cloth cover to diffuse the light.
- Collapsible design allows for easier storage
- Larger reflective surface helps make better use of available light
- The larger size is even more awkward to use compared to the smaller softboxes
Modify Your Lighting with Attachable Reflectors
The final type of modifiers to consider using include reflectors. As with the diffusers, these products come in many sizes and styles for different lighting situations.
One of the main details to think about when choosing a reflector is the color. With gold reflectors, you can add warmth to the lighting, giving the scene a bit of an orange glow. Silver modifiers help spread the light out more without softening the shadows as a diffuser would.
Beauty dishes are a type of reflector with a silver surface. The Neewer Photo Studio 16-Inches Beauty Dish resembles a silver serving bowl or a flying saucer, with a silver interior.
The dish reflects light to let you bring more attention to facial features and catch the light in interesting ways. You can also cover it with a white diffuser sock to use the dish to soften and spread the light.
With these modifiers, you use the shadows to your advantage. You can highlight the features of your subject or create a more dramatic composition.
- The reflective surface helps highlight shadows and adds warmth
- Available in a wide variety of sizes and colors
- These modifiers provide less versatility
Which Speedlight Modifier Should You Choose?
Flash modifiers give you more reason to keep the on-camera flash attached to your camera. With these products, you can easily recreate studio lighting when shooting on location.
Before choosing a modifier, ensure that it works with your flash. While many of these products provide universal designs, some only work with specific brands.
You should also consider how much equipment you want to transport.
If portability is key, consider using a compact dome modifier or one of the strap-on softboxes. If you want to diffuse more of the available light, the larger umbrella-style octaboxes have you covered.
Of course, if you want the most versatility, choose a modifier that works as a diffuser or reflector.