Which Light Modifier is Right for Your Portrait Shoot?

Planning to work in the studio but not sure which light modifier to use for your project? Here’s a video tutorial that will help you choose the right one.

So, you’ve decided to shoot some portraits in the studio, complete with advanced lighting setup. Apart from working out the lighting techniques to use, you will also most likely have to choose a light modifier to get the ideal lighting output for your shots. If you’re not quite familiar yet with these tools, this video tutorial by Adorama and Mark Wallace should give you an idea.

Getting the lighting right is crucial in portrait photography, and it doesn’t just depend on the kind of light or use of flashes. There are also various tools to help you shape and direct the light from your source. Among these are light modifiers, the most common of which are discussed by Mark Wallace in the informative video below.

To answer the question of whether light modifiers matter in your portrait shoot, he compared a number of common light modifiers; a white umbrella, a Profoto Magnum reflector, a square softbox, and a medium-sized octabox. To keep the results of the demonstration consistent, he used a single lighting kit and background, and metered at f8 throughout the shoot.

He began by showing the results of a simple, medium-sized white umbrella attached to the Profoto D1, placed to the side of the model. Here, we see a basic portrait lighting setup that creates a nice soft light with a bit of contrast. Below is a sample photo from light out shot with an umbrella.

“Colloquially speaking, not many folks know what a parabolic umbrella is supposed to be. The most famous brand to create a true parabolic umbrella is Broncolor. A true parabolic allows the photographer to adjust the amount of light throw the umbrella has. To that end, it can be closed/opened with its position at varying parts of the umbrella stem. It doesn’t need to be fully opened and locked in order to be used. Instead you can have it halfway open or something else like that. But what Parabolic umbrellas (and how they’re more loosely defined today) are supposed to do is throw the light more forward rather than embrace the full scatter that an umbrella allows.” – From Tutorial: The Differences Between a Parabolic Umbrella and a Beauty Dish

Next is hard light from the Profoto D1 without any modifiers attached. This kind of lighting produces pronounced shadows, so you have to pay attention on the position you’re shooting from with respect to the light source. It also produces a stronger contrast, making it perfect for black and white photos. We’ve got a sample of a bare light shot below.

Light shot bare

Another modifier you can use if you want a less harsh hard light with some degree of control is the Profoto Magnum Reflector, a parabolic reflector. It’s designed to direct light at a specific angle (50 degrees in this case), scatter the light through the reflective texture, and produce a stronger illumination directed straight on your subject. Moving it around also allows you to feather the light on your subject until you get the result you want.

Example photo shot with an octabank softbox.

The last two modifiers he demonstrated are the square softbox and the medium-sized octabox. Both softboxes produce a nice diffused light with softer directional shadows. The square softbox creates a square specular highlight on the eyes, while the octabox produces a round specular highlight. You might want to choose the latter if you want to create the impression of a more natural-looking light source (like the light is coming from the sun).

Want more photography tutorials from Adorama? Check out their YouTube channel to get tips and tricks from pro photographers like Mark Wallace.


Screenshot image from the video by Adorama