Remember that first flash diffuser you made when you were a kid? You carved it out of an opaque white plastic milk jug, strapped it onto your speedlight, and off you went to photograph your friends. So D.I.Y. So punk rock.
Well, imagine if you used an entire one-gallon milk jug to make your diffuser and somehow figured out a way to install a series of mirrors inside to bounce the light around and soften it up. Oh, and let’s say you also came up with a Velcro strap system that would allow you to easily secure this contraption over all your speedlights.
If you were so ingenious, you might have invented something that resembles the Graslon Prodigy Dome Diffuser, a massive, light-dispersing device designed to decrease harsh brightness and soften shadows when shooting with a flash. The Prodigy Dome Diffuser is one of a series of diffusers from Graslon but it just might be the company’s most impressive product yet.
Strap it onto your flash and it will completely cover the front end (and then some), so it looks like you have an amorphous cloud floating over your lens when you shoot. Fellow paparazzi on the red carpet will be jealous; your old film school friends will be impressed; regular folk may think you’re a bit nuts.
But does it accomplish that long sought after goal of making your on-camera flash more forgiving? Read on, dear reader!
IN A FLASH
The Graslon system is based around a 3-inch x 5-inch x 8-inch rectangular box that locks onto the head of your flashgun with a series of thumbnuts and a Velcro cinch strap. I had no trouble getting it onto the front of a Nikon Speedlight SB-700 I was testing.
Once it’s on, the diffuser system fits snug but it’s not hard to remove it quickly if needed. Inside the box is Graslon’s patent-pending tray of reflective plastic with a smaller rectangle of shiny plastic that sits directly in front of the light source. The smaller rectangle is slightly curved and bounces the light back to the larger surrounding shiny surface when the flash is triggered. Meanwhile, oblong holes in the small rectangle let some of the light seep out and pass indirectly through the diffuser.
In case you haven’t gotten the concept, it’s almost like putting a small reflective umbrella inside the diffuser to cause the light to bounce around before it exits the device.
Though traditional diffusers help soften the light by scattering it through opaque plastic, they still fire directly at your subject which can produce harsh shadows. Photographers have gotten around this by turning their flash heads up and bouncing the light off a ceiling or a wall. But what if you’re outdoors where there’s nothing to bounce off or in a giant hall with 30-foot ceilings? Graslon Flash Diffusers to the rescue!
DOES IT WORK?
Graslon offers several types of diffusers to snap onto the front of its reflective box system including flat opaque fronts and amber-tinted diffusers. There are also two general sizes, the smaller Insight series of products and the jumbo Prodigy line. As studio photographers know, bigger light sources are more effective for creating an even, attractive look so naturally I was drawn to the whopping Prodigy Dome Diffuser. Though it’s a relatively inexpensive product ($99.95), the Prodigy Dome Diffuser has a sturdy build with a professional look. (You will likely get some double takes just because of the size of the thing but you will at least look like you know what you’re doing.)
What’s ironic is that the large size of the diffuser actually weakens the output since the light bounces inside the large rectangle box before it exits. This is good in that it reduces the harshness of your flash but might, at first, seem anticlimactic. Look at your images closely and you’ll see the upside: the man or woman you were shooting looks naturally lit, with even skin tones and a soft falloff of shadows to the sides. Take off the diffuser and try it again and you’ll get that ugly, nuked out look that only Terry Richardson can seem to get away with.
If you want your images brighter, increase exposure by a stop or two and the camera will help fill in the blanks. If you want to take your flash off the camera and position with the Prodigy Dome Diffuser on the side of your subject for a more indirect look, Graslon will sell you a flash stand for $15. Not a bad investment, actually
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overall, I was pretty happy with these U.S.-made flash diffuser products from Graslon. Small strobe photography is so popular these days, there’s a veritable cottage industry of companies making light shaping and diffusing products for on-camera flash. I had thought I had seen them all but was surprised and impressed with Graslon’s jumbo Prodigy Dome Diffuser system, which is like having a miniature reflective umbrella built right into your flash head.
Graslon Prodigy Dome Diffuser
Pros: Ingenious diffuser system that bounces and balances the light from your camera’s flashgun; sturdy, professional build; decent price.
Cons: Big size of diffuser system makes it look a little intimidating; results might seem underwhelming at first.