I have a new tool to throw in my bag of tricks now (thanks to my awesome artist-in-residence) and I have to say, it has come in quite handy now on numerous occasions. While I have never really had any problems lighting portraits or subjects outside in broad daylight with small flashes, I have never been able to use any kind of light modifier with them when the sun is high in the sky, usually between the hours of 12pm EST to around 4pm EST. The reason being is that while my flashes have enough power (barely) to light a subject at this time of day, they don't really have enough power to use a large softbox with them and still light my subject. That's where a triflash bracket comes in very handy.
I did a shoot recently where I wanted to shoot a model outside, on a bright, sunny afternoon and wanted to use flash to light her. I also wanted to use a relatively large, soft source so I knew that one speed light wasn't going to work. This is where the triflash bracket makes the difference.
My modifier was the new Westcott Apollo Orb, which is basically a 43" octabox style softbox made for speedlights (which incidentally is one of my new favorite lighting mods). I simply mounted three Nikon SB-800s on the triflash bracket and dialed in 1/2 power on each one. I thought I would start with half power just to see if it would be enough and if not, I would raise the power on each to full power. Fortunately, half power was good enough. I always like to use my flashes at a power setting less than full power to give me quicker recycle times.
Now normally, since I'm a Nikon shooter, I would use Nikon's CLS system to trigger my off camera flashes but since all three of these flashes were inside an enclosed softbox, I knew that the flashes probably wouldn't see the signal from my on camera flash so I opted to use radio triggers, Cybersyncs specifically. Here's another sweet tip, because my Nikon SB-800s have built-in optical slaves (which are very sensitive) I was able to use just one radio receiver on one flash and then set the other two to optical slave mode (SU-4 mode on Nikon flashes) and all three fired! That is a serious bonus as I only needed one transmitter and one receiver.
So I had my lights setup now it was time to get my exposure down. I didn't want a blown out sky so I specifically set my exposure to give me a little detail in the sky. I believe it was around f/11 at 1/250 sec at ISO 200 but I could be mistaken. At this exposure, my background looked the way I wanted it, but without the flash, you can see in the photo below that my model is a little underexposed.
By adding flash, using the triflash bracket and a softbox, the quality of the photo (and the light) improved drastically. Also notice that by composing the photo with the sun behind her, it gave a nice rim light to her camera left side and also kept her from squinting in the bright sunlight. And since I was using three flashes at half power as opposed to one bare flash in close at full power, the light has a softer, wrapping feel to it and my recycle times were much shorter.
If you want more nuts and bolts information on using triflash brackets, check out the awesome post over on the Strobist blog. Not only does the Strobist get more in to the numbers but he also reviews three different brackets.
For anyone who's curious, I have the Lastolite TriFlash bracket, but Interfit makes a cheaper alternative that probably works just as well.
Also, I'm sure some of you might be thinking, wouldn't it make more sense to just bring out a bigger studio style light? Well, yes and no. For sure, using a higher powered light like an 400 watt second monobloc or something bigger enables you to light your subject very easily regardless of the ambient exposure. However, when using the big boys, you're going to need electrical power to run those bad daddies which means you'd either need a helluva long extension cord, or a battery pack to power your strobes. While this is definitely an alternative, I can tell you from practical experience that three little flashes, a light stand and a collapsible softbox are MUCH easier to carry when you're working by yourself than a studio light and a battery pack. For most of my work, I try to pack as lightly as possible and a triflash bracket has really added value to my current kit.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to drop a comment and I'll try to address them. Now if you're a speedlight shooter and don't have a triflash bracket, go get one, you won't be disappointed!