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Choose the Right Modifier for Strobes

Lesson 8 from: Strobe Lighting on Location

Joel Grimes

Choose the Right Modifier for Strobes

Lesson 8 from: Strobe Lighting on Location

Joel Grimes

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Lesson Info

8. Choose the Right Modifier for Strobes


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Develop your Artistic Vision


Learn Strobe Basics


Which Strobe Is Best For You?


Strobe Questions Answered


Balance Strobes with Ambient Light


The Sunny 16 Rule


Choose the Right Modifier for Strobes


Lesson Info

Choose the Right Modifier for Strobes

Now we're moving on to choosing the right modifier. This is where all the confusion comes in. So now we know that we can overpower the sun. We understand the sunny 16 rule. We understand that some strobes are capacitors, some strobes are thyristor, some strobes freeze, some don't, you know all this stuff but now I gotta put the light into something. This is where the biggest mystery comes in. I always say don't feel bad if you're a little confused. 'Cause even today after doing this for a lot of years there's still sometimes I might scratch my head and think well okay and you'll notice that if they kept it in on the behind the scenes, we shot on the park, I was doing the calculation and I messed it all up. I actually was trying to work with my NDs and on my strobe output and I like you have a variable and I did it twice, I kinda like did two variables at the same time which really threw me all off. So I make mistakes and I actually said leave it in. I think they left it in because to s...

