About this series
"Behind the Lens" is a weekly look at photography, written by Journal-World staff photographers. Have an idea for the column? Contact Thad Allender, photo director, at 832-6359 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In my March 9 Behind the Lens column, I wrote about techniques owners of point-and-shoot cameras can use to alter their on-camera flash and diffuse the light. In this column I want to discuss similar techniques for owners of 35-millimeter single-lens reflex cameras who have or are looking to purchase an external flash for their camera.
Most consumer external flash units mount onto an SLR's shoe mount on top of the camera body. If possible, get the same brand flash as you have for your camera or at least make sure that the flash is compatible with your camera. Compatible flashes and cameras usually include a feature called "through the lens" (TTL) metering, which is useful for the following lighting techniques.
Several flash companies make models for multiple camera brands (i.e., Nikon, Canon, etc.) and should work fine. Whatever brand you choose, an important feature to look for is a flashes ability to tilt and swivel its flash head.
Bouncing your light
The best kind of light for photographers is often a soft and even light, a type of light you won't get with a flash pointed straight at a subject.
Having a flash unit that tilts and swivels enables you to point your flash toward a nearby surface like a wall or the ceiling. Now when you fire your flash the light hits this nearby surface, reflecting around the room and toward the subject in an indirect way, creating a pleasing illumination.
With compatible equipment and using a flash with a TTL setting, your exposures can remain automatic since your camera's meter will continue to read the light that falls on your subject. This bounce light technique, however, will reduce the effective range of your flash.
Diffusing your flash
Other than the invention of the tilting flash, nothing has been more useful to me in using on-camera flash than covering my flash head with a piece of plastic. Specifically, a piece of plastic called a Stofen Omni Bounce. The Stofen fits snugly over the top of a flash.
With a Stofen on, I tilt my flash unit at a 45 to 60 degree angle toward a ceiling and the subject. Light through the Stofen dome will reflect off the ceiling indirectly and also through the dome toward the subject. It is almost like carrying your own miniature ceiling. In fact, the Omni Bounce can be especially helpful when ceilings are too high to be used as a reflective surface. While this technique makes more efficient use of your flash's light, be aware that the Omni Bounce will still decrease the effective range of the flash. But it will not otherwise affect the performance of a TTL system - making them simple to use as long as you're aware of the decreased range.
Using rubber bands and a stiff white index card, you can create your own poor man's version of a diffusing device. Tilt your flash to the ceiling and rubber-band the card to the back of the flash with the white side facing to the subject and rising 3 or more inches above the top of the flash. Now some of your light will be directed at your subject as well as bounced off a ceiling. It will not be as efficient as a Stofen product, but the additional light toward your subject will be beneficial.
The site www. stofen.com will provide you with everything you need to know about their products. There are numerous other products that accomplish similar results to the Stofen.
Some can be researched at the following Internet sites:
¢ www.photo.net (forums and discussion boards).
¢ www.diyphotography.net (some interesting do-it-yourself diffusers.
In my next Behind the Lens column, I'll write about getting your flash off your camera using flash extension cords and remote flash firing devices.