Umbrella Bracket Woes
If you've ever shot with off-camera flash guns, chances are you've used one of those brackets:
A typical umbrella bracket.
They allow to mount a flash gun (with or without accessories), angle it at will, and attach an umbrella if necessary as well. To top it off, they are sturdy enough and rather cheap. Unfortunately, they have a weak point: the design of the cold shoe is deficient, so mounting accessories is a hassle.
Mounting to the bracket's cold shoe: flash gun (left), TTL cord (middle), optical slave (right).
Flashes that use a click-lock (such as the "EX II" Canon Speedlite series) can't be secured properly because the cold shoe is too thick. (There is also the problem of the flash's pins that tend to short when they touch the metal shoe, triggering flashes, so one has to put a piece of tape to prevent that from happening.)
When using a number of other accessories whose foot is made of plastic, the only thing holding them in place is the tiny screw on the side. The screw is very small, tends to jam, tends to damage the plastic of the accessory, and can easily be lost. What's more, the height of the opening is too tall, so accessories are really not secure (note in particular the optical slave, at right in the image above)—especially when one changes the angle of the bracket, there is a good chance that the expensive flash gun will take a bad fall. You don't want to be outside in the wind and have to worry about your installation falling apart because of a little screw or small piece of plastic.
Sure, there are third-party cold shoes that can be purchased to replace the flawed one that comes with the bracket (and they will often cost as much or more than the bracket itself!), but there is another easy solution that won't cost you anything. First, remove the cold shoe from the bracket, leaving the spigot in place:
Removing the cold shoe from the bracket.
Turns out that almost all accessories you could want to mount on such a bracket already have the appropriate screw threads to attach securely to the spigot! Here are a bunch of examples:
Threads on a number of accessories.
To mount a flash directly, you can use the shoe stand that comes with the unit, which has the appropriate threads. TTL cords and optical slaves—even PocketWizards—all have them as well. In the end, you can ignore the cold shoe altogether, because the screw will hold much more firmly in place anyway, with no damage or hassle.
Accessories attached directly to the spigot.