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Cheap generally means nasty. But in this article, we’re going to look at four different light modifiers that give you a range of looks that definitely fit in the value category.
This modifier is a 48″ Octagon Softbox that uses an umbrella shaft to mount to a speedlight. The flash aims into the silver backing, meaning that it’s an indirect source. This gives one layer of softening, and because the flash faces away from the subject, there’s less of a hotspot that with a direct flash Octabox.
The single diffusion panel provides a second level of softness, making for a big beautiful light. There are plenty of similar looking Octaboxes on eBay or Amazon, but the Godox branded ones have one huge advantage: fibre glass rods. Usually the rods are u-shaped metal spines. These provide you with good strength while bending, but very little lateral strength. A blast of wind which knocks the softbox off or over will bend or break a metal rod. Fibre glass, on the other hand, has strength in all directions, making it more resilient.
Bonus: You can bend the closed Octabox to make it fit into a suitcase. This is easily my most used location light modifier because I can vary the softness and coverage using distance. As the softness of the light depends on the relative size on the modifier to the subject, close means softer, and farther away, the light gets harder. Being four feet in size, it’s super soft in close.
Here’s a typical setup I use with this modifier and the resulting photo. Shot as an example in the studio.
Here’s a few more example shot on location:
Depending on the Octabox model you order, you can get it with a grid. This helps make the light more directional. By blocking the light going out the sides, it pushes the light forward. You may have situations where you need to stop spill (on the ground or background), and a grid really helps with that.
There are a number of ring flash adapters for speedlights. None are perfect, but I really like this $30 modifier, the Meking Ring Flash. Firstly, it folds down really compact, so you can always have a modifier with you. Secondly, you get a really soft quality from this, providing a more flattering light. Thirdly, you’re not obliged to use it on camera, you can easily use it as an off camera light, either as a key light or as a fill.
To use it, expand the ring, then push the magnetic separators together, pushing the two sides apart. Finally, mount the ring softbox to your flash using the retained velcro strap.
Here are some examples of the ring flash use. Notice the shadow that surrounds our model, as well as the classic donut cathchlights in the eyes.
Below I’ve used the softbox off camera, in a hotel foyer. This is two separate photos combined into one image.
Umbrellas are the staple diet of most speedlight beginners. The Westcott Double fold umbrella offers a little more than a basic one. For a start, it can be used as both a bounce and shoot-through umbrella.
Using it as a bounce umbrella allows the light to focus a little and is good when the scene is larger and you need the light to fill in but still be out of camera view. You’d use it as a shoot-thru to get really close to your subject for big, soft light. The black backing can stay half on (see image below) to prevent spill onto clothes, making this a really versatile, compact, light modifier.
Here’s the standard bounce look. It’s similar in setup to the Godox (which is effectively a silver bounce umbrella with a layer of diffusion).
Turning the umbrella around, and removing half the black covering creates this look (below):
It’s much softer, but notice that the bottom part of the photo is darker. This is because the black covering is blocking light going to her body and clothes. It’s a great tip which comes from the inspirational Joe McNally, for when then clothes are distracting in a portrait. If it’s not clear, here’s what the umbrella setup looks like.
The final look from the umbrella is using it as a shoot-through. This means removing the black covering altogether.
As you can see, it’s really soft, and floods everywhere (especially compared to the bounce umbrella). Here’s the setup for this.
MagMod is a Kickstarter based company whose products use strong rubber and even stronger magnets to make attaching speedlight modifiers a thing of ease. Rather than use annoying velcro, you stretch the MagGrip around your flash to hold the modifiers. You can see a MagGel on a MagGrip in my article How to use Lighting Gels to Change Your Background Color and in the image below.
There’s a whole range of MagMod accessories, but the basic kit comes with a grid and a gel holder, along with rigid gels for the holder. These rigid gels are a blessing. A regular gel is essentially a coloured sheet of acetate, so it folds and crumples easily. The rigid nature of the MagGels makes them easy to swap in and out of the holders. There are a variety of colors available. You get a basic set of color correction and ND gels with the kit, but there’s also the Creative and Artistic sets for a larger range of options.
The MagGrids are great for restricting light, letting you aim it with a huge degree of control.
Here’s a shot done with a bare speedlight:
Here’s the same speedlight with a MagGrid attached. Notice how tight the light is around the model, more like a spotlight.
Here’s the Aqua MagGel from the Artistic series gels. I’ve set the white balance to daylight to keep the colour correct.
The beauty of these light modifiers is you can mix and match them to make really creative light.
To achieve the image below, place your on flash on camera, with the Aqua MagGel attached. Next, put the Meking Ring Flash over it to create a soft aqua-colored fill light. Then, place a MagGrid on a second flash and aim it tight on the model’s head. The grid light washes out the gel from her face, but in the shadow areas, the gels fills in for a cool look.
It’s almost like the image has been post-processed for color, but it’s actually done in-camera.
Another look you can get is a high key portrait. First, set up the Westcott as a shoot-through umbrella on a boom, between you and the model. You’re shooting below the umbrella. For the background, set up the Godox Octabox facing the camera, behind your model. Use a reflector to bounce the light back up to the model for a perfect high key portrait.
All in all, this gear is under $200 (total if you buy them all) and will give you a good range of creative lighting setups. Even just one of them would make a great addition to your speedlight arsenal.
Do you have any other good value light modifiers you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.