- Jason W 3:36am, 3 January 2009
OK... The Coffee Filter Expo Disc Alternative was popular... try this one... it costs more than $0.05, but it's still cheap and produces great results.

I'm going to talk about how to make a cheap slave flash, and, how to make a free / super cheap, on camera flash diffuser for Nikon, and really any other camera with a pop up top flash.

Wein makes a very simple slave attachment that will slide onto and control virtually any electronic flash. All it does is "watch" for a flash, and when it "sees" one, it fires the flash it's connected to as well. ($34.95 at BH, part# W940030) There is also a "digital" version that will let you use the pre-flash, but it's more expensive and I've not tested it.

So here's the deal.

Go to any flea market, thrift shop, or similar such place, and find a cheap old electronic flash, preferably one with an adjustable head. Don't get too fancy, just a basic flash. Usually you can find one for less than $5. If you can manually control the flash output even better. Slap the slave on the bottom of it, and next time you are doing candid photos of the family, etc. Simply place the flash in an out of the way place, such as on the top of a shelf, TV, etc. and have it bounce off the ceiling.

This Christmas I used this and no one even seemed to notice... but the difference it makes is just astounding.

Now these examples don't represent the high fashion of art photography... just pay attention to the lighting and the cool dynamic range. :-)

Slave OFF:
Slave ON:

Notice here, the window isn't blown out, lamps are on, but not too hot, and there isn't the harsh glare from the on camera flash

Or this one, the flash was enough to stop the rotation of the gyroscope in my son's hand, yet you can see out the window, and no one is blasted directly with the flash.

So here is the "how to" part. You are using the on camera flash, just diffused and turned down. You need the on camera flash in order to trigger the slave flash elsewhere in the room. If you have a Nikon or similar SLR camera like I used here, you need to turn off the TTL function when using the slave. Otherwise the pre-flash will cause the slave to fire early and not illuminate the real photo.

Next, turn down the output power of the flash. On the Nikon D40, you can do this on the same menu as where you disable the TTL function. (you can also adjust the output from the shooting screen by stops) I used the menu, and reduced my output to 1/2 power.

Then you just adjust your ISO or aperture until the pictures look good on screen. Since you are in an indoor, controlled environment, you don't have to worry about lighting changes, so once you find the good setting, you're golden.

I also used an on camera flash diffuser I made using some Velum material. (that white translucent plastic/paper type stuff, often found on formal invitations, that sort of thing) seen here:
Light Diffuser for Nikon Flash 3
Light Diffuser for Nikon Flash 4
Light Diffuser for Nikon Flash 2
Light Diffuser for Nikon Flash 1

For the on camera flash diffuser, you simply take the velum material and cut it out as shown. I experimented quite a bit, and finally settled on this design because it would pack flat easily in my camera fanny pack, was easily reusable, and worked pretty well. Slide the velum into the hot shoe, bend it backward over the back of the flash, and tape into place with simple office tape. I use the satin 3M "Magic Tape" because it removes easily without leaving any sticky stuff on the camera. Note that as shown in one of the photos, you can leave the tape off the camera, and use this to bounce light off the ceiling, which also works very very well in low ceiling homes / locations.

Just put a piece of tape on the back of the velum, and stick the tape to that when it's not in use. This allows you to easily peel back the tape for the camera, and you don't have to get new fresh tape every time. (look at the pictures) You can also see I doubled over the end of the tape, so it would be easy to peel up from the velum.

Where do you find velum? I dunno. My wife makes cards and had some. You often see it as a cover on a formal invitation. Some times it is used as tracing paper for mechanical drawings, you can find it in some of the 'nicer' cards in the greeting card section of your local store... it's found quit a bit, just keep your eyes open for it.

The end result is pretty good for on camera flash, and combining it with a slave strobe for a bounce, is just great.


Voraion 10 years ago
nice.. think i will try that soon, thanks mate
(deaf mute) Posted 10 years ago. Edited by (deaf mute) (member) 10 years ago
The reviews of the Wein hot shoe slave aren't too good. www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/62712-REG/Wein_W940030_HS_...

I was going to get a similar thing off Ebay. I've seen hotshoe slaves for less than £20 from China, so at least it will be a fairly cheap mistake if I can't get one to work.

The diffuser is a cool idea. There are so many ways of diffusing a pop-up flash. I've used a white plastic carrier bag before, but I need to make something more "permanent", as using tape or an elastic band doesn't look very professional. :/
- Jason W 10 years ago
4 1/2 stars out of 5, if you read through the reviews on your link. Most of the gripes are that it didn't work on modern Nikon flashes.

I'm suggesting as this is DIY, that you go cheeeeeap. Find some old nasty Vitivar flash from a thrift store, and slap it on there. The one I used (which you can see in some of the photos) even had a broken hot shoe mount... I ended up hot gluing the slave to the bottom permanently.

If you crank down the power of your camera flash, it will on occassion mis-fire, but generally works very well indoors. Outdoors where your on camera flash can't bounce around enough to set the slave off, you're in a different ball game. Other considerations have to be made outside, such as making sure the slave lens points toward your camera, etc. Outdoors, you're really better off with a radio slave... well, probably indoors too.. But this is about cheap...

If you can fine a chinese slave cheaper that works, that's even better. :-) If it works well, please let us know where you found it. I'd love to rig up a whole 3-4 point lighting system for $30 or so. :-)
(deaf mute) 10 years ago
Oh yeah, the newer Nikons appear to have a pre-flash that is virtually imperceptible to the human eye, but the Wein button (peanut?) spots it. At least that proves it reacts quickly! :)
I've got a Fuji bridge camera with a built-in flash rather than a Nikon, so it shouldn't cause any problems. I have a couple of old single-pin flash guns that will fire off any old hotshoe, so it should be fun getting the slave shoe(s) and trying them out in various positions.

The particular slave shoe I was gonna order even includes a PC sync socket, so you can fire two external flashguns off the same shoe. I'll prolly order it in a couple of days, so expect to see the results here in a fortnight or so.

In the meantime, I might try using a coffee filter as a flash diffuser! Vellum isn't the sort of thing I have lying around. :)
AndreasNYC 7 years ago
Thanks for the write-up and comments!
kgreggbruce 7 years ago
SO, using an optical trigger on a flash is what we are calling 'DIY' now?

Really? Buying two pieces of commercially available gear that are meant and designed to be used together, and then using them, is 'do-it-yourself'?

I believe this is what's called 'lowering the bar'.
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