In May 2006, I had the opportunity to spend some lens time photographing for a 50th-anniversary party that a friend of mine threw for his parents. If you know me, then you probably expect that I see just about any big photographic project as an opportunity to add a gadget or two to my inventory of photo-goodies – and this was no exception.
Because a 50th-anniversary party is an event that you can’t exactly do over, I recommended that we rent some good glass and a pro-grade shoe flash for the occasion. With an event this special, indoor shooting with a kit lens and on-camera flash just won’t do the job! We rented Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, 70-200mm f/2.8L and 14mm f/2.8L USM lenses, and a Canon 580EX Speedlite flash.
I’ve done a good chunk of work with a shoe flash, and something about many of the images bothers me. I’ve certainly captured a good portion of good flash images, but many others have left me feeling that something could be improved. The images shot with a flash head-on (i.e. “direct flash”) seemed too harsh and had sharp shadows that were distracting and often obscured important details of the scene. Conversely, shooting with the flash angled up toward the ceiling (i.e. “bounce flash”) caused washed-out looking images with sickly-looking exposure.
This situation certainly wouldn’t do for the anniversary party, so I set out to find some way to improve my flash images. After a bit of Google searching, the solution seemed to be simple: use a flash attachment to soften and diffuse the light I add to the scene…
Review: LumiQuest 80/20
Price: $23.95, purchased at the RIT college bookstore
Camera: Canon EOS 20D, set to Parameter 1
Lens: Canon 24-70 f/2.8L USM
Flash unit: Canon Speedlite 580EX flash
Camera support: Manfrotto 190-Pro-B tripod with Manfrotto model 486 ballhead
Subject: My HP DeskJet 970cxi Business Inkjet Printer
Theory of Operation
The LumiQuest 80/20 combines the bounce and direct flash methods explained above. By letting 80% of the flash unit’s light through (to subsequently bounce of the ceiling) it lets the room soften the light’s intensity and tone. The remaining 20% of the flash unit’s light is reflected by the white surface of the 80/20 reflector and strikes the subject directly. The slight diffusing effect of the reflector reduces any sharp-edged shadows that might occur.
The 80/20 is normally attached to a shoe flash unit using adhesive velcro tabs. When the reflector is not in use, it can be removed and reattached later. Since my test setup was based on a rented flash unit, however, I had to secure the 80/20 to the flash using a rubber band.
I shot three photos of the injet printer in my home office. First I tried a direct-flash exposure, and (as expected) the same harsh shadows, strong reflections and oversaturated colors resulted. Next, I bounced the flash off the white ceiling of the room, and the results were similarly predictable: soft shadows and reflections that indicate the light is incident from above the subject. Finally, I installed the 80/20 using my super-high-tech rubber-band-based retention system and tried again. This time, we got the best of both worlds: no sharp-edged shadows, good color, minimal reflections and a good overall “feel” to the exposure.
Click for larger version
Click for original version
Using the 80/20:
The LumiQuest 80/20 flash diffuser/reflector does a nice job of arbitrating between direct-flash and bounce-flash shooting techniques. Based on the test shots above, it seems that the 80/20 moves images a notch or two closer to the holy grail of flash photography: even color and exposure, minimized reflections, and soft(er) shadows.
The device is not without its drawbacks. The most obvious one seems to be – much like bounce-flash photography in general – that it wouldn’t be terribly useful outdoors or in large, dark-colored rooms. More subtle but still important is the shape of the unit – and the fact that it would be reflected in larger polished objects.
The last word? I’m keeping mine, even though I don’t own my own shoe flash with which to use it. Eventually, I’ll buy my own speedlite, and until then the 80/20 will be nice to have around when I have the occasion to rent a flash unit.