Starting Out With Light Modifiers

Many readers of Beyond Here are wanting to take the step into the professional photography ranks. They are looking to make photography a significant part¬†of their income, and then make it their main source of income. Making that leap often means learning the skills and having the equipment to shoot multiple days of the week and in different lighting conditions. In many cases this will bring an ‘outdoor’ photographer indoor where they will need a range of lighting equipment, and the skills to use them. In this post we look at starting out with light modifiers. Here is an overview of the basic equipment.

Portrait

This image was shot with a single soft box to the left of camera

Reflector – a reflector is a very simple piece of equipment. They are straightforward to use and simply reflect the existing light. They come in silver and gold which create different levels of ‘warmth’ in the light. Reflectors come in a range of sizes and are cheap and worth having.


Diffuser

The simplest light modifier is a diffuser for a speedlite

Speedlite Diffuser Рa speedlite diffuser is the most basic type of light modifier. They come in various forms, but the most simple is a piece of plastic which fits over the head of the speedlite. They are surprisingly effective in softening the light from your speedlite. They are very cheap and worth getting. The speedlite shown in the diagram is being used off camera. If you have never used your speedlite off camera, please see this post. Learning to use your speedlite off camera and softening the light will open up a new world of lighting opportunities for you.

Reflective Umbrella – umbrellas are ideal for creating soft light across a large area, which makes them useful for lighting groups of people. They are cheap and easy to use. The only disadvantage is that they tend to spread lots of light around. Like the reflector, reflective umbrellas come in different colors – silver, gold and white.

Shoot through umbrella

A simple set up for a speedlite to be fired through a shoot through umbrella

White Shoot Through Umbrella – shoot through umbrellas are great for diffusing light and spreading it evenly. They are simple to use, and as the name implies, you shoot the light through the translucent umbrella. They come in different sizes, so keep in mind that the light will be softer when coming from a larger source. Shoot through umbrellas and reflective umbrellas are very easy to use in an indoor environment. An example is in this post. Be very wary of using umbrellas outdoor. Even a very small gust of wind will catch the umbrella and blow your equipment over.

Scrims – a scrim is a square or rectangular frame with diffusion fabric spread across it. They are typically larger than umbrellas and can be used to create large areas of diffused light. Use a scrim to diffuse light from flash, continuous lights, or the sun.

Soft box – soft boxes give the photographer more control of light than umbrellas. Soft boxes are what I use most frequently in the studio environment. They are simple to use and avoid light spreading everywhere in the studio environment. Soft boxes come in a range of different sizes from small to very large. Choose which is most appropriate for your lighting needs and your space.

Soft boxes

An example of soft boxes in a simple studio environment

That covers the very basics of starting out with light modifiers. This post only touches the surface of a large subject. I’ve done it without mentioning beauty dishes, gridspots, Fresnel lights, or an octabox! Thanks for reading starting out with light modifiers. I hope it has demystified light modifiers and given you the encouragement to begin modifying your light.

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