“We need MORE POWER!!!”
I felt like Scotty on Star Trek. I needed to find a way to get more light!
While there are any number of other options available to me now, all I was working with were three speedlite units. Then, I saw something else in my bag, and it was MacGyver time!
For photographers who use off-camera speedlites, one problem that often comes up while using modifiers such as umbrellas is that speedlites and mounts commonly made for them are not designed to put the light on the same axis as the umbrella shaft. This leads to inefficient light usage since umbrellas (and most lighting modifiers) are designed to receive light directly at their center.
While looking around for products that would provide a solution to this issue, I found a few. Some were rather flimsy, like this one that uses rubber bands to secure the flash units (and runs about $30). Come on, does that look stable?
On the other end there products that ran $150 and seemed so bulky as to be impractical to use. Seriously, this device looks like it would be a pain in the ass to set up – not to mention it would probably need its own carrying case.
So, I set out to create my own ‘on axis’ speedlite bracket that would easily store in my lighting bag and not break the bank. After doing some research and finding another set up (that was ‘hand made’ and cost of $150 each), I had an idea what I would need. With the pieces I found, I was able to create two of these bracket set ups for about $50.
The equipment you will need:
If you already have a light stand and an umbrella, I assume you probably have an umbrella holder. So the only three items you need are below.
- Double L-shaped Bracket Holder Mount for Camera & Speedlite Flash – Set of 2 for $10
- Dual Photo Bracket Mount – $15
- Black Metal Cold Shoe Flash Adapter – $4 each
But if you do not have an umbrella adapter:
This system offers a great amount of flexibility, allowing you to quickly set up for one, two, three, or four speedlites. I even put together this handy video tutorial to help you see how they are put together.
Remember how I said at the beginning of the post that using a flash ‘off axis’ leads to inefficient lighting? Let’s take a look at a visual representation of that. Below are four different configurations of flashes, all shot with the same camera settings (f/2.8 – ISO 200 – 1/160th of a second).
Note how the first flash, just using the standard flash shoe attached to the umbrella holder points the speedlite at the top half of the umbrella. A lot of light is lost, especially when you are using a parabolic reflector like this one which is designed to amplify the light output. By using multiple flashes, you can increase the light output while keeping the recycling time low.
If you don’t have units with built in wireless receivers and have to use an external transceiver, the extra weight is not an issue. I used Cactus V6 wireless triggers in these photos, which are rather large (bigger than Pocket Wizard TT5s) to illustrate that this setup will work with most, if not all, wireless triggers.
Conceivably, you could use four flashes by adding another dual bracket. One of the nice things about this DIY bracket is that it allows you to use modifiers that are not specifically designed for use with flash guns / speedlites. For some reason, if a modifier is designed for the strobist, it seems to go up in price.
This way you can use items like the Photek Softlighter, Diffusing Umbrella or large beauty dishes with a speed ring. In fact, I found that I could use pretty much any speed ring modifier with a few minutes of figuring out how all the pieces should fit together.
Addendum: Yes, I am aware that brackets like the Glow Speedlite Bracket now exist. They weren’t around when I originally wrote this article. These items, however, are built for one flash. They’re great! I have three of them. However, when you need more than one light on a bracket, the options are very limited.
I hope you found this tutorial helpful. Is there a particular lighting issue you’re having trouble with? Is it possible there’s a build that could solve that problem? Let me know all about it in the comments.