Comparing Light Modifiers: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace


Hi everybody, Welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on AdoramaTV, brought to you by Adorama. It’s the camera store that has everything for photographers like you and me. Well the question is? Do light modifiers matter? And if they do, why? Well to explore that question, I have a fantastic model. Her name is Anabel, come on out, and she’s got in her hand, this one of my favorite light modifiers, the magnum reflector. Which I’m sure you’ve seen me use many, many times, in this very studio. So what we’re going to be doing is, Anabel is going to be sitting on a stool. We’re going to be shooting a portrait. Pretty much the exact same portrait, but we’re going to be using different light modifiers, and comparing how they affect that portrait. So I’m going to start with an umbrella. We’ll move on to some hard light with this magnum reflector. Do some different things, and we’ll compare all those different images to see what exactly these different light modifiers do, and why you would want to use one instead of another. So without further ado Anabel, let’s get started. Well to start everything off, what we’re going to do is make sure that we keep everything consistent. So we have Anabel on a stool, she’s going to stay right there for the entire video and we’ll be changing different light modifiers out, to show you their effect. So the other thing I want to do is, make sure that everything’s metering pretty much the same. So I want things to be dialed in around f/8. So the first thing I need to do is grab my handy dandy meter. Zip back here, and meter everything so that meters at f/8, because I set this up in advance, and so that’s what we’re gonna do. Shoot everything at f/8, we’re gonna try to keep our light modifiers, in relatively the same position. But we might need to move things for dramatic effect. We’re gonna start with just this umbrella. In this first lighting setup we’re using a medium sized umbrella, just a white umbrella to the side of Annabelle, and because this is such a large source of light. It’s giving a soft light. So notice that the shadows on Annabelle’s face just sort of fade away, you can’t really see where they start and stop on the left side of her face. Also notice because we have our umbrella to the side, we have more light on this side of Annabel’s face than this one. So if she turns her face this way… we’re going to get nice shadowless light, and if she turns her face this way we’re gonna get more contrast. That’s going to be true of all the different light modifiers, but we can see that with the soft light as well as a hard light, so let’s take some pictures and show you how it looks. Our second lighting setup is simply a D1 Profoto. D1 head it has no light modifier on it, but actually they’re created with light modifiers built in. There’s this tiny diffusion disc on the front, and so it’s created to be used just like that, right out of the box. That will give us really hard light. Now the thing with hard light is that it creates very, very, hard shadows. Well let’s take a closer look at this Profoto D1 head. You can see on the very front of this, there is this diffusion right here. So that gives us hard light, but it is diffused. It sort of comes out and it comes out in a nice diffused way. It sort of scatters that light, so I’m going to do here is I’m going to turn on the modeling light, and let it give us an idea of what’s happening on the background. So notice over here we have a hard shadow. That’s something that we didn’t have with our soft light, because the soft light is wrapped all around the model. The hard light goes straight in, and creates this shadow. These other shadows over here are from our video light, so you can sort of ignore those. The other thing we can see here, you can see that this very, very hard shadow on her chin, that is totally different than this soft shadow we had with our umbrella. Well now that we’ve seen things close up, let me really dive in to the concept of on axis and off axis light, because with soft light with a big soft modifier like an umbrella or a large softbox, you can make a lot of mistakes, and move around and things aren’t going to change too much. But that is not true of hard light, with hard light, you have to pay attention to where you’re standing and the relationship between your camera and the light, because if your camera’s this way and the light is off axis, you’re going to get very pronounced shadows, but if you just move your camera in alignment with your light, those shadows aren’t going to go away, they’re just going to be hidden, and less noticeable, and so you can use that to your advantage. If you want more contrast, you can move away from the light, less contrast you can move closer to the light. So let me show you an actual example of this in real life. So what we’re going to do here is Anabel look straight forward, so aquí… Por favor aqui, And I will take this photo of her… Okay now, when we look at this we can see very contrasting shadows on her chin. So all I’m gonna do.. Annabelle, is gonna stay right where she is, the light’s not going to change. I’m just gonna change the position of my camera, in relationship to my light and so perfecto and so Anabel aqui por favor. Aqui, awesome, perfect, yeah, and now look at this, when I do that. So your chin, yes perfecto. We are going to get a much better portrait now. You might have noticed that I had Annabelle move her chin as well. Because that can also cause shadows. So hard light you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing, but the great thing about hard light is, that it is perfect for black-and-white photos. So we’ll take a few of these, don’t move… on to our next modifier, All right.. well let’s move on to another hardlight, but this is a softer hard light, that sounds weird, so this is a magnum reflector. So it’s just a very very large parabolic reflector. So what’s the difference between this and just the little diffusion that we had before, well this has a few things going on for it, that will help control the light and diffuse it in a special way. It’s a very, very small, difference to the naked eye at first, but after you use this for a little while you can really see a huge difference. So let me just show you a couple things about this modifier. Specifically, it’s going to make sure that the light comes out of this in a very specific degree. So this comes out at about oh… I think this says 50 degrees something like that. So it’s going to refine where the