On-Camera Tools for Speedlight Portraits
A soft light source is a better choice for portraits than a hard one because it’s more flattering to the subject and, as a side benefit, will require less retouching in the digital darkroom. Because it’s convenient and electronically linked to the camera, the speedlight that’s part of your camera system is often the new portrait photographer’s first artificial light source choice but you must remember that it has one major goal: To deliver the most lighting output at efficiently as possible. Most of the time, that’s a good idea but when photographing people, sometimes a little softness will minimize the dreaded “flash on camera” look.
One of the best $15 (or less) you can spend to improve your on-camera flash portraits is a Flashpoint Flash Diffuser for speedlights. It’s available to fit many speedlights unit from different manufacturers. The Flash Diffuser easily slips on the front of the flash and produces a diffused “bare bulb” look that softens shadows and reduces the harsh effect of direct flash. It’s compact and easy to use in either direct or bounce mode and is the simplest, easiest way to improve the quality of your flash photographs without taking the flash off the camera.
The goal of the reflector that’s built-into a speedlight’s head, is to maximize output not softness. Another solution to that softening the output is Strobo-Socks that can be used with virtually any speedlight. In general you can expect about one stop light loss but with a gain in softness while maintaining the reflector’s directionality and narrower focus. Need more diffusion? Two Strobo-Socks can be stacked, which is especially useful for close-up photography. The inexpensive ($11.95) socks easily fit in a shirt pocket for quick access and can be washed and air-dried just like real socks.