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Flash Photography Crash Course

Lesson 5 of 13

Understanding Modifiers

Pye Jirsa, SLR Lounge

Flash Photography Crash Course

Pye Jirsa, SLR Lounge

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Lesson Info

5. Understanding Modifiers
What are light modifiers? I’m going to give you a simple approach to understanding what modifiers do and how they manipulate light (before ever buying them).

Lesson Info

Understanding Modifiers

it's time to talk about modifiers buckle in but don't worry, it's going to be a smooth ride 1st. What the heck are modifiers? Well, going back to our diagram, when it comes to well, the light itself, the amount of light, the location of the light, most of that is all going to have to do with positioning, right? It's where we put the flash in the scene. That's gonna dictate the direction of light. It's gonna be, you know, the power settings on the flash and how many lights that we use that actually control the light itself. And the amount of light that we're using when it comes to modifiers, What we're really talking about is quality as well as color. And there is a little bit there to be said about control, maybe a little bit of light direction as well. We use our modifiers to kind of shape light direction as well. But primarily what we're going to focus on here is color and quality. Let's start first with the idea of quality, what is like quality. Now there's more to just simply this,...

but this is what I want you to focus on for. Right now, a small light source is going to create a hard quality to the light. Whereas a large light source is going to create a soft quality to the light. What in the name of all things good does that mean? Well, if you look at this image right here, this image was shot using a small flash and the only modifier here was a grid. I'll speak about what a grid does in just a moment, but it's a small light source in relation to my subject. So what we end up getting is a hard edged light. What that means is if we zoom in and actually look at his face, The transition from highlight where the flashes showing to shadow, where the flash is not showing is very hard and quick. This is a hard light source, hard light source is small in relation to the subject. The best analogy of this to understand this a little bit better is the son. See the sun creates a very hard edged light when it comes to all of us. Right, midday sun. Most of us know in photography that midday sun doesn't look great, we get crazy shadows, really hard edged shadows. But why is that? The sun is massive? It's how many times bigger than the Earth? The thing is, it's small in relation to us to where we are seen as a light source. The sun is just this tiny little pin in the sky and that's why despite its size, in relation to us, it's small and therefore it creates a very hard edged light. Okay, so when we step up in size, for example, this shot, this shot was lit with a beauty dish, a beauty dishes maybe around this size. Okay, so it's essentially a modifier that's going to go over the flash. That increases the size of the light source to maybe around this. So, in relation to our subject of beauty dishes, quite a bit bigger than just the standard flash head. So, what we end up getting is a softer transition between shadow and highlight, but you'll notice that it's still pretty edgy, It's not like super soft, it's kind of somewhere in between, right? If we go to an even larger light source, for example, in this scene, I'm using an umbrella. So when I opened this umbrella up, you'll see it's gonna cover me entirely, right? So it's an actual large light source. When we compare that to, like, say, the rough size of a beauty dish, it's dramatically bigger. So, what we get now in this scene is we turn that flash into a large light source. We bring the umbrella right next to our subjects and we create this very soft looking light soft defines the shadow to highlight transition. So when we look at the highlights of her cheek and the way that it falls off into the shadows, it's very subtle and very gradual. This is all controlled by the size of the light source. So once again, if I place this image next to our very first image and we go right into their faces, you can see exactly how dramatic a difference we're talking about. None of these lights are wrong per se. See. Oftentimes as photographers, we tend to think that large light sources are always better. Right? Soft light is always the right light. I want you to get in your heads. There's no such thing as the right light. There is the right light for the type of story that you're telling see in this image, I'm telling the story of kind of an edgy portrait of my guy that's in kind of like a cool pose. So I'm pairing it with an edgy light with a hard light source that's more dramatic in this scene. I'm showing softness, elegance and kind of this natural sort of vibe. And I'm even exposing the scene kind of bright. So, what I'm pairing that with is a light source that's very soft and romantic. So the quality of light, there's no such thing as right or wrong. It's about pairing the right light quality, the right type of light to the subject and the story that you're telling. Okay, so that's one of the big things. Now again, remember there's more pieces to this puzzle, but we want to