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don’t fear the flash

Remember how I was testing out some flash solutions while in San Jose? I was too lazy to lug my tripod or external flash(es) and diffuser(s) with me because I was instructed by Dr. McHottie to take it easy on how much weight I lifted until 6 weeks after my surgery (which is tomorrow – and you can just bet I’m hopping on the rowing machine first thing). While I was hanging out in Grandma’s little apartment, I toyed with a few ideas. I wound up taking most of the indoor photos with my pop-up flash on the D200. Because I really don’t like the hard shadows from the little flash, I used a tupperware I had on hand to help diffuse the flash. After messing around with all manner of tupperware, yogurt cups, etc. that Grandma had, I decided to drop $20 on Gary Fong’s Puffer.

a pop-up flash diffuser

The issue wasn’t so much finding the right material as finding the mount to hold it away from the flash so I wouldn’t have to shoot with one hand holding the rather heavy D200 and one hand holding a tupperware a small distance in front of the flash. I got it in the mail today. The mount goes in the hot shoe bay and the whole thing can be taken apart and stowed easily enough. It’s a nice option for snappies when I don’t feel like carrying all of my photo gear. I think it does alright based on my quick and dirty trial with my second favorite model (first favorite is Special K).

with the puffer diffuser (left) and without (right)

I am always bemused when bloggers tell other bloggers to never use their flash, that natural light is the only way to go. Food blogging would drop off substantially in winter months if we all followed that crappy bit of advice. Flash is your friend if you understand how it works and what you can do to make it work for you. I’m just tossing out some solutions for folks who don’t want to spend a small (or large) fortune on additional photo equipment just to take pictures for a blog.

1) Do It Yourself: a little step by step tutorial on how you can make your own on the cheap.

2) Gary Fong’s Puffer for $20: the puffer is more durable, has extra diffusive components, is adjustable, and sits out a distance from the flash (right on the flash isn’t so useful).

3) And for all of you point-n-shoot folks (whom I must applaud for not running out to buy a dSLR just for the sake of blogging): you might be interested in the delta which is a diffuser for point-n-shoot cameras – $15.

Well, that’s my bit of show and tell for those of you in the northern hemisphere who bemoan the approach of winter (as you know, I cannot wait for winter to begin) and are afraid to use your camera’s internal flash. Fear not!

22 nibbles at “don’t fear the flash”

  1. Kitt says:

    Wow, interesting! So the diffuser for the point and shoot doesn’t interfere with the movement of the autofocus? I may have to get me one of those.

    I don’t fear flash, per se, it’s just that the glare is so godawful from the built-in one and I am not about to start lugging around a separate rig. I’d rather adjust the white balance and do a long exposure in a dim restaurant (and push it more in iPhoto) than have food and people that look like mug shots in some sordid exposé.

  2. Mrs Ergül says:

    Thank you for sharing this useful piece of information with us Jen! Since I’m using a point-and-shoot now, the $15 delta seems like a great idea! Thanks babe!

  3. Rosa says:

    Interesting! Thanks for the valuable info!

    Cheers and have a great weekend,


  4. mimi says:

    i use either a lowel light or a bounce flash and although i’m still learning how to use both of them, it’s the only way to make it work for me. yeah, natural light would be perfect but all those proponents forgot something … i work in a cubicle during the day 5 days a week (well not exactly, 2 days a week in school but you get the drift). so if i was a slave to that philosophy, i’d either be blogging only on the weekends, or not at all. and that’s how it always comes across from those proponents, like if i am not using natural light then by golly i have no business taking photographs! the fact of the matter is cooking/baking gets done at usually 10pm. so thanks for acknowledging the other half of the blogging world!

  5. Lan says:

    i have to say that your photography advice always makes sense to me. one of your older posts on this subject did mention how just because one owns a fancy schmancy dslr doesn’t make one a professional photographer; that it doesn’t necessarily make your pictures automatically better. that made such sense to me, because trust me, when i started my blog, i wanted so badly to run out and buy an expensive camera. what folly that would’ve been! i needed to learn how to use my point/shoot first, i needed to READ the manual, play around with lighting, composition, color, cropping, editting etc. i also felt like i needed to EARN the right to own such equipment (and really, save for it). granted i’ve been frustrated to no end over the limitations of my point/shoot and alot of my shots are very, very, very awful but i’m still learning.

    and i bemoan the winter due to my fear of the cold, i’ve yet to really take pictures in the winter light. :)

  6. Maggie says:

    Thank you so much for this—I was despairing that there was NOTHING I could do to improve my photos that would cost less than a thousand dollars…

  7. Margie says:

    Thanks for this info, Jen. I checked, and unfortunately there is not an item that will work with my TZ3, but I’m determined to play around with stuff and see what I can come up with that might help. (I learned about a make-shift blackboard last week :)) I bought my camera a little over a year ago and I’m still learning. I love that it offers a versatility, but eventually I can see myself with an SLR.

    much thanks for this

  8. ThistleDew Farm says:

    Thanks for the advice I am a flashophob! I don’t do enough to work on the mechanics of good photos so this will help!

  9. Louise says:

    Thanks for the tips. I love food photography and I’m always amazed at how you use the flash to make your pictures work.

  10. Manisha says:

    *sob* Sony is not on the list for the puffer – and I doubt it it included in the list of “many more” – and my little TZ5 is not on the list for the Delta. I will try the film canister and also make my own lightbox (ha! ha! hopefully in this lifetime). I am sure I can make a contraption from foam based on the one on Photojojo and adapt that for my Panasonic.

