Every once in awhile, I find a piece of equipment that I find to be very useful. Here are a few handy things I like, with links to buy them.
When first starting out in off-camera flash, you simply can’t beat the reliability and simplicity of the basic shoot-through umbrella setup. It packs small, is lightweight, and requires very little investment considering the quality of light it can provide. Here’s a three-piece setup that you can put together for around $60 (less the flash itself).
First, the stand. I’ve been using a set of Bogen pro stands for years, and I’ve assumed that they are probably the best thing for the money. I’ve tried a few newer budget-oriented ones, and have not been impressed. But I recently picked up this Fotodiox 8.5′ stand, and I am truly impressed. For less than half the cost of those Bogens (now Manfrotto), this is really a bargain. Here’s where to get it:
This s-mount bracket has also recently won me over. I was skeptical about it at first, but now I’m sold. Because of the design, you can use an umbrella with it, then any time you want to switch over to a softbox, the standard Bowens mount ring will accommodate, without the need to buy anything new. And it does a pretty good job of protecting your flash if something goes wrong.
You can’t go wrong with a trusty old shoot-through umbrella. By their nature, they are very forgiving when you need a quick & easy soft light source, they pack light, and they are so cheap, they are expendable if the wind takes them out.
When you want more control over your light, such as less spill, or you need something less vulnerable in wind, a softbox is a handy modifier to use. Over the past few years, a whole family of small, packable softboxes have ruled the market. This Neewer model is very affordable. It’s slightly bigger than some, at 32″x32″, which helps it provide slightly softer light than smaller modifiers. It doesn’t have the provision for a grid like some of the more expensive versions do, so that is something to consider before buying. This one includes the s-mount Bowens bracket, which is a real bonus, considering the bracket itself runs around $20 separately.
For something a little more robust and slightly smaller (24″x24″), this Cheetah Qbox is a good alternative, although the price is considerably more. There is extra Velcro in the front to attach a grid, which is included. It also includes a round mask, so you can create round catchlights instead of square ones. Unfortunately, this one does not come with an s-mount bracket.