Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Clamp Is A Clamp

A while back, I wrote about The Black Plastic Thingie, a piece of sheet Delrin that I made specifically for mounting a speedlight close to the axis of a shoot-through umbrella. To be specific, I wanted to align the speedlight with the sock-like sleeve at the center of a Photek Softlighter II.  The BPT is simply a platform that holds the head of a speedlight using a ball bungee. It is low tech but adequate, so long as the speedlight doesn't shake loose.

I was testing out my Softlighter in preparation for a head shot I planned on doing this week. While rummaging through an assortment of umbrella/flash brackets, I selected an Impact Umbrella Bracket. Now several of my brackets have two mounting holes for the cold shoe brass stud adapters: One on top, and one on the side. The Impact unit was unique in because the secondary mounting hole allowed me to align the body of my speedlight parallel to the umbrella's shaft. It was a simple matter to remove the mounting stud from the top hole (left below) and insert it into the alternate one (right below). This put the cold shoe very close to the umbrella shaft allowing a speedlight with its the head in the "up" position to slip into the sock-like tunnel in the center of the diffuser panel. As you can see, this alternate mounting brings the speedlight very close to the umbrella shaft. For inquiring minds who want to know, that's a Nikon A10 shoe mounted on a threaded stud.

There were problems. You may have to rotate the speedlight to get adequate clearance. In the case of the SB-800, the control panel wound up nearly touching the umbrella shaft and the sensor eye wound up pointed in an odd direction. In small indoor sets there should be enough reflective surfaces to allow the sensor eye to "see" the command pulses. Outdoors, you may need to resort to a radio trigger, a better choice due to the "iffy" nature of Nikon's CLS when used in the great outdoors. The other issue is the slight inclination of the umbrella shaft. In the photos, you see the shaft's downward inclination increases the distance of the flash tube from the "center" of the umbrella. But since the Softlighter "chokes up" with a very short shaft, I'm betting the displacement will have little or no effect. And since I plan on using this arrangement at very short distances, I can "feather" the light slightly to bring the hotter regions of the round diffuser panel higher up on the subject. And if I leave the diffusion dome on the flash head, the point may well become moot.

If you already own a Softlighter II, you know about the removable section of the umbrella shaft. Because the sideways mounting of the speedlight brings the flash head closer to the inner umbrella surface, you'll probably need to leave the extension in place to maintain optimal head position.

While my photos of the bracket aren't "arty", I think you will get the idea. What is most important to me is that I now have a more practical way to use the Softlighter in the field. The Impact Umbrella Bracket can be used with the Softlighter or with my favorite Zumbrella. In addition, the Softlighter has a removable "skin" that can turn the reflected umbrella into a shoot-through, giving me two distinct characters of light without any additional gear to pack.

Let's see how this works in the field. Stay tuned.