A Flash In The Pan – Part 2

Now that the beauty dish is complete (Part 1), it’s time to do some testing to see how the dish compares with just a standard strobe and various strobe attachments. My plan was to photograph a subject with the strobe on-camera and compare results by lighting the subject with a:

– bare flash,
Sto-Fen attached to the flash,
Demb Flip-It reflector attached to the flash,
– beauty dish and Sto-Fen attached to the flash (as shown in Part 1),
– beauty dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup attached to the flash, and
– beauty dish and reflector cup attached to the flash (as shown in Part 1).

The Sto-Fen (especially) and Demb (or similar, even a piece of white card) are pretty much the diffuser/reflector of choice for many news photographers, as they are small and easy to use when you’re required to move around a lot and where there’s often not much manoeuvring space. The Demb can be slightly more versatile, as you can turn the flash head around and still use the reflector to direct light towards the subject, especially if you don’t have a low ceiling and you need to shoot in portrait mode. These are but two attachments from the myriad available, each providing their own way of diffusing/reflecting light from a strobe. Both have served me reasonably well over the years when I did news photography.

Sto-Fen Diffuser and Olympus FL-50R

Sto-Fen Diffuser and Olympus FL-50R

Demb Flip-It reflector and Olympus FL-50R

Demb Flip-It reflector and Olympus FL-50R

However, this is not about news photography, but portraiture and similar photography, both indoors and outdoors where you want broad, even, controllable light for your subject. And it’s about portability as well. I have an Elinchrom studio flash system, and while it’s excellent, it can be cumbersome outside of a dedicated studio, not practical to take outdoors and often the power can be far too overwhelming (even at lowest settings) for a small working space. Strobes and available accessories have developed extensively in the last decade or so, such that you can do almost anything with them that previously you might not have considered. So how did it go? First off, here are the results with the subject close to the background wall, in order to maximise shadows. All the photographs were taken with an Olympus E-M1, 35-100mm f2 lens, set to 78mm and shot at 1/250 sec at f2, using an FL-50 flash, and the good thing with this subject is that they find the whole exercise quite bearable.

Bare flash:

Bare Flash on a flash bear

Bare Flash on a flash bear

Flash with Sto-Fen:

Flash with Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with Demb Flip-It:

Flash with Demb Flip-It on a flash bear

Flash with Demb Flip-It on a flash bear

Flash with dish and Sto-Fen:

Flash with dish and Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with dish and Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup:

Flash with dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup on a flash bear

Flash with dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup on a flash bear

Flash with dish and reflector cup:

Flash with dish and reflector cup on a flash bear

Flash with dish and reflector cup on a flash bear

I had to adjust flash output for each shot, as the various diffusers/reflectors attenuated the light output to varying degrees and this was followed by a small amount of levels adjustment in Photoshop to even everything out as much as possible. As you can see, the bare flash produced the harshest shadows, as expected, the Sto-Fen diffused the shadows a little better and the Demb started to diffuse the shadows even further. The beauty dish with Sto-Fen produced some nice shadow diffusion, but when the reflector cup was placed over this, the shadows became harsher, and then with just the reflector cup, the shadows were much softer (but it did introduce some double shadows). You’ll see some odd mottling in the wall with some of the shots, and that’s the stipple paintwork showing up in different ways. I have to say that I like the dish with Sto-Fen, as it seems to produce the softest overall light and better spread of light (especially noticeable by the lighting of the stand). Next I moved the subject about 1.5 or so metres from the wall and kept the subject camera distance the same (about 2.3 metres) and didn’t bother with a bare flash.

Flash with Sto-Fen:

Flash with Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with Demb Flip-It:

Flash with Demb Flip-It on a flash bear

Flash with Demb Flip-It on a flash bear

Flash with dish and Sto-Fen:

Flash with dish and Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with dish and Sto-Fen on a flash bear

Flash with dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup:

Flash with dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup on a flash bear

Flash with dish, Sto-Fen and reflector cup on a flash bear

Flash with dish and reflector cup:

Flash with dish and reflector cup on a flash bear

Flash with dish and reflector cup on a flash bear

Again, I think the results are quite telling. The Sto-Fen and Demb both still produce harsh shadows, even when separated a fair distance from the background, and that’s not unexpected. The beauty dish with Sto-Fen and reflector cup, once again produces some quite harsh results and the beauty dish with just the reflector cup doesn’t spread the light as evenly as the beauty dish with Sto-Fen. What is evident, however, is that you can get some interesting lighting variations using the beauty dish with diffuser/reflector combinations. This leads me to feel that there is no need to paint the dish interior white, as I can get a lot more control leaving things alone. Additionally, there is no intent to always use the beauty dish just on its own, so additional lighting and/or reflectors will change the results quite appreciably.

Just as an aside, I’m waiting for a flash cable so that I can try out the beauty dish on my flash bracket, to see what difference it makes to have the beauty dish off-centre from the camera lens (somewhat more in the traditional beauty dish configuration). As you can see, this looks a lot more like the Speed Graphic setup I mentioned in Part 1, though the camera is still much smaller.

Beauty dish attached to flash bracket and E-M1 with 14-35 f2 lens

Beauty dish attached to flash bracket and E-M1 with 14-35 f2 lens

That’s pretty much it for the testing stage, though I do intend to do some more with the flash bracket and, if the results are noteworthy, I’ll post those as well. In the mean time, I’ll have to see if I can rustle up some live subjects.