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What can be done to soften the direct light from an onboard flash? I know there are diffusers available for external flash units, but I'm not aware of such a solution for an onboard flash, such as on a Nikon D50.

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cigarette paper does a fine job. And it has an adhesive side ;). –  Caspar Kleijne Dec 22 '11 at 10:02
    
possible duplicate of How to get good results with the built-in popup flash? –  mattdm Nov 28 '12 at 17:26

8 Answers 8

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both Gary Fong and Lumiquest make diffusers for pop-up flashes (and there are probably others as well that I don't know by brand). The Gary Fong version is called the Puffer; Lumiquest's is called Soft Screen. The Luniquest Soft Screen is much larger than the Puffer, but not a lot of the diffuser screen is going to be hit by the flash at its mounting distance.

Honestly, though, the best you can say about them is that they're better than nothing. You really can't get much softness from such a small flash so close to the lens without a system of mirrors to allow room for a large enough light source, and the loss of power would probably be unacceptable if you did manage to get a really soft source. (The D50 is not exactly a low-light, high-ISO champion.) Better than nothing is better than nothing, though, so as long as your expectations aren't too high and you use the flash where spillage from the diffuser will bounce for a bit of fill, you'll get better than the pop-up alone will give you.

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Take a business card with white background and position it at 45 degrees in front of the popup flash. That will redirect it to the ceiling. For most flashes you can make two small cuts on the card to slide it into position and keep it supported by the flash itself.

Here is how it looks on my Canon DSLR:

business card flash diffuser

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Commericially, there's the Gary Fong pop-up flash diffuser that works okay. You can also do a little bit of DIY when needed and use white paper in front of the flash. You can use that to diffuse or bounce, depending on the paper and its thickness. The Digital Photography School has an article that has some examples of the DIY options.

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Sto-fen makes one too — it's a different design but looks just as silly. :) –  mattdm Dec 22 '11 at 0:22
    
@mattdm - heh heh, I'd forgotten about them. –  John Cavan Dec 22 '11 at 1:30

If I find myself in this situation, I use a Kleenex in a pinch. Just fold it over itself once, and lay it on top of the flash.

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I just throw in a piece of cloth/paper on it. Handkerchief, small envelope, wax paper all work fine. Just remember to set the flash exposure compensation to properly expose the image.

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E-TTL or the nikon equivelent should expose properly, that's the magic of the current flash systems. –  dpollitt Jan 2 '12 at 23:18
    
oh, I thought that if there was no preflash, then the camera would just guess the flash settings. –  Sridhar Iyer Jan 3 '12 at 19:27

I'll give you the same advice I've got when I asked about the pop up flash - don't spend any money on a popup flash diffuser, they are not very good and when you can get a new manual flash for $40 they are not worth the money (search for YN460 on eBay, there's also a TTL flash from the same company for under $70, I don't remember the model number).

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Bounce it off the ceiling. Hope you have a ceiling... I've used wax paper also, you don't loose too much light that way.

The Nikon D50 has a hotshoe, get an external flash that lets you bounce.

You can read about bounce flash here.

And cool, you can use mirrors!

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How would you bounce an onboard flash without also moving the lens and thus recomposing the shot? Are you suggesting a mirror? –  dpollitt Dec 22 '11 at 0:49
    
Ah, Sorry. My Speedlite bends in two directions. It flips up and spins around. Extremely useful. –  Paul Cezanne Dec 22 '11 at 0:51
    
On the other hand, I HAVE actually, in the past with a compact camera's pop up flash, used aluminum foil to bounce off the ceiling. Had to go to manual if I recall to get the exposure right. Lotta work... –  Paul Cezanne Dec 22 '11 at 0:51
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The question was asking about onboard flash, as in, no speedlite. So it would not spin around or allow bounce off of a ceiling. Also, you do not need to comment everytime you make an edit, the stack exchange website will keep track of all edits for us. –  dpollitt Dec 22 '11 at 0:57
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Random extremely pointless trivia: Panasonic DMC L1, one of the first Four-Thirds DSLRs, had a built-in flash which could tilt upwards to bounce. (A beautiful camera in everything except its horrible little viewfinder and, well, the price.) –  mattdm Dec 22 '11 at 1:26

Don't forget flash exposure compensation. If you dial down the flash a bit and there is a bit of ambient light, you'll get less harsh direct light from the flash.

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