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I have a well reviewed diffuser called Rogue flash bender. I find that I get worse results using it than not using it at all.

I've tested this last night at home. I was at my living door with indoor lighting. It was extremely bright so I wanted to get some fill to my portrait. I used it and it turned out that there were

  • more hot spots on the face
  • more dramatic shadows, a bit like a flashlight shooting at him

I've tried different things, using it at different distances. 2-3 feet, 4-5 feet. Same. I've also tried setting the flash comp to -1, -2, -3. In the end, it either had no effect on the subject or a bad effect. There's never a good effect.

What am I doing wrong? I've also made sure to use color corrected gel. I'm also using the diffusion panel that attaches to the bender which is supposed to help.

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Distance is your main problem, both for the shadows that are being introduced, and for the hot spots.

The Flashbender is doing what it's supposed to do. It makes the light source bigger (not actually big big, but much bigger than the bare speedlight lens) and moves it further away from the camera. As a primary light source, that's enough of an improvement over a naked, straight-ahead camera-mounted flash to be worthwhile when a more suitable bounce can't be achieved (walls or ceilings are too far away or likely to cast bad colours).

As fill, though, it represents a problem. It shares that with every modifier based on "bounce cards" (such as the Lumiquest Big Bounce). Because the source is far away from the lens (typically the bottom of the source will be 12"/30cm from the centre of the lens, and the hot centre of the light source will be several inches/centimetres further away still) you can't actually fill shadows at close distances. The angle is too great. These units are designed to create shadows and shape on your subject, something that direct on-camera flash doesn't ordinarily do.

If your camera has a little beady-eyed pop-up flash, that would be a much better fill source, even as hard as it is, simply because it is so much closer to the axis of the lens. The pop-up may be a horrendous primary light source, but it ain't a half-bad fill at all, especially if it's turned down a stop or two (depending on the camera and the desired result). You can improve that with a diffuser that makes the flash a little bigger (and thus a little softer) without moving it further from the lens. (The Gary Fong Puffer and the Lumiquest Soft Screen are commercial examples of the breed.)

A hot shoe flash firing through a "large" softbox (and let's not kid ourselves, on-camera softboxes aren't actually large) will provide even better results. The bottom of the box usually extends down quite a ways, bringing it closer to the lens, and the size of the softbox is enough to soften the light considerably. (Note: large on-camera softboxes will interfere with the AF-assist beam and the Auto sensor on the flash if they're big enough to bother with. TTL or manual mode will deal with the sensor problem, but you may need the AF assist if you're in a dark environment.) You won't mistake it for a 100cm studio softbox, but it should minimise lines and wrinkles when compared to undiffused flash.

Finally, don't forget that when your subject is very close to a not-very-big light source, the inverse-square law will bite you if you're not friends with it. With something like the Flashbender used from, say, 3 feet away, it's likely that your subjects' faces are receiving about a stop more light than their shoulders. If you're metering the cheek, the nose will be a little hot (that has more to do with the angle of the nose than its prominence) and the forehead will be a lot hot (it is both closer to the flash and likely angled higher than the part of the cheek you're metering from), while the chin, neck and shoulders will be darker than you'd like. That's just how fall-off works, and if you're aware of it you can put that kind of fall-off to good use. (It's not generally a useful thing for fill, though.) Again, bringing the light source closer to the lens will minimize the difference in light-to-subject distance across the subject, and making the light source as big as possible will make the fall-off more linear.

  • So if I understand you correctly, these kind of products are only great as primary source light. Not so great for fill. And what exactly would be a situation where it would be the primary? Like out in the night and you are light someone up for a portrait? It's just so limiting as a product. I would think the most common cases for flash is when I'm in door with dim lighting and I want to light some subjects up. – erotsppa Jan 27 '14 at 16:48
  • @erotsppa - "normally" indoors the light in insufficient, so you're not trying to fill shadows, you're trying to light the subject. At that point, the existing lighting can be treated as "practicals" (lights that would look good if you include them in the picture, but that you're not actually using to light things) and maybe as fill. That leaves hard, direct flash (not great), bounced flash (great if there's a neutral bounce surface; not great if the walls are black or dark grey; really bad if they're brightly coloured) or move the flash away from the lens and make it bigger. (cont'd...) – user2719 Jan 27 '14 at 17:50
  • There are a lot of ways to do "off-camera modified flash", but most of them involve having the flash off of the camera. That's great if you don't have to move around (you can use a stand), or if you have an assistant, or if you have three or more hands (or are good at one-handing a DSLR with a large zoom lens). Everyone else will probably find it easier to do "off-camera" flash with the flash on the camera, and that's what these modifiers are for. And if you think about them as main lights, you can make them work very well -- but you do need to think about the light, always. – user2719 Jan 27 '14 at 17:55
  • But again the products are just not doing what I would expect it to be. Using the same example, we're in a living room with indoor lighting. I want to light my subjects a bit more at a dinner party. What should I do? Take the fleshbender+flash off camera and then shoot perpendicular to the face? Leave it on the camera? I've tried all the different configuration, none of them give me a good result. – erotsppa Jan 27 '14 at 21:34
  • It's the "what you expect" part that's the problem, @erotsppa. It doesn't jibe with what the modifier provides. Take some time, when it really doesn't matter, to learn what the Flashbender does in all its various configurations ("tight", "loose", with and without the diffuser cloth, as a snoot, etc.), then you'll know when and how to use it going forward. But indoors in a small room, you're almost always better off with bounce (wall bounce preferred; ceiling a distant second unless you also like shooting in midday sun). – user2719 Jan 27 '14 at 22:43
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Typically when the flash is pointed straight up you want it to bounce off the ceiling and the light to rain down evenly on your subject and background. This will require more flash power to properly expose your subject then just pointing the flash straight at the subject.

Since the camera has no way to know that you applied an attachment that is bending the light forwards instead of up. If you are using automatic settings, the camera is probably thinking you want to bounce off the ceiling and is increasing flash power.

I'm guessing that the flash is too bright and your picture is exposed with 100% flash, no ambient light, and is overexposed as well.

First thing to do is check the attachment manufactures website, they may have details on what settings to use for your specific flash.

If not, no worries... Think about what you are trying to do: Create a properly exposed image with a little fill on the subject to make it pop more.

Set the flash to manual and start with 1/4 power; stand eight feet from your subject and make the photograph. The distance of the light to subject matters! due to something called light falloff. The closer you get the more of an issue this will become if your subject moves. I recommend 8 feet as a minimum because if the subject moves a little bit it will not make much difference.

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Up front, I haven't used a Rogue flash bender (though I've looked at them several times, they look interesting). Different lighting tools have different uses and work best for different scenarios. In the case of the flash bender, I can definitely see how the flashlight effect could be created: if the flag is a little bit concave it's going to focus the light from the flash to create that effect.

Restating: I can't say if you're using it "wrong" or if it may serve a different purpose better, but experimentation is always important and in the end you may find that one modifier works well for one purpose and another for a different purpose.

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