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Light Modifiers & Backgrounds

Lesson 6 from: Introduction to Flash for Children and Family Images

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

6. Light Modifiers & Backgrounds

Lesson Info

Light Modifiers & Backgrounds

Alright, important, important, important The most important, one of the most important choices you're going to make is which tool to use to change the look of the flash. I put a lot of thought into this. I've been shooting for 20 years so I own a lot of stuff. I know that most of you watching today, don't own a lot of lighting gear and that's fine. I encourage you to buy something that works for you and then just learn the heck out of it. Learn how it works this way, learn how it works that way, learn how it works as a solo light, as a combo light, just learn that one tool. That's the best way to learn and that's how I learned. The first piece of lighting equipment I bought was an umbrella. I still own that umbrella today. I've owned that thing for 20+ years, 25 years and it's falling apart. I don't want to get rid of it 'cause it has a lot of memories that I have with that little umbrella. And it's a small one. If I knew better at the time, I wouldda bought a big one, but I didn't, so...

I bought the small one. But I learned how to use it well. So, just don't worry about buying all this stuff. I would encourage you more, buy something and then just use it consistently. For a year. Then buy your next tool. Let's start with umbrellas. What do we need to think about? Size. When you're doing portraits, size is important. The bigger the umbrella, the softer the lights gonna be on the subject. We were taking those photos of Brandon earlier and this small umbrella, this is a 42 incher about, really only lights up enough to basically go from here up to his head. That's it, that's it. I add someone else into the scene, boy, it's gonna be tough. Especially another full-size adult. If I have two little kids, I could get by with one little umbrella. If I have a couple of adults, I have to change how I use this umbrella from a side light to maybe more of a front light. And it needs to be more on access, so it's equally lighting him and his wife, side-by-side. So, that's the small umbrella. You can buy these for, I don't know, $25, so they're pretty inexpensive. And they're imminently flexible and imminently portable. You can take them all around the world with you if you want to, 'cause they collapse down nice and small. If you are going to buy an umbrella for your home studio, get something like this. This is fantastic, one of my favorite tools and I just kick myself that I waited so many years to buy it. This is a, it's basically a five or six foot diameter umbrella. Get at least a five or six footer. $79, you can find it in your local camera store. I bought this one on-line. Great, great tool. It's just white inside. And now, look at this. When I put this in front of Brandon, look at how much surface area it covers. From a subject, it's just impressive sitting here. You know, I'm gonna pay Mike more money for my photos. This is great. But I can now photograph him and his wife, and their kids with like one single umbrella. Fantastic. And if I throw in a reflector over here, even better. So go big, go big with your umbrellas, you don't have to spend a lot of money on them. What you get when buy ... You can buy these things that are like hundreds and hundreds of dollars. And even some of them are thousands of dollars. You just gain durability, really. You're not gonna gain a whole lot of look or improvement on the look, but you gain a lot of durability. I like using high end gear. I use a lot of Profoto gear. I've been using a lot more Phottix gear lately. This one is not, I think, what is, it's made by Impact, yeah Impact and this was on one of those on-line websites that sells camera gears and they're based in New York. Those companies. You can get good stuff from them. So that's a little bit about umbrellas. Let's talk next about softboxes. Where's my softbox. Right there. I love softboxes. Love, love, love softboxes, because they give you a lot of control over the light. So this is a Profoto softbox. And I'm gonna put it here by Brandon so you can kinda get the size, the feel of how big it is. So this is a two foot by three foot. I recommend that as a minimum size. Minimum size and you can see here, the reason I put it here is so you get a feel for how much of his body this is going to illuminate. Again, just like that smaller umbrella, we're really working with just the head down to the waist. If your doing family portraits with a softbox, you're probably gonna need to get a bigger tool, a bigger softbox. And I got another one, it's off set. It's a three foot by four foot. The down side to softboxes, they're pretty expensive. Hundreds of dollars for this. It's a Profoto. You kind find other softboxes that are less, but man I've had these for a lot of years and they work with studio lights. So you can put a regular studio flash in here, strobe. And they work with hot lights. (velcro ripping) This is a heat escape port, so continuous lights will work in here. So this has a lot of flexibility with all of my different lighting systems. And of course, it also works with my speed lights, 'cause I've got this little bracket here that they make, it's called a speed light adapter (makes popping sound) and it works with all my high end Profoto gear. Why do I like softboxes so much? And the reason why is because I've got full control over where that light is going. An umbrella sends the light everywhere, but a softbox I can control it. I can feather it off the side, I can go straight on, I can move it over here and prevent it from going on the background. All that's very helpful in a