Skip to main content

Studio Gear: Modifiers

Lesson 19 from: Professional Portraits: Moving Beyond Headshots

Gary Hughes

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

19. Studio Gear: Modifiers

Next Lesson: Studio Gear: Demo

Lesson Info

Studio Gear: Modifiers

What I mostly use in the studio is large soft boxes. I really like to simulate natural light as much as possible. You'll find that people have a tendency, at least right now in photography, some people are kinda anti studio photography. Did you ever get that? Like, I don't want it to look studio-y or whatever. And so having a small, relatively small studio with no windows, I've had to sort of develop ways to shoot that, will give more of a natural light kind of appearance with studio strobes. So let's go over the lights. And I do not use these exact light stands, although I have similar ones. I cannot tell you how much I love having all my lights on wheels in my studio. When you have your stuff on wheels or even on track systems, or even if you go on location, most of the time, they make little wheels that you can clip onto the bottom of any light stand. They're like a couple bucks apiece and you can turn any light stand into a rolling light stand without having to buy something heavy ...

duty like this from Avenger. Guess what? I use Alien Bees. And I'm not ashamed of it. Now I will tell you that I have a set, this is not my particular set, but I own these exact ones. A B1600 and two B800s. Are what I shoot with most of the time in the studio. And I bought mine, I'm sure this is not typical, but I bought mine ten years ago. And I have not changed the flashbulbs in them once. They have not faltered, they have not broken. They perform consistently. They're really easy to use. Watch, you need more power, you just go like this. I find myself sometimes on the digital ones. I'm like beep boop beep. I don't know what that means, but let's see if it works. It's really easy to remember your settings when it's literally just full power, 32nd, 16th, 8th, 4th, half and full power. So I like the simplicity of them. They're rugged, they're inexpensive and I think pretty much every photographer I know owns a couple of these. They're kicking around somewhere. And so you can go out and you can buy more expensive lights. Pro photos are brilliant. They're also like 1,200 bucks. You know. I think you get a B800 for around 275. I've used them consistently and I have not found any reason not to. The only thing I think you'll get that's better, if you shoot a lot, you'll find pros that shoot commercially that will tell you that when you use a more expensive studio strobe the main difference is gonna be that the output is 100% consistent. When you're shooting with an Alien Bee, or you're shooting with a less expensive strobe, one that's made for the rest of us, they will fire, fire, and then they'll fire randomly at like a stop less power, and then they'll fire, they'll be fine for 10 or 12 shots, and then you'll have one that it doesn't quite... The power output isn't super consistent. Whereas you get a more expensive light, that power output is gonna be exactly what you set 100 shots out of 100. So that's gonna be the main difference. Unless you're shooting like a thousand pictures, it can be a pain in the butt, especially when you're raw processing images and you batch process, oh, those should all be the same. No wait, like this one, this one, this one and this are all different because the light didn't fire at full power. So that can be the case. But I haven't found anything like that to be a big enough issue for me to want to spend $4,000, $5,000 on replacing them. Is that cool? And what's cool about this modifier that I use, this is a 4 foot by 6 foot Larson signature soft box. I cannot tell you how much like a window you will have in your studio if you have something like this. This is an absolutely enormous lighting modifier. It is comically huge, right? However, if you think about it in terms of if you had a natural light studio and you had a window that you really wanted to use and it was putting out beautiful light, how tall are windows? Six feet, eight feet, sometimes more. So you need to be able to match a big light source. So this is a fantastic option. There are tons of different kinds out there. I really like this 4 by 6 and I'll tell you why. This particular 4 by 6 from Larson is the shallowest 4 by 6 soft box. That I've found. It's really shallow. So if you have a limited amount of space, it's actually really good. It will go through a doorway without breaking it down, which is kind of a plus. But it's really good for using if you have, you can even use a soft box in kind of a small space. You find a lot of 4 by 6's are also quite a lot deeper. And so I like that this is a little more compact. Again, you're gonna see a couple of consistencies. These do have an optional inner baffle, which can make the light even softer. It's got a silver interior. And this one does not have an inner baffle. But you can add that inner baffle. I would recommend it to get even softer light would be fantastic. Because one of the problems that differs between window light and the soft box is that soft boxes tend to have a very hot center. Right, because that's where the light is. So if you have a baffle it will spread that light out even more. But the cool thong about these is why I use these, these are not the cheapest ones on the market, but what I have found is that I've owned Larson soft boxes for a long time. And my favorite thing, the build quality is awesome, the stitching, these are all handmade in the USA, in Florida. That the baffles stay white. That becomes really important over time, maybe not the most important reason why to spend a bunch more money on soft box. But the baffle stays white. You don't get color drift. If you buy something that's less expensive, a lot of times these will start to yellow and they will start to get brittle. These things stay in really good shape. I don't recommend these as like your go-to lights to take on location. Setup and breakdown isn't super fluid. I have done it in the past and it's doable, but I like to leave these set up in my studio, and I use them every single day. Let's trot out this guy right here. This is, these are ones that I use the most. This is the Larson signature... 