Photographers are always looking for ways to soften the light when doing portraits. The light from an accessory flash can be quite harsh so there are a wide range of modifiers to soften the light for more pleasing portraits. Here are my favorites for both on-camera and off-camera flash.
Posted Nov. 22, 2016. Update Nov. 20, 2017.
One of the simplest, smallest and least expensive light modifiers is the Sto-Fen Omni Bounce. It slides over the head of the flash – it’s as simple as that. Since it is held in place by friction, you need to buy one that is the right size for your model of flash. Prices range from $12 – $25 depending on your flash model. With the Stofen-Omni Bounce in place, you can angle the head of the flash up to combine the softer light output of your flash with bounce light off of a white ceiling. Depending on the distance to your subject, you may need to increase the ISO setting on your camera by one or two stops, something you may need to do any time you use bounce flash, even without a Sto-Fen Omni Bounce. You can find the Sto-Fen Omni Bounce in sizes to fit several different brands and models of speedlites in this section of my photography store.
Larger, more expensive ($30), and more effective at softening the light is a Honl Speed Snoot/Reflector. This flexible reflector serves two purposes. Curved slightly and with the flash head pointed up at an angle (photo above), it bounces soft light back on to your subject. Rolled into a tube (photo below) with the flash pointed at your subject, it shoots a narrow beam of light onto your subject for special lighting situations. You can get a “silvery” reflective surface for neutral light, or a gold reflective surface to warm up the light from your flash.
The Snoot/Reflector attaches to your flash with a Honl Speed Strap (an additional $10). The Speed Strap wraps around the head of your flash with a hook and loop (Velcro) material. No glue necessary. It is easy on and easy off. The Speed Snoot-Reflector Velcro’s to the Speed Strap.
Rogue Flash Benders ($30 – $40 depending on the size) function in the same way as the Honl Speed Snoot/Reflectors, and the Velcro attachment strap is built into the reflector (which increases the price). On the one hand, this is more convenient since you won’t lose the strap. On the other hand, if you have more than one reflector (like a silver one for neutral light and a gold one for warm light), you are paying for more attachment straps than you are using at any one time.
One of the best simple accessories for softening the light from your flash is to use a reflective photographer’s umbrella ($22). This will give you softer light than the accessories above, but the flash has to be off of the camera and mounted on a tripod or light stand. An umbrella adapter ($20) will hold the flash and the umbrella and attach them to a tripod (photo above) or a light stand.
A Wescott 2025 Halo Softbox is a big step up from an umbrella and my favorite accessory for softening the light. To use a Halo softbox, you will need a radio controlled flash system. You can learn how to set up a Halo Softbox or umbrella here and learn how to use a Halo softbox with a radio controlled speedlight here.
All of the equipment you will need to get your flash off the camera is in Basic Off-Camera Flash Equipment.
The prices in this article as effective as of the date this article is written. Prices do fluctuate, sometimes a lot.
All of the accessories in this article can be purchased in Light Modifiers section of my photography store which has direct links to Amazon.com. You get Amazon’s great prices, service, and guarantee, plus you help support this site. Thanks!
More off camera flash equipment is here. Everything you need to know about using off camera flash is in the article series linked in the next section.
Article Links: Off-Camera Flash Series
More information about lighting, flash exposure, and using flash units in both automatic and manual modes can be found in my book, Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies. It is one of the highest rated photography books at Amazon.com.
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest of the series is here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.