Right with Light, Part 8: Light Modifiers

We have touched on this subject in the past, but this post will delve more in depth into light modifiers. Anyone that has been shooting awhile knows that this is a very broad subject and covers every budget range. When modifying light we must keep in mind a two general rules relating to the size of the light, the distance to the subject, and how they relate: First, the bigger the light source, the softer the light (don’t mistake big to mean power, but rather the actual size of the light). Second, the farther the light is from the subject, the harder the light will become.

Reflectors, which vary widely in size, shape and interior surface, are designed to produce specific shapes or effects. The size and shape relate to the coverage the light gives to the subject, usually listed in a measurement of degrees. The interior surface or color affects the quality of the light: bright silver may give you a bit more contrast or pop, while soft surfaces like white or brushed metal renders softer light qualities. Manufacturers and suppliers make a wide variety of extras that you can attach to the reflectors. These include grids to further tighten the light from the reflector, diffusion caps to soften the light, barn doors to control the edges or spill of light, as well as specialized attachments for use with umbrellas and other light modifying attachments.

Next up are umbrellas. These fall at the low end of the price scale overall, but, again, you get what you pay for, and better quality umbrellas run a bit more. There are two basic types with some variations within these groups. First is the reflector or bounce type: the light is directed into the umbrella then bounced or reflected back onto the subject. As with reflectors, these are available in several surface types that will render different qualities, adding contrast or softening of light. Generally, the light from an umbrella will be much softer (the light that bounces off the umbrella’s surface creates a much larger light source, following the first rule mentioned above). The second umbrella type is the “shoot through.” The cover of this umbrella is a diffusion material that you “pass” or “shoot” the light through to soften the effect. These work well but are not nearly as efficient as a softbox, which I will cover in the next posting. There are also “convertible” umbrellas that combine both types into one unit. These come in many sizes and styles of construction and tend to be less durable than other modifiers. Some recent improvements have come with the application of carbon fiber construction, but the new technology is reflected in the price.

In the next post I will talk about softboxes, diffusion panels and other specialty lighting modifiers.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.


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