3 by 4. It is again, it's shallow. It's large enough. I have two of these in my studio. And I will show you very specifically why I have two and why I use two at the same time. What's really cool about these is that you can fit these most anywhere. Not everybody can fit a 4 by 6 in their shooting space. Some of us are shooting in our homes, some of us are using our living rooms or our garages. So I find these are more compact, and relative to distance to subject they put out a very similar quality of light, as far as softness. Again these also have an inner baffle. Like so. And that will soften up the light even a little bit more. Some people don't like to shoot with that, some people do. I find I really like to have that inner baffle. My whole thing is trying to make as much natural-light-looking shots in the studio as possible because it's really hot where I live and I don't like to go outside that much if I can help it. Pretty much May through January, I don't really wanna go outside. These Manfrotto clips are some of the most useful things you'll ever have. Maybe these are about 20 bucks apiece, I'm not really sure, but Manfrotto makes them. They clip onto just about anything. You can even put a light on them. If you need a light to light the background or if it's in a weird place and you don't have room for a light stand, you can clip this onto just about anything and have a speed light rocket. So most of the time in the studio I use them to hold my lint roller and my mirror. When I'm not dropping my mirror or breaking it. These are two things that I always have in my go bag, and I always have in my studio is a lint roller and a mirror. It's, most people don't use them that effectively, and for the most part, it's like, you can get by without them. But I find that psychologically speaking, people feel like they're being pampered a little bit more when you take a little extra second to do something like this. So it helps people relax. Gives you an excuse to chat a little bit and help them relax while you're setting up for a session. And even if it just takes a minute or two, I find that it's a pretty cool little device to have. So what I wanna do is I wanna show you how I use these Larson boxes in conjunction with a couple of other things. And we're actually gonna do a couple little test shots with my camera. Oh, we didn't talk about the most important thing. If you're gonna get into photography, you're gonna need a camera. (laughter) Right? You look confused, Joe. This is my go-to lens. I think this is a lot of people's go-to lens. It's 70 to 200. I am branching out more lately, and I'm using it less to create... Portraits with different intent. Sometimes I'll shoot super wide with like a 16- or a 35-millimeter on a full-frame camera, to try and get a more powerful, more in-your-face kind of a look. But when it all comes down to it I find that I shoot with this lens more than I shoot with any other. I don't say that this is the only one that you should use. You can do terrific portraits with a 50 or an 85. This is the 70 to 200 28IS2. On Canon it would be the VR2 version, or Nikon it would be VR2. They're both fantastic lenses, and there's an F4 version. Most of the time when you're doing professional portraits, this type of work, you don't really need to be shooting it 28. There's almost no scenario in which will be better than any other thing. So you can get the F4 for a few hundred bucks less, I think, and it's actually even lighter. So it's not gonna ruin your day. If you're a wedding shooter and you drag this thing around, you know that everyone has a bad back because of this lens. I would definitely recommend to get the F to do this type of work over the 28, because the quality is gonna be fantastic, it's still a good L series lens. And it's a little bit less expensive and lighter. This is the Canon 5D Mark III. Waiting for the next one to come out. Who knows if I'll buy it, but this is the one I've used. Actually wanna show you something cool. I've used the Canon 5 series cameras for a long time. I had the 5D. I had the 5E Mark II. Now I shoot with a 5D Mark III. I'll probably buy the 5D Mark IV. You wanna see this? This is a photographer that shoots a lot. Look at that. Rubbed the paint off of it. Working photographer, everybody. And I don't take particularly good care of my equipment. It's got cracks in the body. Anybody wanna buy it? No? We beat up our stuff pretty well. So I always think that's pretty cool. I saw a seminar by this old photojournalist who shot for Nat Geo and Associated Press and a bunch of other places, and he pulls out this, like, ancient Pentax. And it was like just the color of metal. Like just warped steel... Aluminum. And I go, "What kind of camera is that?" And