Portable light modifiers and small strobes will let you make great photographs even when there is not much ambient light. Discover what you can use to make your own portable sun.
For small subjects like flowers, small lights are great: easy to take with you and adaptable.
Some readers got curious about the light modifiers used with the MYN field studio light table article published on Phototuts+ Premium. The answer is simple: the flash under the table uses a big Rogue FlashBender reflector equipped with a diffuser. And the light on top is an adaptation that I’ve been using in ways it was not intented to be used: it is a Rogue Grid that lets you control with precision the direction and angle of light, and that has become my softbox for small animals, flowers and objects.
The natural light for these mushrooms and log did not provide enough depth of field or speed.
I’ve been using these diffusers since their launch and I always have at least one of them in my bag, more in my backpack. In fact, my base kit is comprised of the bigger Rogue FlashBender reflector and the Rogue Grid. The reflector kit has three sizes and I also use the medium size a lot, while the smaller is sometimes used to block light (it has a black cover to fit over the reflector).
One Light is Great
Placing a flash with diffuser from one side gave better conditions, with more colour, depth of field and contrast.
My typical setup is one flash, a Canon Speedlite 580 EX II. I’ll pair that with a reflector, with or without diffuser. If I need two lights and I am doing close up work, at home or in the field, I’ll use the RogueGrid as a spot light, placing a frost diffuser filter from the kit distributed with the grid. It works like a snoot that lets me define a specific area.
The second setup used a second reflector on the other side of the log, to soften the contrast.
Let’s look at practical examples of the use of these light modifiers. I’ll start with a classic outdoor situation: mushrooms around a tree log. The first image (above) shows how flat the light was, although the setting is interesting. It was taken late afternoon and the available light was not letting me use a good exposure to get enough depth of field, color and volume.
I wanted to create the idea of early morning Autumn light on the tree trunk, so I just placed the flash with the medium size reflector on a small tripod where I wanted to get the light I was looking for. As usual I control my flashes in manual, and because sometimes I hide flashes in places where IR does not have “line of sight,” I use either Phottix Atlas or Odin radio triggers.
From Morning to Sunset
Another example of lighting for the same situation. If you have the tools, nothing stops you from exploring new ways.
Once the setup was working, I could do lots of things with it. Just moving the light around I could get very different photos of the mushrooms and log, as if I had been in place from early morning to late sunset. That’s the beauty of working this way: you are not bound to the light that exists, it’s like having your own portable sun.
But because I wanted to explore something else, I decided to get the bigger reflector on the opposite side of the log, to reflect the light from the flash already in place. These reflectors, built around metallic rods, can be shaped in various positions from absolutely flat to a snoot like appearance, so you can not only control the light but also find ways to make them stand up without any sort of support. Doing that I created a surface to reflect the light from the flash, and bounce it back to the log.
The setup for the MYN light table is based on two flash units, diffusers and a Rogue Grid.
The area of the composition that was dark and contrasty became full of light too, offering something completely different from what was my starting point. I would say I like the contrasty image better, but both pictures are important to show what can be done with just one flash and some reflectors, while travelling light, something that is always important for nature photographers.
Two Lights Now
The winged ant is a good example of the kind of light you get using the MYN field light table.
The second example here is centered on the MYN table mentioned above. The picture of the winged ant is a perfect example of the type of light you can get with the Meet Your Neighbours studio field table. You place the bigger flash under the acrylic surface, with diffuser, to soften the light, and illuminate the insect with the grid.
I’ve been using other reflectors all my life, from different brands, buying a different ones for different things. Now I travel light with this kit. I still use other light modifiers when I need them, but found that I’ll mostly start with these and carry them with me everywhere. With one or two reflectors/diffusers and a flash – and probably a radio trigger system that never fails you – you’ll have sunlight always available. Coming from whatever direction you wish.
Besides ExpoImaging solutions, there are some other websites and brands you might want to check for solutions in light modifiers: