Tuesday, December 20, 2011
The Best $5 Speedlight Diffuser
If you search the web for "flash diffuser," you'll find literally thousands of commercial and home-made diffusers...and sorting through them can be a lifelong chore. I ran across one at Chuck Gardner's Site which seemed to have real promise, so I made one myself, making a few changes. It worked so well, was so easy to make, and (unlike many others) looked "professional" that I made 3 more, and love them! Read on to learn about the best $5 flash diffuser I've found.
Chuck's original tutorial not only has a good starting design, it's a good article on diffuse/bounce light to begin with. I recommend reading it before moving on here. When you do, you'll see that someone took his basic design, and re-did it using "fun foam" from a craft store. That was my starting point, but I made a few more changes.
In the "parts" image above, you can see the finished diffuser on the far right, and on the left are all you'll need to buy to make one. The biggest change I made is to get self-adhesive fun foam -- it comes with *very* sticky adhesive on one side, with a paper backing. For each diffuser you want to make, get one 9" x 12" sheet of black adhesive foam, and one 9" x 12" sheet of white adhesive foam. You'll also need a sheet of plastic mesh sewing/crochet reinforcing material, and some self-adhesive velcro. Total cost for all the parts for one diffuser is under $5 US.
Follow Chuck's templates and instructions with a few small changes. First cut the plastic mesh reinforcement to the right size/shape (he has templates on his site). Then lay the black foam adhesive-side up on your table, remove the paper backing covering the adhesive, and lay the pre-cut mesh centered on the uncut black foam. Then remove the paper backing from the white foam, and place it sticky-side down on the black foam/mesh combo. The adhesive sides of the two foam pieces go towards each other, and they stick like crazy (be careful lining this up, because once you stick it down, it's *stuck!*). This eliminates the need for any ugly staples -- the self-adhesive foam holds perfectly, and looks great. Finally, trim the assembled foam-mesh-foam sandwich to the template shape. You can see the finished diffuser mounted on a Sigma EF 530 DG Super flash above.
I made one other change to Chuck's design, as you can see above. Instead of two separate "dots" of velcro on the back, I put a longer single strip of velcro. This lets me have a wide range of "fold" for the top flap, putting the inside dots anywhere on the strip of velcro. It lets the diffuser go from no top fold to a little fold to a complete 90-degree fold, or anything in between. It's a good idea to add a little "fillet" of super-glue along the edges of the velcro strips/dots, as this helps them stay firmly in place. Also, a dot of super-glue on the inside sharp cuts of the diffuser near the base reinforces them so they won't tear. That's it -- total cost about $5, total assembly time about 10 minutes.
Above is the pattern this mod gives from a typical speedlight -- the image above was from a distance of four feet from a plain-gray background. The pattern is clearly center-weighted but very soft, with no hard edges. The shot above was with the top flap at about 45-degrees.
So how does it work in practice? It's terrific! I used it on a wedding shoot I did a few weeks ago, with the flash (and diffuser) on a flash bracket up above the camera. In that position it gives a pleasingly soft, slightly overhead-angled light, as the image below shows.
I've also found it great to put off-camera on a light stand, as was done for the image below. The closer it is to the subject, the softer the shadows will be -- but even at about 6-7 feet away the shadows are still pretty soft, and it gives a very pleasing light. The low profile and light weight also mean it's not going to blow over your stand in the wind like an umbrella or other mods would.
It's cheap, it's quick and easy to make, it folds flat, it's durable, and it gives some great lighting options. Hard to get much better than that. If you've got a few minutes and a few dollars, try making one. I hope you'll like it as much as I do, and can add another option to your lighting tool kit.