light is spilling. The other thing is, if we look really close on the inside of this, see these little like basketball bumps. Those don’t just hang out there for good looks, what happens is when the light hits this, that will scatter the light, and so that diffuses the light a little bit more than if you just had a flat surface. So with this, you can move it around and feather the light, and get some really interesting effects, with just one modifier. Well let’s take a closer look. Now we’ve turned off all of the video lights. So you can really see on the background, how this light modifier is shaping that light, and is keeping it from spilling everywhere. So if we go a little bit closer here, we’ll look at the shadows on annabelle. So we still have these hard shadows under her chin, like we did with the no modifier, but notice there are a nice soft transition, comparatively speaking, to what we had before, so this light modifier is a little bit larger light modifier, but it still gives us hard light, we still get this hard shadow on the background, but it’s a softer hard light, and because of the way that it’s projecting light we can move this around, we can feather the light on our subject. So let me take a few pictures, and I’ll show you the
results. Well you can see that this modifier does some really distinctive things, not only did our background become darker, our shadows were just a little bit softer. Our light was much more directional, but there’s another benefit to using this type of modifier that you can’t see in the photos, and that is what this does to the output of our light. So right now I have metered alight at f/8, so why should happen. So I’ll zip over here, we have this all set up, and I’m going to click, and that meters perfectly at f/8. Watch what happens when I put this on. So I’m just gonna put this on my head here, and now without doing anything at all I’m going to click the test button that meters at f/16. That is a huge amount of light that’s coming out. That wasn’t before, and so one of the things about parabolic reflectors, reflectors like this. It’s not only that they change the shape of the light. Make it a little bit more directional and softer, but it takes all that light that’s just scattering all over, and channels it forward. So more light is getting to your subject from the same source, so you get a much more powerful, effectively more powerful light. So more directional, a little bit softer, but more punch. Alright, well let’s move on to another light modifier, well for this lighting setup we’re moving on to softboxes, and so we’re gonna begin with a square small softbox. Now you might have noticed that we’ve turned off almost all of the video lights, because I really want you to be able to see exactly how the light is coming off of this softbox. So let me show you that a little bit closer. This is a small Elinchrom softbox, and it’s square. So notice the shape, a square softbox, and it has a big diffusion panel, so that scatters the light and wraps it around our subject. So what we’re getting here is nice soft light. You still see a hint of a shadow opposite Anabel, and if we go closer you can see we have really nice soft shadows on this side of her neck. So this.. just like our magnum reflector, is giving us directional light unlike the umbrella, which sort of just scattered light all over the place. This is diffused, but directional. The other thing to note is, because this is square, the specular highlights, in other words those reflections of the light source, are also going to be square, and in a portrait that shows up in the eyes. Notice we have square highlights. Well now that we know about the square shape and the reflection and the eyes, let me take a few photos and show you exactly what I’m talking about. Well now that we’ve seen a square small softbox, let’s move it up to a three-foot Octa box, and that is round, and I’ll give you a closer look right now. Once again we’ve turned off all our video lights, so you can see exactly the light that’s coming from our light source. This is a 3ft Profoto Octabox, and so it is roundish, it’s an octagon. You can also see that it has diffusion material on the front, so we have a really nice soft diffused light. Now because this is a little bit larger than our square softbox the light is going to wrap around Anabel, so we’re gonna get softer shadows behind her. We’re gonna get this really nice soft shadows on her neck, and on the opposite side of the light. Also, you notice this is very directional light. So we have light over here darkness over here, so it’s moving in a direction which is very, very nice. The other thing about a round softbox is, because it’s round those specular highlights are also going to be around. So if we zoom in really close to Annabelle’s eyes, you can see that those specular highlights are round. So if you want light to look a little bit more natural, like it’s coming from the Sun use a round softbox. There’s one other thing I want to mention, because this is a little bit larger. You can see over here on the wall, we have even a larger Octa box, and because of that, these allow us to have soft light with our light modifier.. farther and farther away from our subject which is great if you’re shooting groups or something, where you need a soft light, that’s not so close to your subject. Well there you have it, a bear head, a magnum reflector, an umbrella, a square small softbox, and a large octabox. You can see the differences between these light modifiers, and the best way to learn about different modifiers, and what they do and exactly. All the little particulars is to get in a studio maybe a rental studio, that houses all this stuff and then try stuff out. It can take you a little bit of time to really dial in exactly which modifier is best for what. So don’t get discouraged, if you don’t see a difference right away when you’re working with stuff, and it’s really good if you’ve got either a rental studio, even better, a bunch of friends with different light modifiers. So you can share those between yourselves and get some practice. You can really start to see exactly which tool is right for which job. Now I want to say thank you, to a fantastic model. It’s Anabel… you can find her on Instagram @anabelladb Perfecto, and we put that right here… so you can see all of her great portfolio. Make sure you check that out, also check me out on Instagram @JMark Wallace. Click subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode, and turn on the bell… Thanks again, and we will see you again next time! Adios!