focus on some of the biggest pieces so you guys can get off and running. So light quality, we talked about soft versus hard. This is the size of the light source in relation to the subject. And the one of the first things, one of the most frequent things that we're doing with modifiers is using a modifier to increase the size of a light source. Okay, the other thing that we're using modifiers for a lot is to change the color of that light. Again, this technique will probably focused on more in the lighting to lighting three, lighting four. We're going to wait and deeper into the series because it's kind of beyond where we're at now is a crash course, but I do want you to understand a little bit of the basics here. So in this scene, you'll see from the behind the scenes that we're seeing a white wall. Our studio is just a white wall, but in the photograph it looks as if it's painted red. So what we're using is a modifier that's called a gel. This is a gel weird name because when I first heard of a gel and I didn't know what the stuff was, I was like, is this like hair gel? Like do you go up the front of your lens? That doesn't sound very sanitary or safe for the flash not to go up the lens of you got what I'm saying. Anyway, it's not that at all what it is is a piece of plastic that's translucent and it has a color. So when the flash actually fires, it changes the color of this light to whatever the gel is. So, in this scene, for example, I'm using one flash with a red gel on the background. It makes the background red. And then I'm using another flash with something that controls and directs light, which I'll talk about in a second. A snoot to get just a little bit of light on the face. Now, a flash without a gel. Okay, this is daylight white balance, meaning the color of this light without a gel is gonna be the same as the sun or at least roughly the same around 5500 Kelvin. Okay, that's the same on any flash. They're all designed to kind of match daylight without a gel. When you put the gel on, it's going to change that color of light to whatever the color of the gel is. So, another example of this, The first image. This was a very dramatic shot, Right? But gels can be used for natural effect as well. Seeing this scene. I'm using this gel. This is an orange gel otherwise known as a C. T. O. Or color temperature. Orange gel. Probably the most commonly used gel in all of lighting. Okay, here, I'm using it to shift the white balance to orange because I'm using it to simulate golden hour. What color is golden hour? Golden hour is orange. It's that kind of nice warm look that we get from late afternoon sun just before the sun sets. So here, I've placed the flash on a bench and I put an orange gel on it is firing directly towards the camera and that's what's lighting up the leaves and creating that golden hour look when in reality the sun is already set. So we can use gels for creative effect. We can use it for corrective or natural effects like this one, we can use them for all sorts of you can even get wild with them. Like in this shot this is actually a cropped in version of the final image, but I kind of like the crop on the shot too. But here we're using a blue gel in the background and we're I think we're actually putting a C T O r orange gel on him as well for the main light to get a little more. But here it's used for a very stylized effect and then I'm just spraying water in the air to make it look like it's kind of raining at nighttime when in reality it's not, we're just in a gym. Right? So this is complete creative control when it comes to lighting and light color. Okay, at this point I want to pause for a second because throughout this course, we're gonna be focusing primarily on two modifiers. One is the umbrella, which we're just gonna use it to create a large light source. The other is a grid and I haven't mentioned these yet, but these are super powerful, very simple to understand as well. A grid is just gonna funnel light forward. What it means is going to prevent light from spilling all over the place, see a flash this head right here, when it fires that light's gonna kind of go everywhere, it's gonna spill out the size. It's gonna go kind of all different places, right? Always forward, but going to come off the sides as well. The great is going to make sure the light kind of comes forward in more of a cone shape, so it prevents light from spilling onto areas that we don't want. So it's how we're going to kind of control light direction. So this is one way that modifiers do help us to control light direction as well. But I don't want you to think about that quite yet. We will be using it because grids are very, very powerful. I'm gonna be talking a little more about the specific modifiers in just a moment, but the easiest way to understand the grid itself is just looking straight through it. So when I'm looking at the lens and you can see my right eye right now or I guess to you guys, it's my left eye, but you can see it and as soon as I turn this grid, you can no longer see meaning that when it's straight the lights going to go through. But as soon as it's at an angle that light is no longer going to come through at that angle, so it's cutting off the angles it's sending light forward. Grids are incredibly powerful and get this between a grid and an umbrella. These two simple