A Guide to Photography Light Modifiers

Photography Lighting Modifiers are essential tools in a photographer's kit, allowing for manipulation of the light to achieve a desired effect. It helps you control and shape light, which can drastically alter the mood, atmosphere, and overall quality of your images. In this blog, we will explore different types of photography lighting modifiers and the benefits they offer photographers.

Lighting Modifier Mounts/Fittings

Before we start, it's important to make sure you know what modifier fitting you will need for the lights you own. If you don't own any lighting yet, just be sure to check the Specifications of the light you'd like on the listing so you know where to start.

Different brands of lights can have different lighting modifier fitting types, and the size/shape of a light can also impact this too. 

Smaller flashes and speedlites will often be a "Speedlite Fitting" for example, while the vast majority of the PiXAPRO and Godox flash and LED heads we stock will be Bowens S-Type Fitting. 

Modifier fittings can be found either in the title and specifications of a modifier listing, or in the drop-down box on the listing if there are Interchangeable Speedring Fittings available.

Find out more about Interchangeable Speedring Fittings in our handy blog: https://www.essentialphoto.co.uk/blogs/news/explaining-interchangeable-speedrings.

Softboxes

Softboxes are perhaps the most popular lighting modifiers in photography. They are used to diffuse and soften harsh light, creating a flattering, even illumination on your subject. 

Rice Bowl Softboxes
Arc Strip Softbox
Rectangular softboxes

There are lots of types of softboxes such as the above Rice Bowl SoftboxesArc Strip SoftboxRectangular softboxes and more in different sizes, but we also stock Octagonal shaped softboxesStraight Strip SoftboxesOffset Softboxes and more! 

Softbox Offers: 

  • Soft, Even Lighting: Softboxes eliminate harsh shadows and reduce the contrast, resulting in a pleasing, natural look. The larger the softbox, the wider and softer the spread of light produced! See below. 
  • Control: You can control the direction and intensity of light by adjusting the distance and angle of the softbox.
  • Versatility: Available in various shapes and sizes, softboxes can be used for portraits, product photography, and more

    60x60cm (23.6x23.6") Pop-Up Square Softbox With Speedlite Bracket (SGGV 60*60CM)
    65cm (25.5") 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Parabolic Softbox With Silver Interior
    90cm Fast Installation Octagonal Umbrella Softbox With Grid
    65cm (25.5") 16-Sided Easy-Open Rice-Bowl Parabolic Softbox With Silver Interior
    150cm (59") Strong-Sturdy Octagon Umbrella Softbox & Removable Grid
    Super Large 170cm (66.9") Octagonal Easy Assembly Umbrella Softbox With 4cm Grid

    The larger the softbox, the fewer shadows produced as the softbox will offer a wider, softer spread of light. Images Taken By Tommy Reynolds.

    Softboxes can come in all kinds of sizes and shapes, including mini softboxes for speedlites and huge softboxes for large groups, in square, rectangular, octagonal, circular softboxes and more. The interior of a softbox is commonly silver as this offers the most bounce for your lighting without losing any stops, but white interiors are also an option if you need something softer. 

    Round or almost-round softboxes such as the Rice Bowl softboxes are perfect for creating a round catchlight in the eye of anyone sitting for a portrait (human or even animals such as dogs and cats!) which can do a lot for the image by making the eyes look like they're bright and full of life rather than dull or dark.

      Umbrellas

      Photography umbrellas come in two primary types: reflective and shoot-through. Both have unique benefits:

      • Reflective Umbrellas: Bounce light off the inside surface to create a soft, diffused light source. They are easy to set up and provide even lighting, and can come with either silver or white interiors.
      • Shoot-through Umbrellas: These umbrellas allow you to shoot light through the translucent material, producing a wide, soft glow by diffusing the light a bit like a scrim. They are great for achieving a soft wash of light in a wraparound light effect.
      59" (149.8cm) Translucent Shoot-Through White Umbrella
      59" (149.8cm) Translucent Shoot-Through White Umbrella

      The Opaque Silver/Black Umbrella vs the Translucent White Shoot-Through Umbrella

      You can even get a 2-in-1 option with a translucent base and a removeable reflective cover if you want the best of both worlds!