small studio environment when you don't want stuff necessarily always falling on the backdrop. You can also move these softboxes sideways, so like if I was shooting maybe his two kids, which we're gonna do later today, I might move it sideways and now I've got enough light, I'll move over here. I've got enough light so I can illuminate a wider area versus a more vertical area. That's a softbox. Don't buy small softboxes. And when I mean small, I mean like the little nine inch by one foot softboxes. They work for photographing Legos and slugs and little things, rings, but not great for people photography. One other thing in the softbox world that you might consider, is either a Octa, like I've got here. So this is an Octa and on the front of that, move this away from my microphone, (velcro ripping) it's got this here which helps us control the light as well. So you can shoot the Octa straight or with this little modifier which helps us control and corral the light. And then the other option is something like a beauty dish, which is similar to an Octa. I don't have a beauty dish on set, but I've got this, which is close to the beauty dish. This is made by Phottix it's called their RAJA 65. It's collapsible, it works with studio lights, and it works with speed lights. It's a very flexible tool. It's portable, I can take it with me any where in the world I want. Sometimes I like a round surface and that gives me really nice catch lights in the eye. But, I'm gonna move it over here next to Brandon again, just to give you an idea of size. So what are we thinking when it comes to portraiture and something like this? Well, torso, head and shoulders. Maybe with the right angle and the right distance away, maybe even bellybutton to the top of the head. But definitely not full size. So, these take a lot of skill to use. If you're looking at where should I spend my money, I would hold off on a beauty dish, I would hold off on something like this. These smaller items, and just go, starting out I would recommend a big, giant umbrella and then maybe a softbox. Those two things will give you a lot of mileage and give you years and years and years of learning opportunity. Try not to hit you, knock your glasses off. Couple more things I want to talk about, oh, talk about V-flats and reflectors. A V-flat, I've got it back there. I'm not gonna pull it out, we'll pull it out later today. But, that's that big black sheet that I've got back there and what that is, is foam core. On the inside of that is white foam core, white color foam core and the outside is black. You can use those for giant reflector surfaces, and we're gonna use that this afternoon when we do the big family. I'm gonna pull out the big, giant umbrella and a big ole V-flat and now you've got this big, giant surface area of light shining onto the scene and that's important when you do big, big images. Then we've got the reflectors. I think every photographer needs a reflector or two. I've got this one here, it's on a stand. I won't pull it out all the way. 42 incher, this is 42 inch reflector. Get one of these, you can buy those anywhere for about 30 bucks and they collapse into a little carrying pouch about this big. Worth their weight in gold, almost literally worth their weight in gold. I use them all the time and I'll be using these extensively today. I've got a bunch of different reflectors too that I'll pull out and we'll talk about those later as the day wears on. Alright, next. Backgrounds are important and not important. You can do a lot of work with just simple backgrounds. A white wall, a brick fireplace, a living room scenario. You don't even necessarily need to buy a background. But if you are going to buy backgrounds, I recommend two types of backgrounds. The first one, behind Brandon here, is seamless paper and what I've got here, you can see behind this white, I've got a black seamless, and then a gray seamless. And I'm gonna shoot on all three of these today. And this is a seamless paper stand. You don't necessarily need to even buy the stand, you can just get paper like this and tape it to the wall. That works just fine. I've done that for years and years and years. Use gaff tape, don't use duck tape. Use gaff tape. Why is it called seamless? Well, it has no seam in it, right. It's perfectly seamless. In fact you can actually pull that paper and roll it out on the floor in the front and now you've got kind of this infinity background. Super flexible, relatively inexpensive, you can buy a roll for 30, 40 bucks, maybe 50 bucks and you just get wider rolls and skinnier rolls. Obviously the wider the roll the more expensive it is. And then we are going to shoot on these today, These muslins. I love muslins and especially custom design, especially painted muslins. And so in a little bit we'll give you some tips on muslins and which to buy, but we're gonna photograph on a couple of these today. And they really add a lot of, I don't know, they add a dynamic look to your photo. A lot of sense of place and texture. You can light the muslins kinda separately from the subject and they produce a beautiful look. As you become a pro photographer, you put a lot more effort into the background. But starting out you can do great work, professional level work with just white, gray, and black.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Children & Family Images Lighting Diagrams
Gear List for $100 Budget
Gear List for $250 Budget
Gear List for $1000 Budget

Ratings and Reviews


Great course really love the way Mike teaches so informative with very useful tips and tricks to use in photography

Dortohy Lyner

Loved this class. Great basic essential information. Mike filled in many gaps concerning my knowledge of studio photography.

Jayne Fletcher

Amazing class! Lots of information

Student Work