modifiers are so powerful that photographers can build entire careers with just mastering these two tools. Okay, why am I focusing on these two tools for a crash course? Because not only are they powerful? Not only can you build your career off them, but they're also incredibly inexpensive. So grids like these umbrellas were talking like 2030 bucks for this type of stuff. It's it's not expensive at all. Okay. That said, I do want to give you a quick overview of some of my favorite on camera flash modifiers as well as some of my favorite off camera flash modifiers. Again, this is for a couple reasons. Number one. I want you guys to understand what tools I'm actually using most frequently to create the images that I make. Okay, so you guys have an idea of where things go number two. For those of you that are going into lighting series, lighting one through lighting four. We go through tons of different tools. I want you to see what I actually use on a regular basis versus we're gonna show you kind of everything and what everything does through the series. Okay, so let's start with on camera and and these are also off camera modifiers to but when it comes to with my flash on the camera, what I'm most frequently using our grids and gels. So these guys, these are the magma variants of these. These are pro photo variants of the exact same thing. Okay, so this is a pro photo grid and a pro photo gel meant for the A one. Their magnetic they just kind of pop on like this same thing with these, these magnets or magnetic. Once you have this uh mag grip put onto your flash, so you just put this grip on then everything just basically magnet attaches to it. So this is how we put grids on and off. So grids and gels are number one by far. What I'm using the most. Number two is this guy. This is a dome diffuser. Again, this is a magma version of this. Um I'm often actually using magma of modifiers with my pro photo gear. They do actually fit. So if you have that question, yes, they do fit. And the reason why I use magma modifiers with this is because stuff like this isn't yet available through Pro photo. So if I want to use this fear, which I often do, I have to have this. So this kind of diffuses but it also sends light in a lot of directions. Great for on camera flash for events and those kind of things. Next is a five and 1 reflector home. And these things are so incredibly powerful in lighting one, I'm gonna teach you how to create off camera flash by just bouncing off of reflectors while leaving the flash on your camera. It's kind of, it's fun. It's crazy. It's a technique that I use all the time. Um, uh, you'll have a lot of fun with it. The next thing is a snoot. So this is a snoot and depending on how far you pull it out, it basically directs light. You can think of a snoot like a leveled up grid. Okay, The grid is going to kind of channel light forward, right, the snow is going to pin the light even to a more extreme. Okay, so when you saw that image with the red background and the model, this was done with a Snoot, A grid would have actually lit up a little bit more of his kind of shoulders and hands. The snoot allows us to pin light exactly where we wanted. Again, a lot of these tools are a bit more advanced. They're not for a crash course, but I do want you just to kind of see them get an idea of what we're using and where things are going to go from here. Okay, so those are the most common on camera flash modifiers that I'm using, which I often do you use for off camera as well. But those are on camera. So favorite off camera flash modifiers. Now, like I said earlier, when you get into the lighting series, you're gonna see me using a grip of stuff. I have all these different stands that I'm using. We go through every type of, you know, oh cf modifier. We go through mounting accessories. Most of this has actually gotten quite a bit simplified actually, thankfully this was dumped. The fact that we had to do all this stuff just to get a flash onto a stand was ridiculous. Nd filters and their differences and all that. Again, I want to simplify all this. I want to show you the things that I'm most frequently using. So when it comes to stands more often than not, most the time I'm gonna be using this, it's a man photo nano stand tiny little guy. I think it's technically called the 5001 B. They might change model numbers, but if you type in man photo nana stand, you'll find it. I think they're like 50-70 bucks ish. And there are cheaper variants of this. I would highly suggest going with man photo. Why? Because I've had these for like eight years and I used them constantly and they never break. They're really really well made. So I would rather buy a stand like this once versus the $30 version that breaks over and over isn't as easy to use the medium sized stands. There's plenty of these on amazon. They go under brands like Impact and newer or whatever these are stands that you might want to use for larger lights. You can take them on location. Now I'm generally using this guy because most of the time I'm not using tons of large modifiers on location, Most of them using like a B 10. I have a small modifier, I'll kind of stabilize the standard, have someone hold it and this will work totally fine for that. But if you're going to the beach where it's super windy, don't use this, you're gonna need a larger