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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.