When making decisions about modifiers, it's useful to know what they do. Our modifier brand, LightGreen, has a lot of available options for studio photographers...
Square and Rectangular Softboxes are probably the most commonly used modifiers in studio photography. They produce a pleasant, soft light, which, if used correctly, can enhance skin tones and portraits, and minimise shadows. They do, however, somewhat flatten the image, and are often best used in combinations with other modifiers.
Square and Rectangular Softboxes are great for lighting products, with linear disbursement of light creating lines in reflections and shadow areas. The image below shows the results when a 90cm x 90cm Softbox is used to light a model stood 60cm from a white backdrop. The effect is even and soft, with a little shadow. Longer, thinner softboxes, often called strip softboxes are particularly useful for highlighting narrow areas.
Grids can be attached to softboxes to prevent excess light spill. Note the shape of the catch lights in the eyes.
Octagonal Softboxes tend to be used more for portraiture. They provide the same, even, soft light as their square and rectangular counterparts, but spread evenly and omni-directionally. These "Octaboxes" come in sizes usually denoted by the diameter, from 95cm right up to 200cm.
You'll see that the light fall on this shot is not dissimilar to that of the square softbox in the previous image, although the shadow is slightly less pronounced due to the "umbrella" affect of Octagonal Softboxes. The advantage of larger softboxes is that they spread light more widely. A 150cm Octagonal Softbox can light a full length portrait at just 60cm. a 95cm Octagonal Softbox would have to be moved backwards to give the same light spread. The net result is that the strobe would require significantly more power to light the same space with a small softboxx.
One of the big advantages of Octagonal Softboxes is that they have a natural catchlight. This blends more subtly and looks more natural in the eyes of the model.
Snoots are one of the most underused modifiers in studio photography. They are specifically designed as an accent light, to add highlights to small, focused areas of a shot, but they can also be useful for moody, powerful portraits. They shape the light into a narrow beam, without any diffusion, so the light that falls is often harsh and unflattering. Used well, snoots are an invaluable tool.
In this image, the snoot is easy to identify. You can see the arc on the background where the edge of the snoot abrubtly stops light spill. The shadows are harsh and dark, and the whole image is reminicient of a spotlight.
Snoots have a very distinctive catchlgiht, which is more like a pin light in the eye. It is rare the it would be used this way - much more likely that the snoot would be used as a hair light, or to highlight a particular area of the image. Snoots are very much a uni-directional tool.
Umbrellas are one of the most useful tools in the studio. They provide a wide spread of light, by reflecting or diffusing light from the strobe. They come in various shapes, sizes and colour configurations.
One of the most common and universally useful Umbrella's is the Black-backed Silver Umbrella. Silver umbrella's have a foil type coating, so they are very efficient at bouncing light. They also spread light widely, due to the angled facias of the umbrella.
They can be very useful for flooding entire areas with light, but care should be take where shadows are cast, as the angled facias on this particular umbrella are prone to causing a double-halo shadow.
The catchlights are quite attractive, with a "sparkle" type feel to them.
Black/White Umbrellas do a very similar job to the silver. They are much less harsh though, scattering softer light over the same area as their silver cousins, although the light is diminished by almost a whole stop comparitively, so you'll need to turn up the strobes.
With a less reflective umbrella comes a less brutal shadow, and so, in portraiture, the black/white umbrella is often favoured, though both have their merits.
The catchlights are similar to that of the black and silver umbrella.
Black/Gold umbrellas are lesser used modifiers, as the light they produce can be quite extreme. They are designed to warm the tones of the image, hence we show the model in this shot in colour. They act in a very similar way to the black and silver umbrella, with hugely reflective panels that cause double-halo shadows, albeit in a warm golden glow.
As you can see from the image below, the colour intensity is significantly altered by the addition of a gold umbrella.
Like the previous umbrellas, the catchlight is not unattractive, although distinctive. Use sparingly, or your models will look like they've had a spray tan...
White Diffuser Umbrella's (also known as shoot-through umbrellas) are a favourite of all portrait photographers. They produce a lovely, even, widely scattered, soft light. They can cause hotspots, particularly since they are the only umbrella which you shoot through, which makes the central part of the umbrella prone to being brighter than the light that scatters around it.
They still produce a slight halo on the shadows, but this is negated to a large extent by the diffusion qualities of the umbrella.
The most noticable difference when using a shoot-through, is the shadow areas on the face. The catchlights demonstrate the previously mentioned hotspot in the centre, but the quality of the light is much softer and more flattering.