Which Flash Modifier Should I Choose?

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After you pick up your first speedlight, strobe, or LED panel, the best investment you can make is in some modifiers. These tools come in all shapes and sizes, which can make it difficult to pick one out if you are new to photography. Since each modifier comes with its own distinct look and ideal use, here is a guide to help you find what is right for you and your style.

The Staples

If you are just starting to build your lighting kit, there are a few options that are helpful to learn, easy to use, and very effective.

Umbrellas
Available for relatively inexpensive prices, there is no reason to not have an umbrella or two at your disposal. These simple tools are a solid starting point for photographers by providing an added level of control over your lighting. Depending on the style, shooters can create a range of different looks, including soft light using a shoot-through umbrella, or crisp highlight and shadows with a reflective silver model. Umbrellas also fold down and take up very little space, meaning they can occupy a place in a closet or tucked away in the corner of a tiny New York City apartment.

Impact 7' Parabolic Umbrella Diffuser

Softbox
Thanks to its namesake soft output, the softbox is one of the most popular modifiers around, and it is loved by many because it can make almost anything look good. It will take up a bit more space than a standard umbrella, and setup isn’t always painless, but the effort is most certainly worth it. Softboxes soften light output, obviously, by making the source larger and more diffuse. Two main shapes are available: octagons and rectangles. Square and rectangular options are more conventional and do a good job of mimicking window light. A related option is a strip box, which will create a longer, and sometimes more interesting catchlight/reflection. Octaboxes, on the other hand, can make a round catchlight that is very pleasing for portraiture. Softboxes can be customized, featuring removable front panels and inner baffles to adjust light quality, and the ability to accept grids and masks with ease.

Aputure Light Dome for Light Storm LS Cob120

Reflectors
Usually included with studio strobes, the simple reflector can do a lot to help direct light when you are just starting out. Generally equipped with a silver interior, these modifiers will reflect light into a narrower, more focused beam, meaning more light hits your subject instead of the walls of your studio. The key to reflectors is their ability to work with, or even hold other accessories—many will work with umbrellas or accept grids.

Impact 16" Beauty Dish Reflector

Collapsible Reflectors
If we take a moment to step away, physically, from the light, we will find the collapsible reflector. This is one best and simplest tools you can have on hand in your studio. At its most basic, you can use this to bounce or reflect the light from your key into the shadows to create some fill. By using it in this way, beginners can make the most out of a one-light kit. On top of this, while white is preferred for its soft, neutral qualities, shooters can find a variety of different surface options, including silver for a crisper light; gold for a warmer tone; black, which helps cut down on reflected light; and zebra patterns that can combine the effects of two types. For those on a tighter budget, reflector board is available and has the bonus of being trimmable.

Impact 5-in-1 Collapsible Circular Reflector Disc

Stepping Up

Once you have a better idea of your photographic style and what type of next-level effect you want to create, here are some other tools you may want to add to your bag.

Beauty Dishes
Adored by portrait photographers, the beauty dish offers a distinct effect that is nearly impossible to mimic with another modifier. It bounces the light from a deflector plate to evenly illuminate the dish, creating a soft, yet crisp light with superb contrast. Also, since the light source is deflected, hot spots are eliminated and a unique catchlight is created. This is obviously ideal for portraits—it helps smooth skin and creates a natural look.

Impact Folding Beauty Dish

Snoots and Barndoors
Sometimes the struggle is light hitting too much of your scene; this is where a snoot or set of barndoors will come in handy. Snoots can almost be described as funnels for light; they become progressively narrower until light can only escape through a small opening. Barndoors are a little less controlling but are more flexible, giving photographers the ability to flag off light from just one side or all four sides, depending on the situation. This is great when you are trying to create an accent or hair light or want to create a slash effect.

Impact Barndoor Kit for SF-ABRL160 Flash

Grids
Grids have been mentioned in relation to other modifiers, but they deserve their own mention for what they can do. They help narrow the beam angle of your light, making for a more controlled beam with sharper falloff at the edges. Multiple-degree options are usually available, allowing photographers to choose exactly how much of an effect they need.

Impact 40° Honeycomb Grid for 22" Beauty Dish Reflector

Gels and Diffusion
If you want a fancy color splash, then you are going to want to look at gels. These translucent colored sheets slide in front of your light and change the color to help create special effects. There are also some practical uses, as color correction gels can help balance different fixtures to match, such as a strobe to a fluorescent or daylight to tungsten. Similar in style to gels is diffusion, which is either a type of gel or fabric that will soften the output of your light.

Rosco Color Effects Filter Kit

Flags, Scrims, and Cucoloris
All used off-fixed, these options refine the way light interacts with a scene. Flags block light, as well as cut down on reflections, to increase contrast in the scene. Scrims cut down of light output without affecting the quality of light too much. And the cucoloris, or “cookie,” can help break up light with a pattern to create a more natural or interesting effect.

Digital Juice Shadow Kit

Specialty

Some modifiers are rare, or just not used that often. While generally not advisable for beginners, those looking to create a very specific look might find exactly what the need in this group of modifiers.

Lenses and Gobos
Now here is some cool stuff. Some lights will accept lenses, which will help focus or project the light in a specific way. This can dramatically improve the range and focus of your fixture or create a nice hard edge for the circle. On top of this, they can occasionally accept gobos, which are effectively filters with shapes cut out for projection. There are used for very specific situations, but if you have an idea that involves projection, this is the way to do it.

Aputure Fresnel Lens Mount for Light Storm LS120 COB

Hardbox
Not the easiest to find but an interesting option for shooters looking to mimic daylight. The hardbox works by shrinking the size of your light to a single point, the exact opposite of what a softbox does. This create very sharp shadows, as if you were standing outside on a clear day and looking at the sidewalk next to you.

Profoto Hardbox

What are your go-to modifiers? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

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