Softer shadows with my speedlight

Wayne wrote:

Love the podcast!

Question: At the moment, I have a Nikon D50 with only one SB-600 speedlight that I’m using off-camera with an optical trigger for some portraits. I’m using a omnibounce right now but I really need some softer light and I’m not sure what to get.

I was thinking about a softbox or an umbrella (not sure which would be better or what size, etc.)…then Ed mentioned that he used to shoot his speedlight through a white sheet (or something to that effect)…could you give me some advice here?

Right now, my shadows are just too harsh and I’m looking for a way to soften my portraits while I save my pennies for some Alienbees. Also, if you could provide some setup suggestions, like flash height and distance to subject, f-stops, etc., I’d be very greatful.

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4 thoughts on “Softer shadows with my speedlight

  1. Ed Hidden Post author

    I worked with Speedlights for a while. There are a couple good ways to do this. I had used a LightPanel diffuser, but a speedlight just doesn’t seem to have the “oomph” to break through a big diffuser like that. The best bets that I had with the speedlight setup, is Bookends (see Chris Grey show) It’s cheap (right what you are looking for) and it’s pretty effective. I just set it up on a stand, use an off-camera cord to bounce into the bookend to reflect back at the model.

    Another setup I’ve used is a LightStand and an umbrella. I tried to figure a softbox setup, but most E-TTL speedlights need the front of the sensor exposed to the subject to calculate exposure. With an umbrella setup, I can point the front of the speedlight at the model and turn the head into the umbrella. That yields a nice light. Again, output is the other issue, but then… if you could do full studio lighting with a small portable speedlight, everyone would be buying them instead of strobes.

    Lastly, try embracing the speedlight style. Develop a high contrast
    technique. Just cause it’s “harsh” doesn’t mean that it’s bad light.
    Position is key, but you can get some really nice high contrast effects with a speedlight.

    And the wireless system on the Nikon is really good and creative as well. More lights would be required though (or convince a friend to buy one and then both of you share them!) If you really want strobes, I’d suggest saving up for strobe kits instead of investing in a lot of “temporary solutions”. I’m getting to be a firm believer of buy it right the first time! Patch solutions only work so long and sometimes cause a lot of mess.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Wayne Levangie

    I have a Nikon D70 with the SB-800 flash and I use the Stroboframe Camera flip. I use strictly Bounce Flash with the diffuser on at either 60 or 75 Degree angle, Very nice soft lighting or if I need more light I use the Lumiquest Bounce flash card that attaches to the SB-800 with Velco.

  3. Reinier

    I gotta admit this idea of mine (that I’ve used quite successfully many times) looks REALLY DORKY but it works.

    I take a 12~14 inch child’s WHITE rubber balloon and inflate it fully. I put it against the speedlight output and secure it with a bit of masking tape on each side of the speedlight.

    Then I tilt the speedlight UP and to the right or left.

    This gives me a really nice GLOBE light that really diffuses the light nicely.

    It also make for a great conversation piece while you work ! ;)


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