Essential Off-Camera Flash Kit
By Steve Aves, October 2009
Reviewing the Essential Off-Camera Flash Kit
Using on camera flash guns can be great fun and be a very effective tool, but from some of the emails I get, it’s obvious that some of you are not altogether happy with the results you get from them. ‘Too strong’, ‘bland’, ‘too many shadows’ are just some of the comments I’ve had.
So to help you get the best from your flash gun I’ve helped Wex Photographic put together some simple accessories that are guaranteed to enhance your work. Like studio flash, the results you get from on-camera guns will very much depend on the accessories you use. A snoot for instance will give you a very small pool of light, while an umbrella will cover a larger area with soft diffused light.
I’ve called the first group of accessories I’ve chosen, the ‘Essential Off-Camera Flash Kit’; a kit comprising of three key pieces that are easy to use and will really improve your work. My thought process on this was to support a flash gun on a stand and choose a small brolly as a lighting accessory. First the stand.
Manfrotto 5001B Nano Stand
I looked at the Manfrotto range of stands, which are noted for their quality and durability. I didn’t want anything too large or too heavy as it has to be portable, but then again, it also has to be big enough to do the job. After looking at several models, I selected the Manfrotto Nano MN5001B, a superb little aluminium stand with a great spec. The Black Nano has four extensions that will go up to just over six feet high, perfect for almost any application. It has a 3/8in spigot that is industry standard and will accept any Bowens or Elinchrom head. The locking screw on each extension can be adjusted with an Allen key and the whole thing is simply well made. For those of you who want to shoot outside, don’t forget that Manfrotto market a sandbag that will hold the Nano steady in the wind.
Lastolite Tilthead with Hotshoe
My next accessory was the Lastolite Tilthead with Hotshoe, designed to put a flash gun onto a stand and hold a brolly at the same time. This neat accessory has been around a long time so I know it works well. Its 3/8in socket fits directly onto the top of the Nano stand and locks on securely with a screw. This nifty little device also holds a flashgun on its built-in hot shoe and a brolly in a hole just below it. So this gadget takes all the pain out of trying to hold a brolly in front of your flashgun when you fire; brilliant! The brolly stem fits into the hole under the hotshoe and you can adjust the brolly in two ways. First, a large knob controls the tilt, 180 degrees of it via a very positive locking system, and second, a smaller silver screw that secures the brolly stem closer or further from the gun, depending on what you want to achieve. Everything you need to give you total control.
Lastolite 80cm Umbrella
My last accessory for the Essential Off-Camera Flash Kit was not an easy one to choose as there are some very nice brollies on the market. Again, I looked at the Lastolite range and after whittling it down to a couple of options I chose the Lastolite 80cm / 32in diameter brolly. I chose this brolly because of its quality, practicality and versatility, features that I always consider before buying anything! My first consideration was size and I think this brolly will be ideal for most flash guns. 32in diameter will light a good size area depending where it’s positioned: nearer the gun, less area; further away from the gun; more area.
I also chose this brolly because it has removable back cover and a removable internal white translucent lining that allows it to be used in any number of ways. The brolly is simple to use, removing the covers by detaching the cloths from the frame.
Versatility is the key here and the Lastolite 80cm Umbrella can produce very different lighting effects depending on which combination you use. Shooting only with the silver lined cover will produce a crisp tone with good contrast. If you add the white translucent internal cover, it will give you a much softer feel. You can then remove that outer silver lined cover to shoot in one of two ways with the white translucent material. You can shoot straight through the brolly like a soft box, or bounce the gun into it for a much softer feel. My favourite is using the brolly without the back cover, shooting directly through the white translucent material like a soft box. This will give a nice output and should produce round catch lights in the eyes if you’re shooting a portrait.
Time to experiment!
There are many ways to use this kit, as a main portrait light of course, or as a fill in light by a window. Try this yourself, taking a portrait by a window using a combination of natural light and flash, it can give great results. You can use the kit outside as supplementary light to overcome harsh shadows. For those of you shooting products, this kit is ideal to shoot small items for the web. In fact if you buy two kits, shooting products from each side against a white background will give very even coverage.
The Essential Off-Camera Flash Kit, combining three great quality accessories will certainly help you to achieve better results. So with the nights drawing in and plenty of shots to be taken inside, what are you waiting for?
Ease of use 8/10
If you use this kit, or something similar, why not share your shots by emailing them to me and i’ll put them at the bottom of this review!
Want more? Check out Steve’s review of the Advanced Off-Camera Flash Kit!