he told me, and I go, "Aren't those black?" He goes, "It was." (laughs) So, you know, you get a lot of use out of your camera. But I found that I like the full-frame sensor. The high ISOs are a lot better for me. And the 5D III is gonna be good for just about anything that you would wanna do. It has a couple of cool options. It has a compact flash card and an SD card slot. So if you want to be able to use something like an WiFi card so you can transmit wirelessly, shoot kind of wireless tethering, that's a really cool, inexpensive way to be able to do that. Also I will typically keep a SD card, like a 16- or 32-gig SD card in there, just sending small JPEGs to it. And you can send small JPEGs on a 32-gig SD card, I think you can put like, I don't know, a hundred million JPEGs on that, or something. So, every once in awhile I've had to go back to that. You ever accidentally erase the wrong card and you don't remember what job? So I always have those JPEGs as a backup. It's a really cool extra little backup that I throw on there, in addition to using it for WiFi when I'm shooting wireless tether. Other than that, I mean, any camera can really do this type of work. They're all so good nowadays. I don't get into like the format wars, you know, whenever you say you shoot Canon or Nikon and somebody always goes, "Eww!" And they're usually 85 years old, and blind, but it doesn't matter. So I would recommend highly just to have a camera and one that you like. The features that are gonna be the most important you're gonna find are gonna be the auto-focus, how many auto-focus points it has, to make sure that your images are sharp, especially if you like to shoot at shallow depth of field. If you shoot at shallow depth of field and you're using a camera that's got like nine auto-focus points you're gonna have a problem with sharpness in your images sometimes. However, most of what I shoot is shot for the web these days, and so those aren't huge images, are they? So, I don't even, most of them, I don't even shoot on full-size RAW. The cool thing I like about the Canons is is that you can change the file size. You can shoot at full RAW, you can shoot at medium RAW or small RAW. So you can shoot RAW or JPEG and adjust the file size. So it'll take up less space. Although hard drives are super cheap nowadays and space isn't a super big deal, but for me, again, we're looking for bottlenecks in our system. Most of my images end up this big on the internet, so why do I need them to be billboard size on my computer? I don't. So I shoot medium RAW, it makes Lightroom, Bridge, Camera RAW, run faster. It can render those previews faster. Your images copy from your card to your computer faster, because the file sizes are smaller. There's just a million reasons why. Now I do shoot a lot with these professional portraits I'll shoot an attorney and it'll be on a billboard, I will definitely crank that up to large RAW for stuff like that. But I always consider the intent when I choose my file size, and I will change my file size between shoots. If you have a bad memory and you think that you can't necessarily handle remembering to do that, which I totally understand, just leave it and don't play with that at all. But I use that a lot. So before we go into starting to shoot, does anybody have any questions on any of that gear? Okay, we got some questions from the interwebs. We'll hit those. We'll start right here with you. Daniel. Yeah, two questions. If I can remember them both, but one on the speed lights. Do you find that when you're doing a lot of photos, they overheat? I find that they do not overheat. What you'll see is if you use certain brands of flashes, they will overheat. For most of this stuff, let's say you're shooting sports or you're shooting a wedding where you need to be like, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, sure, they can overheat. I haven't had that happen to me ever. My friends who have Nikon SB speed lights, certain models of those have a real tendency to overheat. The good news is when you're using them off camera, you don't have to use a specific brand. Very many of my friends who use Phottix flashes, the Mitros flashes, they're fantastic. And they are a little less expensive, they're TTL, they're very versatile, and a really great option if you have speed light overheating problems. But using the Canons, I shoot with the 600 RTs. Or X's or RTX. Let's look and see what brand these are. These are 600 EX RTs. And before this I used the 580 EX, and before that I used the 430 EXs. And I have never had an overheating problem with Canon speed lights. I'm sure that somebody out there on the interweb probably has had it, but I have not personally. But again, I'm not shooting 50 pictures a minute. I'm like pop, pop. Okay, let's adjust this. Pop, pop. So I don't have that problem. However, if you are using gels, I will tell you that this does get very hot. So you wanna leave a little space when you out a gel on there, otherwise you'll melt right through it. So, don't forget, gels can get melted on these things. But again, I think I've only heard of that from my friends with some Nikon flashes. Only certain ones. I don't remember which SB model were the ones that overheat, but have not had that problem at all. Anybody else, you guys, before we go to the interwebs? Okay, let's hit the interwebs questions. That is an awesome question from truphotos. I do both of those things. It really depends on what I'm going for. Sometimes you're in a tight spot. Sometimes you can't bring in a bunch