32 Replies to “Comparing Light Modifiers: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. With the hard light, what chin shadows we're you trying to reduce? I started to read more shadows when you directed the models face toward the camera

  2. Very nice. I was just missing a deep octa, because light produced by that is also very different. Even from the same 3 foot size…

  3. Exactly the video I have been needing! I’m trying to pick 2-3 modifiers to start a in-home studio. I really like that magnum reflector! What 3 modifiers would you suggest to start with?

  4. That was informative. The shadows from the magnum reflector are excellent. I noticed some posterization in the shadows – is that there in the original or is that Youtube compression?

  5. Thank you Mark! This is an outstanding side by side by side comparison of the 3 light sources. And your running commentary explaining how to evaluate each is very helpful. The difference between the umbrella and softbox is a much greater difference than I would have expected. Thank you to you and Adorama who does all my prints and photo books.

  6. Great explanations. Thorough, detailed, quick and concise. That is four for four in my book. Thank you both for your time!

  7. Mark, how long have you been with Adorama? You have helped so many people with your tutorials. Thanks for what you do!

  8. Good video Mark so is better softbox o umbrella? Can you doing a video tutorial how to use Sekonic L-478DR-U i have 2 light Profoto 1bx, i can get to work Thank You!

  9. Mark, you’re so predictable. Your vids are always perfect and always deliver a punch! Thanks! BTW, OMG she is sooooo beautiful!

  10. I love your presentation, you seem excited, interested and smart from the first 1 minute, it makes me feel safe that you know what you are talking about, which after all these years you obviouslyly do!

  11. This was really great. I have a studio shoot coming up and I’m looking forward to trying some of what I’ve been learning from you here and also from several other of your tutorials.

    Also, I like the perspective in these images a lot. Would you mind sharing the focal length you selected for these?

  12. good comparison, good video. congratulations! one question; Did you do any photo editing? like contrast color correction and others? or simply not edited.

  13. great video.

    But Im confused, is the lighting continous or strobe?

    I see the light is continous throughout the shoot, but still seeing strobe flashing at the same time.

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