When all else fails…

….then you use the Gary Fong Lightsphere. As I am doing here, in a recent wedding (the shot, in the church, is by my assistant that day, Merav):

You see, normally when using flash I want to direct the light – tell it where to go. I don’t want to just bathe the room in photons – and yet that is all I can do here with a Lightsphere.

But sometimes it is the only choice: namely, when there is no single good bounce surface, sending light everywhere can be better, and usually is better, than direct flash. You may need to increase your ISO to allow for losses, and watch for light going forward directly (I cover the front sometimes).

So while the Lightsphere is the antithesis of creative light, it is sometimes the only thing that will get you good photos. That’s why I carry one in my bag. I don;t use it much, but when I need it, I need it!



As I recently said here, you need to do what you need to do with whatever tools do it. And sometimes those are not the ideal tools.

And once again, let me say that the tool of last resort for me is the Gary Fong Lightsphere. I can be seen here using it at a recent shoot:

That is needed in an environment where it is hard to bounce. So then I get acceptable pictures by all acounts: not art but not bad either:

As you see. a shadow, but not a hideous one. This is light I can live with, and you will see me using this kind of light in events regularly – but only until I can find a place to bounce.


Flash method

Let me reiterate a simple flash method for camera-aware (i.e. “grip-and-grin”) people pictures at events (like receptions, parties, etc).

  1. Set your camera to “manual”.
  2. Attach your flash.
  3. Bounce your flash off the ceiling or wall just behind you if you can. If you cannot do this, use a reflector (like a Honl reflector) or worst case a Fong sphere. Think about where you bounce in terms of returned light direction.
  4. Use a wider angle lens (say 35mm). I love my 35mm prime on the 1Ds for this type of photo.
  5. Start at these settings: 400 ISO, 1/30th second, f/4
  6. With those settings, aim at an average part of the room (not dark, not light). Watch your light meter. It should read roughly -2 stops. If it reads more, like zero stops, go to a faster speed. If it reads less, go to a wider aperture (and if you cannot then a higher ISO or even a slow speed).

The result will be good.

Grip and grin

Grip and grin

Note that you may, in dark environments, have to go to slow speed and wide open aperture even at high ISO.Watch the light meter and aim for -2 stops ambient light when aimed at an average room area. In a dark night club I may occasionally be shooting at f/1.4, 1/15th second, 1600 ISO!

What is in my bag?

I am often asked “what is in that Domke bag of yours”?

Here. Too much, many would say…:

Photo Bag by Michael Willems

Photo Bag by Michael Willems

The bag is a Domke bag, and it contains:

  • Two lenses (Which ones? That varies per shoot).
  • A speedlight (Canon 580-EX II).
  • My off-camera flash cable.
  • My point-and-shoot camera (a Panasonic Lumix GF-1 Micro Four Thirds camera).
  • The indispensable Hoodman Hood Loupe (Get one. Now.)
  • Memory cards… always carry spares.
  • Fong Lightsphere – for safe shooting when I need safety rather than creativity.
  • Honl Photo reflectors/gobos.
  • A Honl gel set in a Honl roll.
  • My iPad .. plus, just in case, its charger.
  • Spare batteries for every camera and for flash. Never travel without spare batteries.
  • Lens caps for the lenses that are on the camera. I do not use them on the cameras I am using.
  • Cloths, plastic bags, headache and stomach acid pills.
  • Note pad, pens, comb, small brush, business cards.

And an important note: no camera. That is (or more accurately, those are!) over my shoulder.

Flash Modifiers, when to use: 1 – The Fong Thing

Some photographers love the Gary Fong lightsphere because it throws light everywhere and makes it simple to shoot. Others hate it because it throws non-directional light, meaning “no art”.

They are both right. Every modifier has a range of situations where you use it, and a range where you do not use it. The key is not just to learn how to use a modifier, but it is to learn when to use it in the first place, and when not to.

So the Fong Lightsphere is a modifier that:

    1. You put on your flash
    2. Aim upward
    3. Use without the dome if you have a white ceiling; else use with the dome (the round side down).
    4. And which then throws the light everywhere.

      And I mean everywhere. Left, right, up, down, front, behind: photons bathe the room. And reflect off anything that can reflect. Which is the Lightsphere’s benefit.

      It is therefore good to use in situations where:

      1. It is dark.
      2. It is impossible to find a good bounce wall/ceiling behind you. A good wall/ceiling is almost always preferable if you can find it.
      3. You are looking for anything to get light into the room: you are not interested in artistically shaping light.

      Like in this unedited image of the Wendel Clark restaurant I shot yesterday:

      Using a Gary Fong Lightsphere

      Using a Gary Fong Lightsphere to light a restaurant

      Note that I was using my Gary Fong Lightsphere on a separate flash in my left hand, aimed at the ceiling. I was using TTL to fire that flash from the one on my 1Ds camera. Yes, you develop strong hands as a photographer – that, and arthritis.

      That off-camera use is a key technique for me: I often like to use the Fong off-camera to give me at least a little bit of shaping.

      Here’s another picture from that shoot:

      Wendel Clark Restaurant lit with an off-camera Lightsphere

      Using a Lightsphere

      So while as you all know I normally much prefer the Honl lightshapers – they allow me artistic control over where the light goes – “trendy venues” is a prime case where I use the Fong Lightsphere.Because Trendy Venues have no simple walls or ceilings, and those that there are tend to be black. So you need to bounce those photons off anything that wiull reflect them, anywhere in the room. Enter the Fong Thing.

      What does the Fong Thing look like: Here’s me with one on the camera.