Camera brackets. They're not as sexy as digital SLR cameras, but they're almost as important. They're one of the few items that distinguish the professional photographer from a prosumer who likes taking pictures and has a bank account to support an expensive hobby.
We asked some of the camera bracket manufacturers what recent trends they've seen in the category, as well as to explain the importance of using camera brackets to capture well-lit images.
Pat Muzila, co-owner of Custom Brackets, (www.custombrackets.com) explains, "The professional photographer will be noticed using a bracket system for camera and flash as opposed to the nonprofessional."
Bob Otis, sales manager for Norman/Lindahl, (www.photo-control.com) concurs: "The flash bracket is the first thing that separates the professional from the snapshooter. Even with a bracket, the amateur does not have the pro's ability to pose, elicit expressions, select backgrounds, and know all the other things that make the difference between a picture and a photograph."
Muzila notes that today's photographers are looking for "more compact, lightweight, easy-to-use brackets." She says that as DSLRs have come down in price, and are in use more, the demand for brackets has increased as well.
Although a definite necessity when shooting events on location with medium-format cameras, a camera bracket should still be used with 35mm DSLRs to help cut down on red-eye and harsh shadows from direct flash. As it may not always be convenient to bounce light off the ceiling, especially if they're vaulted ceilings or painted darkly.
"When shooting weddings and events, it's important to be able to change from vertical to horizontal as quickly as possible without unplugging something," says Otis. With a rotating or flip-style bracket, "Instead of flipping the flash unit back and forth, the camera simply rotates from horizontal to vertical. The advantages are that the camera and flash unit always stay centered in both horizontal and vertical formats. Getting the light above the camera also produces more pleasing shadows and skin tones." According to Otis, a bracket should put the light high enough above the camera to eliminate red-eye and provide good facial modeling, but not so high that it creates unpleasing shadows.
Drew Henderson, president of Akces Media LLC, for Alzo Digital (www.alzodigital.com) says, "Camera flash bracket use...has not changed much over the years and is not a function of recording format. The greatly improved image quality resulting from the use of a bracket will maintain development and sales of these devices for the foreseeable future."
The benefit of using a flip or rotating bracket with 35mm DSLRs lets you adjust the "on-camera" flash above the camera when you turn it to shoot vertically. For those who shot 2 1/4 square, medium format, there was never a need to turn the camera to compose images, but with 35mm you can shoot vertical. Henderson says, "Even if a photographer uses a very high-resolution [DSLR] and doesn't flip the camera, the flash elevation feature of a bracket always produces improved images. When a bracket has sufficient elevation to support an umbrella or softbox, the image quality is superior."
The Alzo Digital Flip Flash bracket gives lets you position the flash high above the lens. "This exceptional height allows for the use of small umbrellas and softboxes to produce consistent ‘near studio' quality from a camera-mounted flash," says Henderson.
According to Muzila, Custom Brackets' most popular models are the Digital PRO-M Kit, which allows the camera to rotate, and the CB Junior Kit, with the flash rotating. The company's website features a build-your-bracket section that lets you customize it exactly to your needs or shooting style.
Henderson notes that there are several important features that a flash bracket must provide: a camera quick release to allow for rapid camera exchanges; mechanics that maintain consistent flash-to-camera-lens distance in both camera orientations; and an adjustable flash height that should raise the flash at least 12-inches above the lens.
Otis adds, "No one bracket is perfect for all photographers. You need to experiment with different brackets to find the one that fits your shooting style."