Gary Fong Lighting Accessories
A range of accessories that make the output from a portable flash gun more flattering to subjects.Gary Fong is a former wedding photographer who developed a suite of highly successful lighting accessories, some of which have become ‘must have’ tools for wedding photographers. So successful was the LightSphere range of products that Fong went on to become an entrepreneur who has made multiple fortunes in business and real estate. . . [more]
Gary Fong is a former wedding photographer who developed a suite of highly successful lighting accessories, some of which have become ‘must have’ tools for wedding photographers. So successful was the LightSphere range of products that Fong went on to become an entrepreneur who has made multiple fortunes in business and real estate.
True to his entrepreneurial character, Gary Fong does a lot to promote his products. You can find video tutorials for most of them on his website at http://www.garyfongestore.com/, where you can also see the entire range of products he has developed.
At the end of January, local distributor, Garage Brands, provided Photo Review with five Gary Fong products to explore. Most of these products are designed for use with accessory flash guns; only the Puffer is designed to fit over a built-in flash. We’ll take a look at them in this review.
The LightSphere Collapsible comes in three parts. The main body is a 120 mm diameter double cylinder made from soft vinyl, which fits over the head of the flash unit. Sizing ribs inside the cylinder provide a tight fit for different sized flashes.
When you unpack it, the LightSphere Collapsible is folded down and less than 40 mm high, which makes it easy to pack in a camera bag. The outer layer folds out to produce a diffusion head 70 mm tall. Into this head you can fit one of a number of diffusion domes.
The main component of the LightSphere Collapsible, folded out for use. (Source: Gary Fong.)
A white translucent inverted dome (which is also sold separately) is provided in the box, along with an adapter ring, which is required when you use the ChromeDome (see below) with the diffuser.
The LightSphere Collapsible fitted on the flash gun of a DSLR camera. (Source: Gary Fong.)
You need strong fingers to use this product. Not only is it difficult to pull the diffuser out for use; it’s also a tight fit on the flash head. However, the dome slips quite easily into the upper lip of the diffuser and is just as easy to remove if you want to change its orientation.
Although the vinyl from which the diffuser is made feels quite soft, it’s not very resilient. Consequently, a fait bit of pushing and squeezing is required to get the dome into the correct position. (This is best done before the diffuser is fitted to the flash head.)
You don’t have to fit the dome; in fact, it’s not recommended when you are bouncing the flash light off the ceiling. However, if the ceiling is low and painted white, you may need to fit the dome to prevent shadows from appearing under the subject’s eyes. The dome can also be used in outdoor portrait shots when you want a softer fill-in light. The flash head is pointed towards the subject in these set-ups.
Packed in with the LightSphere Collapsible is a folded instruction card with diagrams showing how to set the diffuser up and illustrations showing suggested flash orientations and camera settings for a variety of subject types.
We tried out the LightSphere Collapsible on a Nissin Di622 Mark II flash unit, which is one of the flashes listed as being compatible. It’s big and relatively bulky – and also expensive – but it worked reasonably well.
The LightSphere Inverted Dome, which is supplied with the LightSphere Collapsible, sits into the LightSphere itself, instead of protruding forward as the translucent dome and AmberDome do. When used pointing upwards, its inner surface reflects the light outwards and back down into the bowl of the LightSphere, brightening it and further softening the light. Without the dome, in the vertical diffuser position, most of the light goes towards the ceiling.
The LightSphere Inverted Dome. (Source: Gary Fong.)
If you point the flash head forward with the Inverted Dome in place, it spreads and softens the flash light without significantly reducing its energy. It also provides a better lighting balance across subjects at different distances from the camera.
The LightSphere Dome Kit consists of three diffusers that fit into the LightSphere Collapsible and other LightSphere modules. Consisting of the AmberDome, PowerGrid and ChromeDome, it provides ways to modify the diffusion effects of the basic LightSpheres.
The LightSphere Dome Kit. (Source: Gary Fong.)
The PowerGrid is a circular matrix of 6.5 mm squares, mounted within an 115 mm diameter circle that is 26 mm deep. It’s made from hard black plastic.
This dome is used when on-camera flash is used with telephoto lenses for directing the light onto the subject. It can also be used with off-camera flashes to achieve similar results. By channelling the light into the centre of the field of view, it can help your flash to reach more distant subjects.
The AmberDome is used to produce a better colour balance under tungsten lighting of for outdoor shoots around sunset, when the lighting becomes warmer. The colour of the dome provides a better colour mix by warming the light from the flash to match the incandescent room lighting.
It can also be used to neutralise the cooling effect produced outdoors in open shade. Outside of these conditions, it can lend a warm glow to subjects without producing obvious colour shifts.
The ChromeDome maximises the flash power and is used when shooting large subjects, such as wedding groups and interiors. The reflective inner surface directs more light forward, providing more power for such situations. This can give you roughly one stop of additional lighting, which can be useful when ceilings are high.
The PowerSnoot is a chrome-plated plastic tube with a grid attachment that fits over the end to provide a highly directed light source. It replaces other LightSphere devices and is fitted with a combination of rubber band and Velcro strap (both supplied).
The PowerSnoot fitted to a Nissin flash gun. (Source: Gary Fong.)
The rubber band goes around the end of the flash head and the guide protrusions on the PowerSnoot slip under it. The Velcro strap is tightened around the joint to hold everything in place.
The PowerSnoot and grid together provide additional flash power when long telephoto lenses are used. (Source: Gary Fong.)
