Off-camera flashes are a great way to enhance your photos. There are any number of great flash accessories from from companies like Honl Photo, LumQuest, and Gary Fong (links at the end of this article). The products they offer are very cool and allow you to take you flash technique to “the next level”, to use a cliche’d phrase. Unfortunately, you can spend a small fortune on various light-shaping tools to create the shot you’re going for. Here is my humble offering in the form of instructions to make your own dome diffuser. It actually does a nice job of evening out and softening the light. The best part is, it costs 35¢ for the plastic bowl with cover, and @ $5 for a can of white spray paint!
I picked up four 4″ diameter plastic bowls at my local Dollar Store for, er, a dollar…..so 35¢ each.
The next step is to simply spray-paint the inside of the bowl with flat white spray paint. You want flat white to minimize reflections inside the bowl. I wasn’t able to totally eliminate reflections, even with flat white, but I gotta think flat is beter than glossy! I wound up giving my bowl 2 coats. This effectively stopped-down the light by around 2.5 to 3 stops.
Next, you need to cut a square opening in the lid the size of your flash head. I used and Exact-o Knife to cut the plastic lid. I wound up cutting diagonal slits in the corners so I didn’t have to worry about cutting the opening to the exact diameter of my flash head. It isn’t that easy to cut with a large degree of accuracy, so the slits are necessary in my opinion. They allow you to fit the lid over the flash head easily.
That’s basically all there is to it! Below is a photo of the completed diffuser. It doesn’t look like much, but it actually works pretty well.
Below is a shot of my flash being fired with the diffuser in place. Note that the light is diffuse enough to eliminate lens flare, even though I shot directly into the light source.
Here is the same shot with the diffuser removed.
How well does it work? See for yourself! I had to enlist the help of my favorite model to assist me in this demo. The first shot is of my model with the diffuser fitted over the flash head. Note the soft shadows being thrown behind her, and how little difference there is between shadows and midtones.
Next is a shot with the diffuser removed. Besides the harsh shadows and wider contrast, the scene is about 2 to 3 stops BRIGHTER!
Just to make sure there’s no confusion here, since the non-diffused photo is so bright, I shot another one with the diffuser off and the flash stopped down 2.5 stops. Clearly, the contrast between shadow and directly lit areas is much greater. Compare it to the first shot, the one shot with the diffuser on the flash. Which one do you think is more pleasing?
You might argue that the diffuser is flawed due to the light being stopped down so much. NAH!!! Just adjust your camera’s exposure…..you know….as in Exposure Compensation? Let me put it this way. Gary Fong makes a dome diffuser. It is no doubt a real nice product. It sells for $59.95. If you buy a warming attachment, add another $19.95. My diffuser costs 35¢ ($1 divided by 4 = @ 35¢ each), and if you pick up a set of Rosco “Strobist Collection” gels for a little more than $9, you can manipulate flash color in a variety of ways. So you decide. I made 4 of them, one for each of my flashes! What can I say?