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Choosing Hard and Specialty Modifiers

Abstract: It's not all umbrellas and soft boxes. Restricted hard lights and ring lights — sometimes in combo! — are great tools to have at your beck and call. [The post was updated on Feb. 7, 2020.]

We tend to start out using soft light at a 45-degree angle because it is an easy fix, and it's hard to go seriously wrong doing that.

But there are all kinds of light mods, and often choices other than default soft three-quarter light can be more interesting. My favorites are snoots, grids and ring adapters.

Snoots are like little tunnels you attach to your flash to block part of the light beam. Snoots are not rocket science. We are just blocking some light. And remember, we're just blocking light from the flash. In the photo above, blocking the flash helped to let the ambient add a layer to our photo. (More about how it was made, here.)

And cardboard works just fine to create tight zones of light when doing a photo like this.

For grid spots, which work like snoots but have a much more beautiful fall-off to the edge of the light, you can DIY them out of straws but it is a pain in the ass and not really worth the effort for many. My advice? Get a 1/8" universal grid spot for $10 and be done with it. They will last forever (seriously, they're indestructible) and they fit all speedlights.

I'd nix the velcro mounting system, however. Mod it with elastic for quick changes and you'll be good to go.

A less expensive (but flash-specific) alternative are the DIY-ish grids from SaxonPC. (Seen above, more info on those here.)

Also in the specialty mod category are speedlight ring flash adapters. They turn your small flash into a donut of light that can give you a beautiful, shadowless look for key or fill. After the demise of the Orbis, my current favorite is the RoundFlash.

For the record, I have owned five different commercial ring flashes (and adapters): Profoto, AlienBees, Ray Flash, RoundFlash and Orbis. With the demise of the Orbis, I recommend the RoundFlash for (speedlight-based) portable, and the AlienBees ABR800 for those needing more power.

Whatever you do, avoid the Chinese knockoffs of the Ray Flash. They are light-sucking pieces of junk, and are rarely anywhere near color correct. But they are cheap!

Seriously, if you're that broke you'll be better off home-brewing a cardboard DIY ring flash adapter for the time being.

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