of stuff and set it up. And I will honestly always be happy with the simplest way to do a job. I have shot entire professional portraits just with my flash on my camera, bouncing it off of a wall to the side. It's totally doable. The things that you have to consider are, what are you trying to create? What is your intent? What is the quality of light gonna be on the subject? And you know, how do I wanna present this? What am I trying to say? And sometimes if it's just something pretty simple, if like out in the hall we're gonna shoot later, its just a long hallway with neutral color walls, I'll be bouncing like crazy. So I'm gonna show you how to bounce for a key light, bounce for fill light, bounce for backlight, and we're gonna add lights until you wouldn't even recognize the place that we're in. So I will do both. It depends how much space I have and depends on the look that I'm going for. Rick Mason says... No, I don't believe that they do. Depends on what you use. Some of those, like the pocket wizards, and what are some of the other ones? The Cactuses and the Phottix triggers, some of them you put in the hot shoe in the bottom, and I'm assuming that they'll have a mount on the bottom also. And there are several different options. Let's hope that doesn't fall. (exhales sharply) Alright. So, although this is a, I think a Bowen mount, you can also unscrew this, and screw any other screw thread directly into the top of it. So, no matter what type of... Speed light modifier, or, sorry, wireless trigger that you have, you'll be able to mount this with no problem, and the height will adjust so that the speed light will fit right in the soft box. This is just I think a little bow and cold shoe mount right there that screws right into it. So you can actually kinda... You don't have to put the flash directly into it. You can put the flash into your wireless trigger and then screw your wireless trigger onto this. Okay, we got another question. That's a really good question. I don't mean to be flippant, Donna, but it is a good question, but it's like asking, how long is a piece of string? How many people are in the portrait? Is it a headshot, is it a full-length portrait? But there is an answer to that question that I use. This is my go-to. Again, same one as over here, but I use these in the studio quite a lot. This is going to be your SweetLights Systems. This is the same manufacturer as Larson soft boxes. This is gonna be the 3 by 4 reflector kit. From SweetLight. I will use these quite a lot. There is a 4 by 6 version. It really depends on the length of the portrait and what you're trying to do with the reflector. For example, if you're shooting a headshot, and it just needs to be a bounce light up from underneath, this is gonna be fine, even one a little bit smaller than this would be fine. If you're going to use it as an edge light for a head and shoulders image, it's fantastic. Or 3/4. Or if you're using it as an edge light or a fill for a full-length portrait, this might leave you a little bit short. No? Oh well. I was funnier yesterday, I realize that. Okay. So it really honestly depends on what you're doing. I have 4 by 6's and 3 by 4's. I typically take the 3 by 4's on location, and the 4 by 6's typically stay in the studio, if that makes any sense. But I use these a lot. And there are several different types, super silver and soft silver and all that kind of stuff. But 3 by 4 is the kind I use the most often. But when I'm doing full length I use 4 by 6. This is from... Yeah, that's what's cool about these guys is, they'll spin. This is from SweetLight Systems. I think it's It's the same manufacturer as the soft boxes, which is Larson Enterprises. I think to get these specific, this is called the 3 by 4 reflector kit. And it comes with the material, the thing, and the adaptor to go onto a light stand. That cool?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ten Tips for Professional Portraits
SEO Workbook
Posing Guide
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews


Gary is super knowledgable, yet down-to-earth and relatable. I love how he explains the exact gear he uses but also describes ways to accomplish the same look using DIY and less expensive alternatives. The segment where he demos a live shoot in multiple, difficult lighting situations is worth the cost of the class alone! Bonus: He's super funny. He could probably double as a comedian on the side, but I digress. This class was informative, funny, and very practical for any photographer that wants to increase their profit and expand their business into the professional world. He gives all his prices and workflows so you can get up and running in 2 days! :) Awesome class overall, and it's a great sequel to his professional headshot class (which I also bought and loved.)

Richard Blenkinsopp

I love Gary's straight teaching style, and appreciate him demonstrating with regular people, not models. This is the real life of a regular photographer! I wish Creative Live could show more from the photographers viewpoint, so that when he's posing and moving lights etc, we see exactly what he's changing, and can analyze why... not sure how they'd achieve this in a live environment though. Loved his going around to less than ideal locations and finding the place that works. My favourite course on Creative Live so far.


Gary makes taking editorial portraits look simple and fun. I want to start shooting heads! I love Creative live and Gary is really doing a great job. I got to buy the class next. Thank you.

Student Work