Speedlight Accessories from Viewfinder Photography
When I first received the box from Viewfinder Photography containing the accessories, I was somewhat dubious, as it promised something that was apparently too good to be true. A chance to abandon heavy studio flash on location and truly exploit the Nikon Creative Flash System that I use with my D3s (although, of course, these accessories are available for Canon and could well fit speed lights from other manufacturers) but when I examined the contents of the box, I realised that what was in there was well constructed, value for money and, above all, well thought out as a kit of parts to really extend the versatility of a flash system.
So what do you get in the box? First of all, a large dish reflector with an internal deflector, which is positioned in front of the flash tube to throw the light back into the reflector. This gives you the opportunity to change the deflector materials and change the intrinsic colour of the light, perhaps using something warmer, if that is your desire. Also, for this dish, you get a series of coloured filters, which can be clipped onto the dish, enabling you to perhaps use the light off camera to colour a white background. There is also an extra diffuser, which softens the light even further. To add to this versatility, a set of varying honeycombs allow you to further modify the light angle. A remarkably useful piece of kit, just on its own.
Next out of the box, was a snoot, about 6 to 8 inches long. This too, came with 2 honeycombs and attached to the Speedlight, like all the other Speedlight accessories, with a 4 bladed slipover shape which is then tightened with a velcro strap and buckle, which is fairly secure.
Lastly, there is a large, again about 8 inch, elongated, white plastic Lumisphere, which when mounted on the flash, gives an all round, even light in very much the way a "Chinese Lantern" would on a studio flash. This is an interesting package, which promised to produce some varied results when tested.
I make it a policy not to review equipment in isolation from the real world. The only way to test equipment is on a real shoot or assignment, as this is the only way professional readers will truly know that this is a piece of kit that will work for them, so I used this equipment to shoot 2 of the finalists in the Miss Top Model 2008 Competition, Heather Oag and Holli Dillon and I would like to thank them and Impact Model Management for their help with this.
First up, I tried the Dish with a silver deflector. This was a grey cold day by the banks of the Thames in Chiswick, where we really had to try and get something despite the biting windchill. Straight flash was too harsh and using the SB 800's own diffusers was not giving me the light I wanted, so I opted to set the Dish on the flashgun and used the silver deflector as I did not wish to warm things up too much and have them sit out of place in the overall light, reasoning that I could adjust in Photoshop should I decide I needed to. At the outset, the Dish gave an amazing light. I was using it in conjunction with my D3s and the Nikon 24-70 mm f2.8. The first thing I noticed was what a gloriously big soft light this accessory produced, but yet not so soft as to become almost soft focus. It was very reminiscent of a beauty Dish although smaller and I felt it could easily be used in that roll if mounted off camera. You can see from the image Dish 2 of Holly on the tow path, that in the balanced fill in mode, it has enabled her to be lifted from the drab background and has given great control. Shooting at f5.6, with a shutter speed of 1/250th at 100ISO, I was able to combine the flash and ambient light to produce exactly the result I wanted. As the light was so soft and shadowless, I decided to shoot some more of the girls by a textured brick wall I had spotted on the way to the tow path. You can see from the images Dish 1 and Dish 2 that even thought the girls are hard against the wall and the flash was used on camera, no harsh shadow line has been produced round them. This is almost as good as a ring flash in terms of shadow elimination yet it has produced a warm soft, dare I say it, almost friendly, light. A remarkable piece of kit of great use.
The Lumisphere, I used off camera, and again this was wonderfully useful and in much the same way as a Chinese Lantern would it gave me an even spread of light over a large area. Shooting the 2 girls together, my assistant was able to position the flash in such a way that it highlighted the models and again, drew them out of the surround, producing exactly the effect I required in the shoot. See images Lumisphere 1 and 2.
Snoots. You either love them or hate them. There has seldom been a more versatile and useful piece of kit to have in the studio, traditionally being used to isolate for a hair light in multi flash situation and using something like the Nikon Creative Flash System, that would be more than possible. However that wasn't what i required in this instance. In this case, I wanted to produce the effect of isolating the subject, enabling me to darken the background while highlighting the face and as what I wanted was almost a painterly water colour effect in the background. Carefully positioning the Snoot on camera enabled me to do just that as it did exactly what a Snoot does best and choked the light into a smaller circle. One of the things all these products enabled, was a very good, natural key light in the eyes (nothing annoys me more than to see multiple light reflections all over the place in a subject's eyes).
I was expecting one or other of these products to perform better than the others and perhaps to like one and dislike the others. This has not proven to be the case. I find the range of versatility they provide to be exceedingly good and each one has its own individual characteristics enabling me, and any other photographer worth his salt, with a bit of practise, to lift a photo session out of the ordinary and make it something special, without having to recourse to taking full studio kit on location, which is not to say I will never do that again, but it will limit the number of times I am forced to do that by creative considerations (which has got to be good for the back!). All in all, this is a tremendously useful kit and something I think that any professional or serious enthusiast would find useful at some point. I know that these accessories will be a permanent part of my toolkit from now on. I would highly recommend them.
Paul Stewart is an award winning press photographer who has been published by all the national daily and Sunday papers in the UK and many round the world, his work has been published in 192 countries.. He has also edited and picture edited a number of titles including the Daily Express, Daily Star Sunday and Hotshoe International. While continuing to do this he is the CEO of the acclaimed press agency Pictures On The Page www.potp.co.uk