stand, like the medium sized one with a sandbag. Okay, the next option is what I refer to as a boom stick. It's just a mono pod, you can get a man, photo mono pod, whatever one you want. The only downside to the mono pod, you can mount large lights to it, large modifiers, but you do need a person to hold it. So that's the only downside with it. But with the person you have now a voice operated light stand that can travel anywhere. The last option is a Matthew C stand. This is really more for studio work. So we're going to kind of briefly mentioned this and just kind of move on. You're not going to really use this for this course or any really location work unless you're starting to do big productions. So when it comes to stands really, this guy is going to be your bread and butter when it comes to O C F modifiers. And by the way, what is O C F? Off camera flash? Kind of an odd acronym considering on camera flash is the exact same acronym. Again, why does the photography industry do stuff like this? It don't make sense. But everybody refers to off camera flash as O C. F. So my pie large favorite modifier for getting a flash onto a stand is this, this is the Mag shubei Mag mod. This is one of the reasons why we don't have to worry about any of those other crazy, stupid contraptions to get the flash is mounted because all you do is take the flash, pop it right in here and then you close this little lock right here and it's good to go place this on to the end of a stand and you're done okay. I'm gonna show you the actual setups in just a bit and we'll do a top down setting too so you guys can see everything going on here but that's for getting the flashes onto your stands. The next thing is the soft box, so I'm often using two different versions of a soft box. This is the mag box which will show and this is the pro photo variant of this. The benefits drawbacks to each of these are pretty clear. This guy doesn't break down any further than it currently is but you're going to see when we set it up but it sets up very easily and nicely. But it's large, this guy breaks down very small but it has rods and takes a little bit longer to set up. Not a deal breaker. In fact, this is the guy that I prefer because I personally value the portability over the, you know, Like setting up something in seconds vs two minutes isn't a huge deal to me. It's more important that it's portable. So that's the most common soft boxes that I'm using. Again, I always use umbrellas. These guys are some of the most underrated modifiers In the world. 20 bucks. Any brand is totally fine. The flat is probably the next most common thing that I'm using. But again, that's more of a studio thing. Someone will say for later, just briefly mention here last, when you get into lighting series, you will see me using an Nd filter. We're not going to use them in this course. We're going to use high speed sync, which we'll talk about when we get there. But the ND filter is this piece of glass that basically cuts down the amount of light coming into the camera. What this does is it allows you to keep your shutter speeds at 1 200, which maximizes power from your flash. So high speed sync will allow you to use higher shutter speeds, but you get less power from your flash. The ND filter will allow you to use lower shutter speeds and get more power from the flash again, we're going to focus this course on high speed sync but get an ND filter. This is the one that I'm using the most. It's a square filter. The reason is I used to have all these convoluted, I think there's even a slide up here for it. I used to have all these different options for filters, Right? And each one of these screw on filters that go on to the front of lens. I got so tired of having these different filters. I just got a square one. And for portraiture you just hold it over the lens. So if it's a square, it's very easy to keep your fingers at the edge, hold it right over the lens when you need it. It's totally fine. I know landscape people are probably freaking out, but you're not shooting landscapes. At least if you are to be weird to be in this course. Because why would you be lighting landscapes with flash anyway, this makes it so you don't have to have different filter sizes, Different anything. This is the Tiffen nd Water White A four or a five stop nd filter if you choose to is the best option. Just invest. If you choose to go the Nd filter out, get something good. I like the different brand. There's plenty of great brands out there. The problem is if you go with a cheap brand that they're going to add weird colors to your image, They lower image quality. It's not good. So if you're going to go this route, spend $ to get a good one as opposed to a cheapo. Okay, hold it over and you are good to go. So that's really it. Once again, I don't want to overwhelm you right now. I want to give you an idea of things to come in future courses. What's in front of you in terms of like your lighting education of the possibilities. But I want you to again start simple. The two tools that we talked about the umbrella and the grid, We're going to focus that here, these two have so much potential you could spend years just perfecting your ability to use these two tools. So let's start here. Let's keep things simple. And I want you to use these two modifiers to begin your lighting career.

