The Wide World of Light Modifiers

We at LumoPro get a lot of questions about lighting. “How much weight can I put on my light stand?” “Why won’t the zoom on my flash change?” “When will a firmware upgrade be available to make my flash compatible with my drone?”

But one of the most common (and subjective) questions we get is “What modifier should I use?”. This one’s a toughie, as it’s dependent on quite a few variables. So today I’m going to talk about a few different types of modifiers, and the benefits and drawbacks of each one.

Small Modifiers

First up are small modifiers, like the LightSwitch. These modifiers usually mount directly on the flash itself and provide reflection or diffusion for the light your flash is putting out.

The biggest benefit of small modifiers is their size. They can be used on- or off-camera, squeezed into tight spaces on location and don’t take up much space or weight in your bag. Generally, small mods are very easy to set up, as it pretty much just involves attaching the modifier directly to the flash head. They are also a low cost option, with products like the Rogue FlashBender, starting at just $19.

Mannequin shot with LumoPro LightSwitch

Shot at ISO 400, 1/200, f/8
Flash power: 1/8
Flash zoom: 70mm
Flash-to-subject distance: 24″

The downside of small modifiers is that you are getting less surface area reflecting the light. For shooting smaller subjects, this is not a concern as the relative size of the light will still be big enough to provide soft, even light. But the lack of size will not work well for full body shots or multiple subjects.

Relative light size example

Bigger light (relative to the size of your subject) equals softer light!

Umbrellas

Moving on to umbrellas! These are most people’s de facto first modifier, and for good reason. Several reasons actually. Umbrellas are inexpensive and don’t take up much space. They create a larger relative light size, which means you’re getting softer (some would say more pleasing) light. Plus, umbrellas are a cinch to setup. If you’ve ever used a rain umbrella, you’ve already got it down.

Umbrellas are also incredibly versatile. There are a wide range of sizes available, and some models, like our 3-in-1 Umbrella, come with a variety of diffusion options in one compact package. Challenge yourself to only shooting with one light and one umbrella for a month – you’ll be amazed at the diversity of the images you can create.

Mannequin shot with white shoot through umbrella

White Shoot Through Umbrella
Shot at ISO 400, 1/200, f/8
Flash power: 1/8
Flash zoom: 70mm
Flash-to-subject distance: 24″

White Bounce Umbrella

White Bounce Off Umbrella
Shot at ISO 400, 1/200, f/8
Flash power: 1/8
Flash zoom: 70mm
Flash-to-subject distance: 24″

Downside? An umbrella is basically a light grenade. You don’t have much control over light spill, and you are going to have light going all over the place.

There are certainly ways to mitigate this, like by feathering your umbrella or using flags, but it’s important to understand all the same.

Softboxes

Next up are softboxes. These are the workhorses for many studio photographers. Softboxes are commonly found in four shapes: rectangle, strip*, octa and square**. Within those shapes there is a wide range of sizes available. You’ll want to choose the shape and size that work best for the subjects you shoot most often.

*Yes, we know it’s still technically a rectangle.  **YES, we know all squares are technically rectangles. Enough with the geometrical semantics already!

Examples of softbox shapes

Octaboxes, rectangles, stripboxes – oh my!

Softboxes offer lots of control over the direction of your light. Provided you know how to properly position your softbox, you’ll have few issues with light spill. Even fewer, if you use a grid with your softbox. Not only will a grid cut down even further on spill, but it will also give a more contrasty look to your light.

There are two main drawbacks to using softboxes. The first is longer setup time. Putting together a softbox, especially on location, is definitely more involved than popping open an umbrella. Some models, like LumoPro’s full range of softboxes, include features to make setup a much smoother process.

Softbox zipper makes setup quick and easy

Softboxes are also a larger investment than small modifiers or umbrellas. Not only is the cost of the softbox itself higher, but you will also need to think about how you will mount the box to your stand, whether you are using speedlights or monolights. Many photographers find the added cost worth it for what they find to be a “better” quality of light and more control.

Beauty Dish

Finally, we have the beauty dish. The beauty dish (some people just call it a reflector, but we think that’s confusing) is commonly used for, you guessed it, beauty shots. This modifier is very popular with portrait photographers for the distinctive, contrasty light it produces, which highlights detail in a pleasing way.

The light from a beauty dish is direct, but softer than a bare flash. This is because the beauty dish is a reflective modifier, not a diffusion modifier. Meaning the light bounces around the dish before hitting the subject, but does not go through any type of diffusion material. Unless you put a diffusion sock on the dish, then it’s both reflective AND diffusion! You can also add a grid to most beauty dishes to add even more contrast to your light.

