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Tips & Tricks

Inexpensive Light Modifier: The Black Foamie Thing

By Justin Heyes on November 2nd 2014

Lighting can be difficult to control sometimes and we use everything at our disposal like ceilings, film canisters, or spaghetti strainers to bend the light to our will. Sometimes we see a gadget in use and have to have it, like that Gary Fong diffuser that I bought and used once. In this video, photographer Neil van Niekerk has a quick and inexpensive trick to help modify your light.

Black-Foamie-Thing-Neil-van-Niekerk-Model

[REWIND:An Illustrative Guide To Popular Light Modifiers (Video)]

Speedlights can be a blessing for some and others avoid them like the plague. If used improperly, they can cause unsightly shadows on your subject. Bouncing the light off the ceiling or the wall may help some, but may not be enough. Niekerk uses a piece of crafting foam to flag his speedlight, blocking any harsh extraneous light.

Black-Foamie-Thing-Neil-van-Niekerk-Foam

Flagging a flash can eliminate any direct light that will create harsh, ugly shadows. The “black foamie thing” as he calls it can be an easy and effective way of improving on-camera flash without the need of an expensive modifier that might just end up sitting in your closet. You can see in the comparison between using a flag with your flash and just using bounced light.

Black-Foamie-Thing-Neil-van-Niekerk-Comparsion

Bounce Flash Photography – The Black Foamie Thing

The video does run a bit long and the real information begins about a minute in. One bonus tip to pull from Niekerk is his posing technique; he has the model mirror his actions to prevent awkward instructions. This inexpensive trick is good if you are a run and gun documentary photographer or small wedding photographer. If it doesn’t work, you can use the foam to make bokeh gobos.

(Via Neil van Niekerk / Images screen captures)

About

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    nice tips

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  2. David De Fotograaf

    On camera flash for portraits. Sounds so weird, but rules are made to be bent…
    Nice video.

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  3. Wayne Choi

    Quick question: Why choose a black one over a white one?

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    • Justin Heyes

      A black piece of foam would act as a flag and cut any harsh light falling on the model’s face. Most, if not all, flags are black because white reflects light.

      If you were to use a white piece of foam it would act like the bounce card the comes in some flash heads. It would reflect any extraneous light and could cause unexpected shadows.

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  4. Chris Nachtwey

    I’ve used this before and they do indeed work nicely.

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  5. Eric Sharpe

    I’ve used these, and they do work. I found that u needed to be relatively close to a wall, however. You can get good results, but my rogue is my go to. It’s a different type of bounce. Also, in a bigger space, the foam will require more power of your flash, than the rogue will.

    So for me, in a larger space with tallish ceilings, and a crop body with not so great high iso performance, I tend to go with other options.

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  6. John Cavan

    Foamies are the best invention for a beginner photog who doesn’t want to blow the budget. I used these like crazy until I knew that I wanted to spend more time with lights and then I invested in the commercial options. Just bear in mind, as Stan so aptly noted, a foamie sheet is maybe a $0.50 in a pack of ten, cut in half for a speedlight flag, means that even if you wreck them after a handful of uses, it would take a long time to catch up the price of a Honl speedstrap and snoot.

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  7. Stefan Simonsen

    Is it just me thinking that the photo at 3:29 couldn’t be the result of the action showed some seconds before? Not only by the on-camera flash.

    He was located a little bit right of her so the shadow would have been at the left side of the subject. But it’s right behind her in a deep angle.

    How???

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  8. Nick Viton

    I’ll take your Fong Lightsphere if you don’t want it

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  9. Kayode Olorunfemi

    How does this differ from the Rogue FlashBender

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    • Stan Rogers

      Well, for one, it doesn’t reflect (much); it’s just a flag to stop light getting where you don’t want it. For another, it’ll cost you maybe two bucks at your local dollar store if you don’t already have the materials in your kids’ collection of stuff and things.

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    • Kayode Olorunfemi

      @Stan – the topic would have been more apt if it was “A cheaper version of the Rogue FlashBender”. The reflection on the Rogue FlashBender does not mean much as you can reduce the power on the flash. The point am making is that theres nothing new in what was done other than he used something cheaper.

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    • Eric Mazzone

      Kayode, the FlashBender came out way after NvK started discussing the foamiethingy years ago. So this isn’t that he’s not done something new, or that he made a cheaper FlashBender, this was just shared because the author thought it was interesting and might help people.

      If anything the FlashBender does the same thing NvK started only costing a whole boat load more.

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    • Stan Rogers

      The reflection on the Flashbender isn’t negligible, it’s the point of the thing. It will reduce your control of the location of the light source (relative to the “BFT”) unless you use it in full snoot mode (which leaves you modifying the throat of the snoot rather than having simple access to your flash’s zoom function to control spot size). And as Eric points out, the idea is older than the Flashbender. What’s more, nobody’s trying to make a buck from it (the craft foam will go on as a craft supply and the elastics will go on being sold everywhere brushes and combs are sold whether photographers pay attention to them or not). I am genuinely baffled by your defensiveness here.

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    • Kayode Olorunfemi

      @Stan – I simply asked an honest question which your first answer didn’t answer as you seemed to focus on them being different which I still don’t think they are in a practical sense. Eric’s reply actually explained things. I don’t think theres anything wrong in questioning posts except if all we want is to like everything that appears on SLRLoung.

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  10. Steven Pellegrino

    I love tips like this. It’s a handy, inexpensive modifier you can throw in your bag without it taking any space or adding weight.

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