Flashes, Strobes or Speed-Lites, whatever you choose to call them, are great fun, but they can be a bit of a handful.
These small instant light sources can bring a dynamic look to our images, and if we get the flash off camera the effect is multiplied.
Add more speed-lites, reflectors and backdrops and the possibilities are endless, but one thing that quickly becomes apparent is the way that these small strobes are great at putting light everywhere, especially where you don't want it to go.
The light reflects off the subject, fires out at all sorts of odd angles, bounces off walls and ceilings, causes flare and glare in your lens and lights up backgrounds you want hidden, and misses areas you want to highlight.
Part of the problem is that's its difficult to visualise the shape of the light that comes out of our flash, but luckily with a few simple experiments and a some household bits and pieces we can start to see the light and control it too.
Take a look at the above collage of some images shot of the spread of light from Yongnuo YN560 Mk. 1 flash as I alter the zoom setting in the head. Starting from the top left hand corner, going from left to right then top to bottom, we've got the diffuser head, 24mm, then through to a zoomed in 105mm.
As you can see, although the centre of the light area increases in intensity as you'd expect, there's plenty of stray light spilling out "filling" the rest of the scene. Ok for for most situations, but if you wanted to really sculpt the light we need more control.
Enter the snoot. A simple device that wraps round the flash head to give the light more focus. You can, of course, go out and buy a fancy one, but let's have a look at using some items that you'll have lying around the house right now.
Let's have a look at a simple snoot made of a piece of A4 paper wrapped around my flash:
Nice spot, but as you can see from both photographs there's still a lot of spill around the centre of the flash, and the glowing white snoot does quite well at lighting up the rest of the scene, which is just what we don't want.
Next up is a snoot made from silver foil, which shouldn't leak light from the body of the snoot itself:
This was a strange result, I expected the silver foil snoot to do much better, but as you can see it didn't focus the light all that well. I expect that thats because inside the snoot the light is bouncing around at all sorts of angles, and that when it bursts out of the end the light is even more wild than from just a plain flash head.
Now how about a snoot made from a piece of thick black paper:
Success! I had to use the pop-up flash on my camera to take the photo of the black-paper snoot because it was so good at controlling the light. As you can see from the spot it produces, the black-paper snoot is a great performer. Because it's black this snoot won't add an unsightly colour cast, and the density of the paper means that no light leaks out through the substance of the snoot itself.
I made the black-paper snoot from a pack that I got at our local craft store for a few pounds. The A4 piece of paper was wrapped around the flash head then taped in place. It's loose enough to slip on and off, and stores flat in my flash bag. Simple, and very, very cheap.