Class Description


  • Use flash to create dramatic portraits.
  • Use flash to create natural portraits.
  • Balance flash with ambient light.
  • Use and understand off-camera flash.
  • Understand off-camera flash gear and setups.


Let’s be honest, flash photography is intimidating. Many photographers never learn the power of flash because at first glance it looks complicated and overwhelming. This course is the exact opposite. In around 90 minutes, you will walk away not only understanding flash gear, but also having a simple framework to immediately begin using flash in your own work.

I’m going to show you how easy flash can be. From creating dramatic portraits straight out of camera, to using flash for a more natural and soft look. You will walk away from this course with everything you need to get started using flash. Should you choose to dive deeper down the rabbit hole of lighting, this course will also prepare you for the Lighting Series, a four workshop intensive that covers the ins and outs of location lighting for portraiture.


  • Beginners that understand their camera
  • Beginners that want to start learning flash
  • Beginners that want to learn how to use flash for portrait


LPye Jirsa is a photographer, educator, author, podcaster and lifelong learner. He has made a career out of creating frameworks that simplify complex subjects. Frameworks that have helped millions of people learn languages, creativity, photography, lighting, business, communication and even relationships.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Gary Hook

Pye is a talented instructor with a wealth of knowledge. He has an excellent technique of brining out the learning points and does an excellent job at the end of the sessions through summary. He provides some handy tools to assist the beginner to get out and shooting pictures with simple, easy to remember steps, e.g. CAMP. While I am a huge fan of building a foundation of theoretical knowledge, the majority of the first 8 sessions was more on an informercial for Profoto to the point of being painful. A few examples if I may. Pye tells us he is not familiar with the Godox menu system but then sings the praises of Profoto because it is so easy to use? Mmmm, maybe if you actually understood the Godox system you would find it easier to use? When it comes to modifiers, you stress that the Profoto is so much better because of its portability even though it takes more time to set-up than the competition; however when it comes to Menu systems the GoDox is not as good because it takes more time. So one is okay even though it takes more time but one is NOT good because it takes more time? No paradox here right I appreciated his chart to demonstrate the differences between Groups and Channels; however, when using the same identifier for both, e.g. letters, it can be confusing. From my perspective identifying Groups as Teachers using a # and Channels as students using letters (A,B,C,D) would reduce the risk of confusion. Instruction 101: if you are going to demonstrate something, learn it before you take up screen time! Profoto has the most counter-intuitive number system for power. How does 9 out of 10 make one think of 50% power? Session 8 – 2 minutes of actual information crammed into 15:40! With respect to terminology, Pye asks do we really need Master/Slave? I’d ask do we really need “Air” versus “Radio”? good tips on Trouble Shooting Overall the last four sessions made the whole session worth it. The simplified and structured approach of CAMP was brought out nicely with the dramatic and natural on-location shoots. Well done

Kriss Ward

This has been one of my favorite courses so far on Creative Live. A great starting point for OCF. I really enjoy Pye's teaching methods as I have seen them on other platforms so I was excited to find this here. Not only does he explain things in digestible bites, but also his demos are helpful too! Will definitely be watching the more in depth series that follows!

Angie Martin

This is a wonderful class! I was able to apply these concepts right away for a senior portrait shoot. i was like, "Wow! Pye was right!" I have learned not to tweak 100 different things at once and get confused. His CAMP system makes SO much sense...clarifies everything. Thank you, Pye, for this. You're a wonderful teacher! Marry me! I'll wait.