Lighting 101 - Introduction to Lighting Modifiers

Regardless if you're using continuous lights or studio strobes, you're going to need to use lighting modifiers in order to better control the quality and direction of your light. For this article, I'm going to describe an assortment of different lighting accessories that I often use on set.

BARN DOORS

Barn doors are lighting modifiers that allow you to manually shape and control the direction of light into a variety of different shapes. They attach to the front of your studio strobe or continuous light and have four hinged doors to help you control the light shape. Barn doors can also be used to block off unwanted light from your background, subject, or camera lens by narrowing the beam of light.

 

BEAUTY DISHES

A beauty dish is a shallow parabolic reflector that mounts to the front of your strobe light. The light is designed so that light traveling from the strobe, reflects off of a small plate on the front of the beauty dish. The light then reflects off the curved interior wall of the beauty dish, creating a light source that is considered “semi-hard” light. It’s basically a combination of a softbox and direct flash.

The curved shape of the beauty dish, aims most of the light toward the subject and therefore is extremely directional. Beauty Dishes come in two different coatings: white and silver. The silver coating creates more specular contrast than the white one. Note that, this draws more attention to unwanted skin blemishes, which is why I prefer the white coating.

You can also invest in diffusion material and honeycomb grids for your beauty dish in order to control the quality and direction of light. Diffusion material will allow you to soften the intensity of the beauty dish and honeycomb grids will allow you to better control the direction of light. Some photographers will even combine those two modifiers in an effort to create, strong directional light.

 

DIFFUSION MATERIAL

Diffusion material is material used to soften the intensity of the light from your lighting modifier. They are used to reduce the overall contrast between highlights and shadows in your image and soften the intensity of light.

 

 

 

 

 

FLAGS

Flags are used to block unwanted light in an image by either using a stand or hand holding the flag. In addition to this, black flags and black reflectors can be used in order to create negative fill and absorb light in specific areas of an image.

 

 

 

 

GELS

Gels or color filters are colored transparent filters that are used to either for color correction or for creative lighting. They quite literally change the color of the lights they are applied to. While gels do come in a variety of different colors, the most common are gels you’ll find are CTB and CTO. CTB (Color temperature blue) gels are used to convert tungsten light into daylight-colored light and CTO (color temperature orange) gels are used to convert daylight-colored lights into tungsten.

 

HONEYCOMB GRIDS

Honeycomb Grids are used to control the direction of light. The shape of the honeycomb grid focus the light into a directional beam of light and stops the light from spreading out to unwanted areas of the image in the same manner that flags and barn doors are used to control light. Grids are available in a variety of different degrees, and as a rule of thumb, the larger the degree of the grid, the broader the light source. The smaller the degree of the grid, the smaller the beam of light.

You can purchase grids for beauty dishes, softboxes, octoboxes and even speedlights.

 

OCTABOXES

Octaboxes are essentially eight sided softboxes. As with with all lighting modifiers, the size of the octabox will directly influence the quality of light produced. As a rule of thumb, larger octaboxes will produce softer forms of light compared to smaller octaboxes. Larger octaboxes will allow light to travel further around your subject, wrapping light around and fill in the shadows areas of your image. If you’re looking to replicate the catchlight that you’d see from the sun, this is a great alternative over a square softbox.

Tutorials On How To Use an Octabox

Anything Goes / Motivated Light - Mixing Strobe and Ambient Light

 

REFLECTORS

A reflector is a tool that simply reflects light. There are a wide variety of different reflectors made of misc. types of material. They will all reflect light slightly different depending on the material type, color, and pattern.

 

 

 

 

REFLECTOR DISHES

Reflector Dishes are usually included with most studio lighting kits that you can purchase on the market. The standard reflector dish that comes with most lighting kits restricts light from spilling in all directions. The provide enough light control, so that if you’re using them on the background, no light will illuminate your subject.

There are various sizes of reflector dishes and their properties of light will change depending on the size of the reflector dish you own. Most reflector dishes create high-contrast light and are easily employed to create a very dramatic portrait or just to isolate light on your background. As a rule of thumb, the larger the reflector dish, the larger the circular gradation on the background. Remember that as you move light away from the background, you’ll create a larger spread of light and therefore also have a larger diameter gradation on the background.

 

SOFTBOXES

Softboxes are the most common type of light modifier. When mounted to a strobe light, they effectively broaden and soften your light. They will also eliminate unwanted hot spots and specular highlights by evenly distributing your light source. If you’re looking to restrict the direction of light even further, you can affix a grid onto the front of your softbox, which will constrain the spread of light.

 

 

UMBRELLAS

Umbrellas are one of the most commonly used lighting modifiers on the market, because they’re affordable, portable and easy to use, which is why most beginning photographers gravitate toward using them. There are a wide variety of different umbrellas from different manufacturers produced in a variety of different materials. Remember that the size, color and relative position of your umbrella will directly influence the characteristics of your light.