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Studio Portrait Lights

Santa Claus has you spoiled this year by offering you the studio of your dreams?  A kit of flashes, a backdrop support and even more rolls of paper?  It only remains to push the furniture in your living room out of the way to turn it into studio worthy of the name!

A single point hurts you in spite of all the new material, you do not know what light modifier to choose?

Beauty dish, softbox, stripbox, reflector bowl, umbrellas of all kinds and sizes, flash ring, etc…  It is a bit like choosing a new car, many choices but which really matches my expectations?

No worries, I’d be your dealer today to guide you by showing you the difference in all these modifiers!

I want to clarify that all modifiers are compatible with various mount studio flashes and compatible with cobra flashes with such a mount adapter specifically designed for Bowens.

THE BEAUTY DISH

Photo 1

The beauty dish, as its name suggests is aimed primarily at the beauty portraits, it produces a contrasty but flattering light and highlights the details of the skin and face.  It is the modifier of choice for tight portrait, most often used in fashion and makeup photography.

There are two kinds of beauty dish, the first (as used here) with a silver interior and one with a white interior.  The silver gives a slightly harder light and contrast than the white which is slightly softer (everything is a matter of taste to choose between the two).

There are also various beauty dish sizes on the market, the classics are 40cm, 56cm and 70cm.  The larger the dish, the larger the light area and therefore the softer the shadows.  In the photo above, I used a 56cm, that offers me the widest choice of portrait for my tastes without having the bulk of a 70cm.

The operation of a beauty dish is simple, it is generally metal and resembles a large dish, inside is a small disk that reflects light back out into the main bowl and onto our subject, so we have no direct light on our subject and a beautiful reflection in the eye of our model.

A white diffuser is often sold with the beauty dish that allows the light to become even softer and more diffuse.

Honeycomb grids are also available for beauty dishes that will give the light a much more concentrated look for spill control (to help ensure it does not illuminate the background, for example).

There are also collapsible beauty dishes which are very convenient because they are portable.  The form is not generally octagonal, but round so the quality of the light produced will be slightly different, although it all depends on how you use it.

REFLECTOR BOWL

Photo 2

The standard reflector bowl often comes with a studio flash and is a bit basic of an option for a flash.

There are several sizes offering different diameters and depths for different spreads of light.  It produces a direct, hard light, which can approach the look of sunlight.

On the face of our model we can see that it creates a high contrast light with hard shadows (if you want very soft portrait, it’s not really the one for you).

The big advantage of this modifier is its diameter, which is very small in general and allows for some shadow play.  You can also point it at a white wall for a more diffuse light, using the wall as a large reflector.

Just as with beauty dish above, honeycomb grids are available for a more concentrated light and minimal spill.  A grid is used on the far right photograph above.

UMBRELLAS

Photo 3

Umbrellas present us with many choices that can make it difficult to decide which one you want.

Let’s start with my favourite modifier, the silver umbrella with diffusing fabric, also known as an Brolly Box!

It is a mixture between a white umbrella and a silver umbrella, silver side create a contrast with relatively harsh light and the diffusing fabric softens everything, giving us a soft light that remains quite contrasty.  The big advantage of this modifier is that it goes up very quickly and does not take space when folded!

There are different sizes ranging from 75cm to 1.80m depending on what light you want.  I personally use a 95cm allowing me to make the portrait without hitting the ceiling.  Those of 1.80m are perfect for full length, but you need a large studio to use a modifier of this size.

The silver umbrella is an umbrella reflector that produces a harder light and contrast, this may be a good choice for a portrait on dark background, for example, where the light will scatter.  There are different size of the umbrella according to what has to be achieved.

The white umbrella is a shoot through umbrella, so this will point toward the front of our model and our flash light is softened by the scattering material.  It is an umbrella producing a very gentle but very diffuse light, so we have very little control over it (it will tend to illuminate our entire studio).

This is a very good umbrella if have only uses a single flash for a soft, natural lighting.

THE RING FLASH

Photo 4

The ring flash is a special modifier, often used for fashion and makeup photography.  It fits around the camera to create a circular light source giving an almost shadowless appearance.  It is a light that gives a beautiful reflection in the eye, but tents to flatten images due to the lack of shadows.

It is often used as a fill flash to open shadows accompanying other light sources.

THE SOFTBOX

Photo 5

The softbox is the classic modifier, often found amongst the toys of studio photographers.  They come in all sizes and all shapes; Square, rectangular, octanical, etc.

They are a soft direct light source with one of more diffuser panels to even the spread of light.  The interior is generally silver to increase the power of the light output.

Thanks to its form, the larger they are, the softer they become and the more diffused the light will be.  Grids are available for more precise control.

I personally use a 90cm square softbox because I think it offers the best compromise in distribution and size for portraits even at a distance.

THE STRIPBOX

Photo 6

The stripbox is a very long rectangular softbox.  They shed light on a thin and long zone, for helping to lighten shadows more than a square softbox.

To conclude, there really is no right or wrong choice of modifiers.  They are all made to be different and the best choice for you depends on what you want to achieve.

We must also take into account the distance of hte flash compared to your model.  The closer the light, the softer it will be.  Conversely the greater the distance, the harder the light will be.

To better understand the function of light and the use of multiple light sources, I invite you to take a look at Strobox, which offers lighting diagrams to be able to better understand light.

Now that you know all about the modifiers, don’t forget to have fun and be creative!

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