It's time to talk about flash diffusers. You've probably seen some amazing photos that have remained stored in your memory, photos with amazing light that you just don't know how it was created. Such images are created by masters of lighting who know exactly what tools to use for the job.
If you take a flash, any flash, no matter if it's a pop-up flash or a $1000 studio light, and fire it at the subject without anything on it, you'll most likely see some unimpressive results. That's because that light is raw, it's harsh and so are the shadows it casts. To keep is short, it's not a very flattering light. That's where light modifiers come in and we're going to take a quick luck at the most commonly used modifiers and help you decide what you really need to put on your shopping list.
They are some of the most popular light modifiers, especially among beginners. They are cheap and can deliver pretty interesting results. There are two kinds of umbrellas: reflected umbrellas and shoot-through umbrellas that are white. The first kind act pretty much like a reflector and are very useful when positioned a bit further from the subject. White umbrellas tend to be a bit more versatile and they can be positioned very close to your subject. Ideally you should own one of each to be ready for any situation. Their most significant weakness is that much of the light traveling from the flash head towards the umbrella gets lost because there is nothing in-between to contain it, thus the power of your flash will be reduced.
No studio flash kit should be missing at least a couple of these. Softboxes are probably the most used modifiers in studio photography. They are excellent for creating that beautiful soft light that wraps around the model. In flash photography, the larger the light source is, the softer the light. Soft boxes are therefore divided into normal, rectangular softboxes (the most commonly used), octoboxes that are larger in size and produce the softest light and stripboxes that are the skinny version of regular softboxes.
The correct size of a softbox depends on what you need to shot. If you photograph products, smaller sizes will do just fine. If you take full body pictures of models, you might need larger models. Some flash kits come with one or two softboxes included, however there are plenty of options on the market. You just need to make sure they fit your strobe model.
The beauty dish is one of the favorite modifiers of portrait and beauty photographers. They look a lot like salad bowls and get beginning models to wonder about what they do. Beauty dishes provide a hard light with soft edges. If you want to eliminate all shadows when taking a portrait, this the way to go. They also have a sweet spot they work best in, but you'll have to figure it out by changing the distance between flash and subject.
These are basically miniature softboxes that go on your external flash. They're great for softening light at events, although you shouldn't expect the same look you get with a full sized softbox.
Snoots are used for concentrating light onto a single spot, usually on hair lights They're effect is the kind of detail that makes the difference between an impressive photo and an average one.
Diffusion domes are those funny looking pieces of plastic that usually come supplied with external flashes. They don't do much light modifying, but they're better than nothing.