In researching lighting modifiers that might fit my shooting style I stumbled across the wonderful products from Mola. They produce only softlights, or beauty dishes as they are known around the industry. I’ve always tailored my kit to be thrown in the car mobile setups, but I thought that it would be fun to add this to the kit. At first glance the dishes are expensive (especially the larger diameters) but after using the smallest Demi 22″ model, I’ve found they are worth as much as any good lens. I’ve got enough cameras, and perhaps lenses, but lighting gear is usually always the last to be considered, at least if you are a more mobile natural light type of shooter. For more planned and stationary shoots, I’ll definitely put up with lugging this extra gear around because the light quality is just bright and crisp.
The Demi 22″ is affordable, but that is just the dish itself. You also need a sturdy light stand, the studio strobe to go into it and even the speedring or bracket to mount whatever brand of light. Looking around, just the speedlight bracket was about $260. Having access to a machine shop, we decided to just build one.
So here’s our twin / duo / double Speedlight bracket. (A Speedlight is just Nikon’s brand name for a hot shoe flash). In keeping with my shooting style I knew I didn’t want to lug a studio strobe with a battery pack in the field. Shooting with remote speedlights has advantages from a power source point of view and the results you can get by shooting Nikon wireless CLS. Nicer lenses can be used at their full potential, allowing person to shoot wide open f/2.8 or larger in the bright sun with a flash.
By using two SB-800’s you double the power of the flashes, and cut down on recycling time. I figured I could also set one up for Nikon CLS and have the other SB-800 with a Pocket Wizard if I wanted to shoot with the Canon at the same time. That shooting method with the Plus II’s are of course Manual Flash power only, but even that has an advantage. CLS for some situations and looks, Manual Flash for quick response and consistency.
The bracket is actually three pieces. The ring that attaches to the Demi is laser cut aluminum, formed and painted. For the hole pattern we copied the existing one on the back of the dish, inserted hardware as to not have to rely on the supplied wingnuts, and put simple holes so I could mount the plastic AS-19 Speedlight foot with thumbscrews. For a temporary solution to mount it, I used an existing cheap Impact umbrella bracket. Being made of plastic, this didn’t last long so we made a different mounting base out of CNC’ed aluminum. The two pieces fit together as a hinge and both painted as well. I did keep the plastic handle from the old bracket. The square base is just a hole that fits the spigot on the Manfrotto light stand. The back screw is just for show and isn’t needed as it is very sturdy, even when tilted. Much, much better than that plastic mounting bracket. Fine for umbrellas, but this is a somewhat heavy setup.
In these fake product shots, the SB-800’s aren’t even firing at max power. The inside paint and shape of the Mola really does make a big difference. In the bottom picture I think the speedlights were only at 1/8 power (or less!).
Here are some example shots including the Mola. Me just learning to use it.