The more you experiment with off-camera flash, the more you realize that many lighting modifiers are pretty large in size. From softboxes to beauty dishes to umbrellas, many take up space not only in your camera equipment bags, but also on site at a photo shoot. This may be a small price to pay for the dramatic impact these modifiers can have on the resulting image, but sometimes you just want a really compact lighting modifier that can produce great results. One of the answers to this problem is the new Flash Disc by Fstoppers.
A handy little device made to fit speedlights, the Flash Disc was created by Lee Morris of Fstoppers with the intent of being a portable softbox. It appears at first to be a little white reflector, as it folds up like one into a compact size that can fit into a large pocket or small bag. However, the Flash Disc is actually more like two reflectors that sandwich your speedlight. When a flash is fired, the light bounces between the two reflectors, creating a softer spread of light. Available for purchase online at a price of $49.99, the first batch of Flash Discs were so popular they sold out and supplies were only recently replenished.
As a food, portrait, and event photographer, who travels a lot for photo shoots, the main features I’m looking for in a lighting kit are portability and functionality. I generally travel with one Speedlite flash (Canon 430 EXII) and a pair of wireless flash triggers (Yongnuo RF-603 II) for on-location portraits, candid event shots, and food photos in varied lighting conditions. When I have the luxury of space, I’ll bring an octabox softbox or shoot-through umbrella as a lighting modifier, although these devices take up both space in my photography kit as well as setup time while on location. I recently got my hands on the Fstoppers Flash Disc and was very impressed by its compact form, as well as big impact in helping diffuse and bounce my off-camera flash lighting.
Without a lighting modifier, off-camera flash tends to be way too harsh and overpowering.
Pro: Small and low-profile
The first big plus about the Flash Disc is that it is incredibly tiny when it folds up like a reflector and is put into its little black carrying case. Dimensions-wise, the Flash Disc is 12 inches in diameter when open, and 4 inches in diameter when closed. It’s very lightweight at less than 1 pound, and it is compatible with most external flash units. It really can fit into a jacket pocket, or be clipped (via a carabiner) to a loop on your belt or camera bag.
Con: Very tight when collapsed
A possible drawback to having two reflectors folded into each other is that the Flash Disc can literally pop opened. I had a close call once when I opened the Flash Disc with my hands right next to an open bottle of water, resulting in said bottle being knocked over and spilled. Be sure not to open it close to your body or camera as it could possibly knock something over.
Pro: Includes a grey card
One side of the Flash Disc is translucent white and the other has built-in strips of white, black, and 18% grey. This is helpful for setting your white balance in post-processing (or doing custom white balance in the field)
Con: Sometimes the lighting is too harsh
Considering the 12″” diameter of the Flash Disc, sometimes the light it emits isn’t the softest, especially when compared to light from a 30″” softbox or umbrella. It’s a size trade-off that can sometimes result in the Flash Disc light still being a tad too harsh, although there are certain situations and photography styles that can benefit from this look.
I tested out the Flash Disc during a recent tropical vacation- using it on food, portrait, and product photography – and was pleased with the overall results. In the below product photo of a carry-on suitcase, the Flash Disc on a Canon 430 EXII was positioned camera right. The flash was in manual mode, dialled down to 1/64 power, and the result is a soft fill light on the bottom of the suitcase.
For food photography, the Flash Disc’s compact size was crucial as many food photos are taken in restaurants or tight kitchens where there isn’t the space or time to indulge in more elaborate lighting setups. In the image below of a fish taco plate, natural lighting was illuminating most of the dish. The Flash Disc was camera right, fired at 1/64 power to fill in the shadow areas of the dish.
The Flash Disc also came in extremely handy while doing casual location-based outdoor portraits, another scenario in which lugging around a large umbrella or reflector wouldn’t be convenient without an assistant. The portrait below was taken just after sunset, and my subject is lit by the Flash Disc fired at 1/64 power from camera left. This is an example of when the Flash Disc’s light quality is arguably on the harsher side, especially if you’re working as a lone “run and gun” photographer without an assistant, meaning you can only place the Flash Disc as near or far from your subject as your arm can stretch.
Has anyone else tested out the Flash Disc? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how useful (or not) you find it.