A photograph is only as good as its lighting, and deciding what kind of modifier to use with your flash can hugely impact the luminosity of your shoot. Depending on whether you use a softbox or an umbrella as a modifier, the quality of light in your studio will range from diffused to harsh; there will be subtle differences in the light’s direction, as well as differences in the shape of the light itself –– which affects specular highlights and catchlights in your model’s eyes.
So, how do do you decide what type of modifier to use during a shoot? CreativeLive instructor Mark Wallace explains the differences between a softbox and an umbrella (as well as a reflector) so you can determine which modifier meets your needs. Also, check out the details below to learn how you could win free gear from Mark and Adorama!
Want your image to be heavy on the shadows? A standard reflector is your best bet. These simple modifiers are great for black-and-white photography with hard light (think film noir-style shoots), and cast a shadow not just behind your model, but also on her face. This means her nose, lips, cheekbones –– even the shadows of her eyelashes –– will all be sharply cut and defined.
A standard umbrella is generally larger than your model, which means light can travel around her –– diffusing the shadows on her face while doing so and softening your image. The bigger your umbrella, the more diffused your shadows will be. In fact, you’ll eliminate shadows altogether if you use a big enough umbrella! Think about it this way: a large umbrella equals more light falling around your model, which in turn equals a softer, glowing look.
Note: Mark reminds us that using an umbrella as a modifier will darken the background of your photo thanks to the “inverse square law.” Good to keep in mind when it comes to styling your shoot!
Softbox (Square or Rectangular)
Sure, you’ll get radiant, soft light when using an umbrella, but it’s not easily controlled. Light modified with an umbrella falls on the model, on the floor, on the ceiling –– you name it, the light is hitting it! That’s where a softbox can come in handy. Because of their solid back, softboxes allow photographers to prevent light from falling behind their subject. Mike also points out that specular highlights tend to be more defined when using a softbox –– specifically when it comes to catchlights in the eyes. Just remember, a softbox is square, which means those catchlights will also be square!
Like a standard size umbrella, a 7 ft parabolic will give you soft, diffused and “natural” light. They’re so large that you can place them behind you while shooting, and the light will still wrap around your body and cast a soft glow on the subject. Mark prefers parabolic umbrellas because they give him the freedom to move around the room while shooting –– offering him increased flexibility and creativity.
For more advice from Mark Wallace, check out his informational video series with Adorama TV, and make sure to tune into creativeLIVE’s Photo Week for tons of helpful photography workshops from experts in the field!
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