      Umbrellas are super easy to set up and down, and can be great as a portable option for location work, even in quite big sizes. Umbrellas can also be quite deep and parabolic to direct the lighting in a specific direction, or more shallow to offer a wider spread of light. 

      You generally don't have to worry about speedring fittings with an umbrella as you just need a reflector or light with an umbrella slot to attach it. 

      Reflectors and Beauty Dishes

      Reflectors and Beauty Dishes are solid metal cones that attach to the front of your light much like a softbox. If you're after a harder light source, reflectors may be your best bet, and luckily, many lights come supplied with a reflector. If not, these can be purchased separately. 

      Beauty dishes are characterized by their shallow, bowl-like shape with a reflective interior, and can come in white or silver much like umbrellas and softboxes. Beauty dishes can also even be collapsible, with a similar construction to a collapsible softbox, but the same shallow depth and lighting effect as a traditional metal dish.

      Reflector By EssentialPhoto
      PiXAPRO Studio Beauty Dish Honeycomb Diffuser Fitting

      The Magnum Reflector designed for throwing light over a long distance vs the Silver 42cm Beauty Dish.

      Beauty Dishes are a favourite among portrait photographers for several reasons:

      • Soft but Defined Shadows: Beauty dishes create a soft yet defined light with a slight punch, emphasizing facial features.
      • Gentle Skin Tones: They produce flattering skin tones and highlight details like the eyes and cheekbones.
      • Ideal for Portraits: Commonly used in fashion and beauty photography for their ability to make subjects look flawless.
      • Inner Deflector Dish: The small inner deflector dish (seen in the image above) is also a staple of the Beauty Dish design, as it reduces hotspots in your lighting that would otherwise show up in your image, to offer a softer light.

      Reflectors and Beauty dishes can both be gridded with solid plastic grids, or diffused with diffuser sock sheets to modify the light effect.

        Grids

        Grids are accessories that attach to various lighting modifiers, such as softboxes and beauty dishes. They are designed to narrow and control the spread of light:

        • Precise Control: Grids allow you to direct light exactly where you want it, preventing light spill onto the background or unwanted areas.
        • Drama and Depth: They can create dramatic lighting effects by concentrating the light, making them ideal for portrait or product photography.
        4 Honeycomb Grids Studio Photography Modifiers
        Honeycomb Grid Modifier For 42cm Beauty Dish
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        Reflector grids, a beauty dish grid, and a softbox grid. 

        See similar: What does a Softbox Grid do? with Jason Vaughan

          Snoots and Barn Doors

          Snoots and barn doors are used to restrict and shape the light beam:

          • Pinpoint LightingSnoots create a tight, focused beam of light, which is perfect for accentuating small details or creating dramatic effects. Optical Snoots can also be fitted with lenses which allow you to adjust the focus of the light to a sharp, crisp circle or a softer projection. Gobos, when paired with a snoot, give you the ability to project the light through patterns such as a window shape to mimic a natural light look. 
          • Directional ControlBarn doors are adjustable flaps attached to a light source that help you direct light precisely.
          Image taken with Snoot and Patterned Gobos Courtesy of Danny Burkett

           Image taken with Snoot and Patterned Gobos Courtesy of Danny Burkett

            Colour Gels

            Gels are translucent, coloured filters that can be placed over your light source, either directly over the light, or over the reflector or softbox. 

            How to Use Gels with Softboxes - with Richard Bradbury

             

             Image by Richard Bradbury. See similar: How to Use Gels with Softboxes - with Richard Bradbury

            They offer several benefits:

            • Colour Correction: Gels are used to correct colour temperature or create creative colour effects.
            • Artistic/Coloured Gels: Artistic or creative gels are best for intense, creative shoots where the gel colour effect is part of the main focus.
            • Mood Enhancement: They can set the mood by adding warm or cool tones to your photos.
            • Highlighting Subjects: Gels can be used to highlight specific subjects or areas in an image.
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            Conclusion

            Photography lighting modifiers are indispensable tools that allow photographers to sculpt and control light, ultimately influencing the visual impact of their photos. Each type of modifier offers unique benefits, from softening and diffusing light to creating dramatic and artistic effects.

            Understanding how to use these photography lighting modifiers effectively can elevate your photography skills and help you achieve the desired look in your images. So don't hesitate to experiment with different modifiers to unlock new creative possibilities in your photography journey.

            Cover image by Richard Bradbury