  11. Lisa says:

    I’ve been eyeing a lot of the Gary Fong stuff actually… I currently use the SB-400 and it’s great as a light-weight external flash, but CAN’T BOUNCE RIGHT ON THE VERTICAL which really irritates me (more than I thought it would when I bought it.) I also find that it’s not QUITE as powerful as I’d like. So I think I’ll soon be investing in the SB-600 and also thinking about Gary Fong’s Lightspere. I take a lot of pictures of people (weddings, events etc.) Do you own one? Do you like it?

    Anyway – more props to you for continuing to update daily! And thanks for the puppy comment on my site. We sure heart her too. :) If you’re ever back in the Bay Area with your special K – would LOVE to meet up for a puppy playdate! Hell and some good eats too!

  12. gwendolyn says:

    Aha! Thank goodness for this post as I was just lamenting the lack of sunlight in my apartment now that winter is approaching. (All my windows face south, so natural light is good in the early- to mid-afternoons, but when the sun is gone, it is *gone*, which makes food photography tricky.)

    Checking out the puffer now….

  13. Susy says:

    Thanks, I’m still using my little point & shoot. I refuse to spends that kind of funds and my little one I carry in my pocket or purse everywhere I go.

    I’ll look into that flash though, I need it for my indoor food shots.

  14. Laura says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. With the summer, my photography had improved, and now that I am losing my light I am having problems again. I just emailed them to see if it would work with my P&S.

  15. Nate says:

    If you can’t have natural lighting, then hope that your lighting is as good as possible given the circumstances.

    Show us how the Puffer does on closeups of food.

  16. Tartelette says:

    Or…you can also move to SC for a few months….I know a really nice home-bakery there :)

  17. Kathy says:

    I love taking photos, always have and always will. The past few years, I’ve been aching to purchase a camera that could take me way past the point and shoot camera.

    Finally, last winter, I researched different SLR cameras … I chose the Canon Rebel XTi … because I don’t have a plethora of money sitting around, I had to save up for it (which sometimes can make the purchase all the more sweet).

    I’ve learned on my own how to take beautiful photos by experimenting and playing with my camera … but night photos can be a bit of an issue and alternate light is needed. My husband is a lighting designer by trade, but that only helped me so far … I needed something else. I started looking into speedlites, but the cost has kept me away. After reading this post and looking into the puffer, I purchased one. I cannot wait to get it in the mail!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  18. Beatrice says:

    This is really useful advice, thank you. Now I just need to locate an old film canister, so I can make my own diffuser…

  19. jenyu says:

    Kitt – yeah, those little flashes make for some hard shadows. Not just that, but the little popup flash on my dSLR always throws the lens shadow when shooting telephoto close up.

    Mrs E – you’re welcome!

    Rosa – de nada ;)

    Mimi – exactly. I think it’s all about flexibility.

    Lan – i’m sure your shots are improving though, because you are working at it. practice is really important.

    Maggie – i know what you mean. people make you think that, but it’s so not true. there are a lot of solutions that are nearly free like the diy stuff.

    Margie – try emailing them to see if it works or not.

    ThistleDew Farm – yeah, I didn’t like using flash either (still don’t – it’s more work!) but people shouldn’t be afraid.

    Louise – I use flash on occasion (more and more with winter). I’m still learning too :)

    Manisha – I’m sure a makeshift will work. Perhaps when my crazy schedule calms down, we can meet up for lunch or something and I can look at your camera and try to engineer a fix?

    Lisa – well, here’s a bit of advice. If you want a better flash, the 800 is not only better, but it can command the 400 as a slave (I think – double check that). I wonder if your camera will also command the two externals? My D200 does, but not sure what model you have. Anyway, consider the 800 in that regard. I do have the lightsphere. In fact, I have two of them (the photojournalist and the cloud). I like the cloud better – more flattering on the subjects. It’s great, but then every twerp you run into at a wedding or event asks why you have a tupperware on your camera… ;) Thanks for the offer. Special K doesn’t fly anymore (although she’s so good in cargo and the dudes who load her always play with her). It’s just easier and less stressful if we send her to Camp Crazy when we travel. Let me know if you’re ever in the Boulder area!

    Gwendolyn – good luck, I hope it works.

    Susy – yeah, I hope you find something that helps.

    Laura – fingers crossed!

    Nate – um, I barely have time to reply to comments right now. Things are very busy here at the moment. Maybe next week I’ll try a test shoot.

    Tartelette – I may have to come see you some time!

    Kathy – I’ve found that while the puffer helps, it isn’t perfect. But in good circumstances, it can really beat out the plain old flash. Best of luck.

    Beatrice – yeah, all of mine are black!

  20. joanne at frutto della passione says:

    Thank you for that! I have been taking all the advice from other bloggers that I can possibly get but everyone else seems to have much more expensive equipment than I do. I am still using a point and shoot because a better camera is not the highest item on my priority list yet. Someday I will get something better, but right now there are more important purchases to be made. That’s why this advice has been the most useful so far. Thanks again!

  21. bee says:

    i use the flash sometimes. i’ve found a transluscent cup that fits perfectly and snugly on it. i don’t get the “never use flash” advice either.

  22. jenyu says:

    Joanne – sure thing! Play around and see what works before you plunk down a fortune :)

    Bee – I would have been happy with a frosted tupperware except I want something compact and durable (and discreet) to carry around when I’m too lazy to bring the flash. But yes – anything will do!

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