Mannequin shot with beauty dish

Beauty Dish with 2 Flashes
Shot at ISO 400, 1/200, f/8
Flash power: 1/8
Flash zoom: 70mm
Flash-to-subject distance: 24″

Mannequin shot with beauty dish + diffusion sock

Beauty Dish + Diffusion Sock with 2 Flashes
Shot at ISO 400, 1/200, f/8
Flash power: 1/8
Flash zoom: 70mm
Flash-to-subject distance: 24″

Mannequin shot with beauty dish + grid

Beauty Dish + Grid with 2 Flashes
Shot at ISO 400, 1/200, f/8
Flash power: 1/8
Flash zoom: 70mm
Flash-to-subject distance: 24″

There are two tradeoffs when working with a beauty dish. First, is price. While the LumoPro beauty dish model is extremely reasonable, it is still more of an investment than an umbrella and even many softboxes. However, if you’re after that beauty dish look, it’s well worth the cost.

The other challenge of a beauty dish is transportation. Both the size and fragility of a beauty dish can make it difficult to get your beauty dish from place to place – especially if you’re flying. Your best bet is to get a case for your beauty dish and do your best to protect the dish from bumps and bruises.

Conclusion

There are plenty of modifier options that haven’t been covered here, and new ones pop up every day! The best way to choose the right modifier for you is to consider what factors are important to you (size, cost, ease of use) and what kind of subjects you shoot most often. And if you still have questions, our support team is always happy to help evaluate your needs and make a recommendation.

New Accessories from LumoPro!

We’ve recently launched three new accessories to make your gear bag even more handy. First up is the LP681 Male 1/4”-20 to Male 1/4”-20 Adapter, which connects accessories with female 1/4”-20 threads together.

This simple brass adapter is perfect for rigging video equipment and features a hex nut center for easy tightening. Attach the adapter to your camera, radio trigger, microphone or even the side 1/4”-20 mount on your LP180!

Next, we are introducing our own line of gaffer tape! If you’ve been photographing for long, you’ve probably run into a problem that can be solved with gaff tape. This matte black tape is easy to tear by hand and won’t leave residue on whatever surface you adhere it to.

We’re kicking things off with two sizes – LP729 1″ x 8 yd and LP730 2″ x 50 yd. Both sizes are currently available in black and can serve a wide variety of purposes.

The 1” roll’s small size and weight gives you all the handy benefits of having gaff tape on hand, without the extra bulk in your bag. This tiny tape is even small enough to carry around in your pocket.

The 2” roll is ideal for heavy duty or high volume use, such as hanging backdrops or taping down cables. Keep a roll in your gear bag, or wrap a long piece around the leg of your light stand or tripod and tear off shorter lengths as you need it.

Whether you need to attach gels to a flash, tape down cables or just create an impromptu adhesive bandage, this gaffer tape has you covered.

All three new LumoPro products can be purchased from our authorized dealers worldwide!

Quick Fill Solution for Empty Sandbags

The age-old struggle: you have modifiers; the wind has force. And that’s how you end up with an unintentional (and unwanted) sail when shooting outdoors. What can you do about it, you ask? Well, sandbags are a good start. While a sandbag won’t reverse the sail effect, it will help to prevent your light stand from falling over in the first puff of wind.

LP515 Empty Sandbag (15lb Cap)

Behold, a sandbag. Holder-down of wind-blown light stands.

Empty sandbags, like the LumoPro LP515, are simple to use, help to secure your setup and are pretty inexpensive. This kind of sandbag has zippers on either side that allow you to fill the sandbag with whatever you fancy.

Empty sandbag with zippers open

Check out that double zip action!

But once filled, those suckers are heavy (kind of the point, I know). So now you have a new problem – you have a way to stabilize your stands, but you’re hauling around extra weight equivalent to the average 2 year old.

Sandbag over the leg of a light stand

Just a sandbag hanging out.

One solution is simple, but brilliant at the same time – fill your sandbags with bottled water. Think about it. You already have water bottles on location anyway for your subject, crew or assistant (because YOU are a kind and thoughtful photographer). You can use those bottles for ballast in your sandbags and keep your shoot participants happy with refreshing beverages.

The best part? You don’t have to pack heavy sand bags back to the car! (Just don’t forget to gather up the empties. No one likes a litterbug!)

Plus, you get to avoid the hassle and mess of filling the sandbags with sand or gravel. Easy. Clean. Thoughtful. It’s a win-win-win.

Sandbag hanging on boom arm

Now obviously, this isn’t the perfect solution for every situation. If you’re working in a hot environment, your subject will probably appreciate water from a cooler more than one that’s been baking in the sun. In those cases, extra grip equipment, like clamps or gripheads, also work great.

So there you go. An easy tip to make your sandbag slinging easier. Do you have a creative solution for filling sandbags or dealing with flyaway light stands? Let us know in the comments, or post a shot to Instagram and give us a tag!