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How-to's Accessories Reviews

Lightsphere Flash Diffusers

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on November 2, 2012


Keywords: flash, studio, lighting, filters, guides, tips, tricks, gary_fong, lightsphere

The Lightsphere Flash Diffusion System

We are often faced with complex lighting situations when we want to balance the light coming in from several sources into a scene and our subjects. Weddings and social events at noon time in large rooms, or churches, with large windows can become a nightmare with its mix of harsh light and strong shadows. After using for long a white card with a rubber, various solutions came to market and I have successively used most of them. Although each one represented an improvement results varied, even if just for filling in shadows. Most of them, close to useless in exteriors.

With the development of the Nikon D2 DSLR's series came the revised Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) that now makes it all so much easier. TTL turned into i-TTL and the "i" from intelligent turned into incredible.

Not only we don't have to take out the laser rangefinder and laptop loaded with light balancing algorithms for optimal distances and individual light source power output, we can always count with good results, well beyond the advantage of wireless control the Nikon SU-4 gifted us with. However, when under complex conditions, how good always seems in direct proportion to the number of SB-800 units one puts up to the task, as proven by our own Nikonian Hal Becker (username HBB) for 1<SB-800<12 (number of SB-800's deployed from one to 12).

What to do when we can't carry (or we don't have) the trunks with speedlights -a la Joe McNally- and/or lightstands, strobes, soft boxes, umbrellas and assistants?

Below is a series of illustrations with the best solution I've found so far for common conditions: the Gary Fong's Lightsphere II Diffusion System, using a single SB-800. In case you are wondering how come we carry this product at the shop, this is why.

 

 


Session I. i-TTL.

The series below was made from a Nikon D2X set at Aperture Priority exposure mode, at f/2.8. The lens is an 85mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor. The speedlight, a single SB-800 hotshoe mounted on camera with five fresh Energizer batteries, set at i-TTL. ISO 200, White Balance on AUTO. Color space sRGB (I). No levels nor curves adjustments were made except for D-Lightening on Nikon Capture 4.4.0 This diminished the color saturation differences between the CLEAR and the CLOUD lightspheres.

The room in the back is sunlit through its side windows facing east, at times obscured by moving clouds. A bright sunray comes from another window into the back of the sofa where my favorite model seats in the early afternoon to watch cartoons. This sitting area at front is a room lit with multiple incandescent light bulbs from a ceiling lamp, its own windows shutters closed.

Yes, I know I should have made at least one image without flash and one with flash without diffuser. Next time.

What proved very hard was to keep a young subject as mine here in the same pose. The head angle changes the light drastically, although in all cases pleasing for my taste, and mostly natural.

When with dome, the bounce was kept upwards.

In these samples, the face is up, getting more bounced light from the ceiling, so the differences are hard to see. However, again, pleasing and natural, softer with the inverted dome on and affordable since the distance is short.

You may have noticed there are no harsh shadows behind the subject.

The model soon got tired from the session and readied himself for a well deserved nap. So I moved on to another subject crossing my fingers, for she was coming out from her own nap.

At right, levels and curves adjusted.

2nd session

Not in the best of moods, my youngest granddaughter decided for the dining room to inspect the Magic Kingdom castle. With incredible dexterity she pulled from the rear box each and all of the diminute characters and was set to create her own story, fully focused, completely oblivious to my presence, even with the monster flash attachment to my camera. The perfect model.

 

Diffused flash, using a single SB-800 with its own dome for comparison with the Lightsphere II CLEAR and CLOUD.

 

 


This series was made with the Nikon D2X but, assuming more subject mobility the lens was changed for a 35-70mm f/2.8D AF and ISO was pumped up to 200. Apertures changed from f/2.8 to f/4.8 in this better and more uniformly lit room. The flash was optimistically set to i-TTL|BL because of some ambient light coming in. Once more, images presented below, except for the last one, have no correction of levels and curves.

SB-800 with its own cloudy diffuser

The left side image was shot with the light bounced from the ceiling at 90°

The right hand side one, with speedlight at 60° into the subject to avoid shadows.

SB-800 with Lightsphere II CLEAR

Left: Bounced upwards with no inverted dome

Right: Forward at 0° with inverted dome on

SB-800 with Lightsphere II CLOUD

Left: Bounced upwards at 90° with no inverted dome

Right: Forward with inverted dome on, at 0° from the lens axis

Image with adjusted levels and curves, made with CLOUD Lightsphere, without dome, straight up at 90°

"Mommy, do we REALLY have to leave?"

 

Session III. Strong mixed lighting.

This time the living room was illuminated for a live TV remote broadcast, with two huge hot reflectors and extra-warmth filters. I considered making a white balance preset, but decided to leave in AUTO and see how well the Lightsphere would work under these extreme conditions for its claimed virtue of balancing mixed sources of light.

 

 

 

Diffused flash with the Lightsphere II CLEAR, no dome.

These images were made with the Nikon D2X and 85mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor at ISO 100.

Lightsphere II CLEAR, used without dome, at 90° into the medium height ceiling.

ISO 100, f/3.5 1/60 sec
Spot metering

This bench is at one end of the living room, and the reflectors were at the other end, about 20 feet away.

SB-800 with Lightsphere II CLEAR, at 90°, no dome

ISO 100
Aperture f/3.5 1/60 sec
Spot metering

As we moved closer to the TV reflectors, the SB-800 was unable to deliver enough power to subdue the strong warm cast light, but the Lightsphere continued to balance it nicely.

Medium to large sized areas are well covered, even with obstructions. Here, I just pumped up the ISO to 400. With a noiseless DSLR (at ISO 400) this is a better general setting.

Left: 90°
Right: 0°

Session IV.

Exteriors group under a trees canopy near sunset, sunlight coming in from behind. Nikon D2X with 80-200mm f/2.8D ED IF AF-S Nikkor @ 80mm + SB-800 direct, with dome; i-TTL + BL; 1/90 f/4.8, ISO 200
Center-weighted metering

While harsh shadows were drastically reduced with the speedlight, light is not even.

Nothing is changed from above for ISO, flash settings and exposure, except for the addition of the Lightsphere CLEAR, pointing directly into the group with no dome.

How about that?!!

Conclusions

The Gary Fong Lightsphere II Flash Diffusion System has by far the best diffusion ability among all systems I have tried including reflectors; from the modest white card with rubber band, used by early freelance PJ's and itinerant street photographers I've met, to the Nikon speedlight dome.

It was not until 1988 that the Nikon flash system took "a quantum leap forward" with the introduction of the SB-24 speedlight, opening the doors to us common mortals into full fledged natural looking TTL auto flash. It is the incredible Nikon TTL system on modern Nikon bodies since the Nikon F4 and N8008s (1988), further refined now into i-TTL, that makes it all possible. This flash diffusion system can take full advantage of that capabilty. This can be accomplished not just by the well seasoned pro but also by the enthusiast shooting in P program as shown in all the images here.

The Lightsphere system had some reputation for being a hungry eater of power to accomplish its magic. It is only logical it will demand more juice. I remain to shoot a wedding or a social event to test how much is such demand increased. It may be worth noting that when used for nude photography the skin tones are wonderful.

From now on, all of my flash shooting will be done with the Gary Fong Lightsphere II Flash Diffusion System, both CLEAR and CLOUD -depending on the skin complexion of subjects- even if it looks like a Tupperware® bowl. The Lightsphere comes with a companion tutorial DVD. Watch it. I am sure I can do better once I see it myself.

I am anxious to get the time to try with two or more speedlights with Lightspheres, managed from a Nikon SU-800.

In the meantime ....

Have a great time

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