The highly-reflective inner surface of the snoot directs the light from the flash forward with minimal loss of power, while the grid channels it straight towards the subject. Together, they deliver a more powerful light than can be achieved with the PowerGrid alone. The end result is more dramatic lighting, regardless of whether the flash is used on-camera or as a component in a multi-flash set-up.
The Puffer is designed for diffusing the light from on-camera pop-up flash units and can be used with just about any entry- and mid-level DSLR camera. It consists of a curved diffuser panel that is approximately 110 mm long and 46 mm high plus a black plastic mounting bracket for attaching it to the camera.
The Puffer in place on a DSLR camera. (Source: Gary Fong.)
The mounting bracket slides onto the camera’s hot-shoe with its two arms pointing forward. On some cameras, it doesn’t slide all the way in and it can become stuck if you push too hard or loose and vulnerable to impact if you don’t push hard enough. Getting the balance right is tricky.
Once the bracket is in place, you pop-up the camera’s flash and attach the diffuser to the arms so its centre is directly opposite the centre of the flash head. This can be tricky as the arms are thin and made from brittle plastic and the holes are a tight fit. Fortunately, there are plenty of sockets along the inner edges of each side of the diffuser to provide flexibility for different flash heights, making the Puffer usable with a wide variety of DSLR models.
This diffuser softens and spreads the light from the flash, minimising the chance of red-eye and producing soft and flattering lighting. The diffusing effect can also reduce the intensity of any shadowing caused by lens hoods or the edges of wide-angle lenses. It also reduces the flash range by between 20% and 30%.
It doesn’t eliminate these shadows entirely, just makes them less obvious, as shown in the illustrations below. As with the other products, the diffusion effect depends on the balance between flash and ambient lighting – but is fairly subtle.
When ambient lighting is bright, it can be difficult to see much diffusion of the light. The image on the left was taken without the Puffer, while the one on the right had the Puffer in place.
When the flash is the main light source, the diffusion is more noticeable, although still relatively slight. The image on the left was taken without the Puffer, while the one on the right had the Puffer in place.
The Puffer also adds a little warming to skin tones, which can make portraits appear more attractive. Only one colour is available for the diffuser so far. However, you could easily modify the light colours by taping transparent coloured cellophane over the diffuser.
If you’re planning to invest in a Puffer, make sure the camera you want to use it on doesn’t disable the flash when anything apart from a flashgun is fitted to the hot-shoe. A few cameras do this so you should check the user manual and, if you think yours might be one of them, take it to a specialist retail outlet and try out the Puffer before parting with your cash. (This is one situation where buying from a store is the best strategy.)
Most of the products in the Gary Fong collection are made entirely from plastic and fairly solidly constructed. We have some reservations about the strength of the plastic tube in the PowerSnoot, which feels insubstantial for its price – and in comparison with the very solid black plastic grid that fits onto it. Similar reservations (outlined above) are held about the strength of the arms of the Puffer mounting bracket.
For what they do, we also feel these products are somewhat over-priced in the local market. Their overall finish – which is slightly rough – is also below-expectations for the prices being asked, particularly with respect to the domes and grids.
How well these devices perform depends on the location you’re working in and the nature of and distance to the subject. Ambient light levels also play a role – as do your expectations. You will get the best results in enclosed spaces where light levels are relatively low and there are light-reflecting walls and ceilings to bounce the flash off. Out of doors, a lot of the light will be dispersed away from the subject.
The balance between flash and ambient lighting will also influence the degree of diffusion. When the flash acts as a low-level fill-in light (i.e. in well-lit situations), the effects of the diffuser are very subtle and can be difficult to see.
After dark, when the flash provides the main light source, the value of the diffusers becomes apparent, as shown in the illustrations below. In the sample shots below, the image on the left was taken in bright ambient lighting while the one on the right was captured in low light levels where the flash was the main light source.
1. Taken with the LightSphere Collapsible without the Inverted Dome. In each case, the flash light was bounced off a white ceiling roughly 1.5 metres above the subject.
2. The same set-up but with the Inverted Dome fitted. (Note the slight loss of exposure.)
3. A straight flash shot with the LightSphere Collapsible and Inverted Dome pointing directly at the subject.
4. A straight flash shot with the LightSphere Collapsible and AmberDome.
5. A straight flash shot with the LightSphere Collapsible and PowerGrid.
6. A straight flash shot with the LightSphere Collapsible and PowerSnoot.
7. A bounced flash shot with the LightSphere Collapsible and PowerSnoot.
8. A bounced flash shot with the LightSphere Collapsible and ChromeDome.
Do You Need One?
Fitting any add-on diffuser will require you to set the power output of your flash unit a bit higher. This will deplete its batteries sooner than if you use the flash normally and cut the output back to 1/4 or 1/8 power to provide flash fill.
Before making the investment, also consider whether a separate diffuser will make a quantifiable difference to the shots you take. Most external flash guns come with pull-out diffusing and reflecting panels as well as rotating ‘bounce’ heads. In many situations you can achieve similar results to those for which Gary Fong has designed these diffusers without having to invest in additional equipment.
That said, if you’re a wedding photographer or a photographer who specialises in portraiture, it shouldn’t take long to recoup your investment in the LightSphere Collapsible. As well as saving you time and effort when setting up a shot, it will also ensure your subjects are photographed in the most flattering light available. The large diffuser atop your flash will also create the impression you’re serious about your work.
Buy these products if:
You do a lot of wedding and/or portrait photography.
LightSphere Collapsible (RRP: $99.99)
LightSphere Dome Kit (RRP: $139.99)
Inverted Dome (RRP $34.99)
PowerSnoot (RRP: $99.99)
Puffer Pop-up Flash Diffuser (RRP: 36.99)