how you that I don't always get it right but I always know in the back of the monitor when it's not right. But I had to calculate and my head was spinning, I'm lousy at math but anyways choosing the right modifier, let's talk about it. I want you to think about this that if I was to give a definition of we'll talk about lighting, talk about strobe lighting. The quality of light can be defined by increasing or decreasing the softness or the harshness of light on a subject. When I put a modifier and I put it on my subject I go is it too harsh or is it too soft. Do I want it softer or do I want it harsher? I ask myself that question, that's easy peasy. I look at it and I go, this is beauty fascinary that is way too harsh, soften it up. If I'm doing a sports scenario and I throw light on a subject and I go, I want it edgier, I want it crisper more contrast, I know how to do that. It's getting to the point where you understand quality of light is based on softening it up or edging it up or harshening it up. If you can get those lighting is really simple. If you have like in the movie industry and you got all these big lights the 1,000, 10,000 K lights and whatever the guys, gals that are working on that lighting, they have a parameter they'll say we want edgier or softer. That's what they are typically working within those soften it down or build edgy, more contrast, crisper, whatever. If you can understand this, what I want you to do is walk away going that makes a lot of sense, look at an image, look through a magazine flip through and you're gonna say soft scenario or edgy scenario that photographer was working in that direction hopefully to where they soften it down or harshen it up. That's the quality of light, we're just we're talking there are some educators that were really good. Dean Collins was a great educator and he had all these great terms for lighting, specular highlights and all this stuff, that's great but I'm at about eighth grade level of terms of understanding things so I have to simplify it even more. Let's make it as simple as possible, I wanna soften it or I wanna get it harsher. How do we do that? Well there's two variables that control the quality of light. The first one is the size of the source and the distance it is from the subject. The second one is the amount of bounce or ambient light that comes back into your subject. Let's get our two modifiers over here. Cliff, do you wanna get those real quick since they're just sitting right over there? I'm gonna show you as simple as possible visually how easy it is for me to get my light either harsher or softer. Ready, okay. I just happen to be holding the brand new Westcott Rapid Box designed by Joel Grimes, that's kinda fun to say that you know. Any rate, this is a 24 inch modifier so what makes it special, it's a modifier and you're putting a light source in the back and it's gotta go through some diffusion and some things bouncing actually because it has a dish in the middle. That light hits the dish right and then bounces back into the white part and spreads around. The goal is to, on a modifier, is to get the light as even as possible across the surface. That's important to understand, we'll talk about that a little bit as we go. Here's a 24 inch modifier so if I, I don't think I can walk too far forward but let's just say I have a model sitting right here and I put this up here and I say okay I'm gonna take a look at this and I take a picture. Let's just say it's 24 inches from my subject and I go ooh, I love that light. But let's say it looks good but let's say my client says you know it's a little too soft, so what are my options? Two options, at least the start of the first half with two options. One is I get a smaller modifier, that'll edge it up or I back this up so by me backing this up, it's gonna get harsher, harsher, harsher, my subject stays the same spot as I back this up it's gonna get harsher, harsher, harsher. Now I've gotta compensate for that backing it up by putting more power out through it. So there's a mathematical equation that you can figure that out but I got an easier way you don't have to have a calculator on the side of your hip, you just look at the back of your monitor. You need more power, dial up more power or change your f stop but the point is is by backing this up it gets harsher by moving it in it gets softer. Now when I'm 24 inches from my subject here I can't go in much closer right I'm pretty much at a limit. Do I panic? No. I get a bigger modifier, so this modifier at 24 inches to my subject is gonna be a lot softer than this one 'cause it's a bigger surface. However, if I take this one which is about three foot modifier, if I put this at three feet from my model it'll give me the exact quality of light as a 24 inch at 24 inches from my subject, exactly. The only difference is this spreads more light 'cause I'm backing it up, it's covering the body more. You look at a lot of my early sports portraits that I've done with athletes, I have a 20-ish 24 inch, 22 inch beauty dish 24 inches from my subject. It lights the face beautifully and tapers down to blackness. I love that look, now you can dodge and burn in Photoshop and you knock some of that down if you didn't have it. I love that right in the face, boom right over the top of the camera. If I take a 36 inch modifier, 36 inches looks exactly same quality of the face it's just now spreads a little bit more so a five foot Octo which I've got one in the back. A five foot Octo at five feet ish looks exactly like a 36 inch at three feet and a 24 at two feet. Do you see where I'm going here? The quality stays the same because the source in relationship to the subject stays the same, the modifier's bigger but it's backed up further. Now I have a seven foot Octo, seven feet ish gives me same quality of light but it spreads everything and if I have a white floor on a studio, it bounces light back into it and so do you see where I'm going here? This is not rocket science folks, how did I figure this out? I didn't learn this from a book, I learned it by just going and playing with all these modifiers and one day a little, no pun intended, the light bulb went off in my head and I went this makes so much sense it's so easy now. I mix my modifiers up by parameters. For example, if I have two people, a couple, that are gonna be this beautiful scenario, I love 24 inches to 24 inches but look if I put it up to two people it's not gonna really do the job I want so I'm gonna back it up, I might get a five footer. So I use a five footer a lot with couples at five feet backed up gorgeous light, now they'll both be lit pretty much the same with a five footer at five feet back. Now if I get in a scenario and all of a sudden I take my 36 incher out of a box, I set it up about three feet from my subject and I take a picture and I go hmmm. You know what I kinda feel like a little edgier today. I just back it up about three or four feet and boom it has a beautiful edgy. So a lot of that high end fashion, the Cosmopolitan, Vogue whatever, they're taking smaller sources and backing 'em up a little bit and straight over the camera, bam and you can the shadow is really sharp. People say what's the best modifier. What's your intent? How you gonna use it? You know so I like to have two foot, three foot, a five foot, seven foot, I like to have the rounded shape ones as my overhead options. Now number two, we have to look at the second thing that influences the quality of light on a subject. That's how much bounce or ambient light comes into the picture, this is critical. So if I have my 24 inch beauty dish right over the head and I go bink and I take a picture of a model, she looks pretty good but I take a little pop up reflector or a little piece of foam core, put it right underneath and I just take another shot it fills it in, smooths it out, it softens it. Now why does it soften? Because it, and you might have heard this term, it broadens the light, it broadens the light so now I have really two sources, still one light but the bounce becomes a source. What it's doing is it's increasing the you have an acre and you get an acre and a half, you get more square footage right now you're getting but it's kind of a half acre with half power so to speak, it's kinda like it's a fill card but it's not a source, it's a bounce source so it's really less intensity but it fills it in. A bounce reflector type softens my look. So a lot of times what I do is if I take a 24 inch beauty dish and I take a picture and I go you know what I gotta back up a little bit, darn it this thing's in the way, okay I still like it so I might back this up a little bit so now I'm clear but I get a big piece of foam core, put it underneath, oh looks great 'cause now it's filling in, softening it down but still has a little bit of that edgy look. Right so I and you as an artist, you may go I love this two footer at three feet, that may be your look. I like it at two feet, someone else comes along and says I love the two footer at five feet and they do all these covers for Vogue magazine. So it depends on what your vision is and the artist, but for me I know how to soften it up or harshen it up, but I'm backing it up, moving it in, putting bounce. Now when it comes to ambient light, so not just bounce we have ambient. The ambient outdoors or skylight that's coming in, got big windows as I drag my shutter I say that term is the old school term, dragging your shutter so you make the shutter speed longer so I go from one hundredth of a second to fiftieth of a second. I've added an extra stop of ambient that's gonna soften up my overall feel but there's a point when if I drag the shutter too long my strobe has no effect. You'll see me talk about that when I do the on the thing. So do you see where I'm going now? Okay. Question. Whenever you have these modifiers at your subject do you ever feather 'em, left, right, up, down so it's not quite as harsh in the middle? I, well I do that, I usually typically feather this way but that's usually to bounce so I bring it down bounce it off the card. On my Rembrandt Cross Light, I run everything 90 degrees to the axis of the lens instead of 45 so if I'm the subject, I don't run a soft box like this I run it like this sideways and that feathering, this part of the soft box is weaker than this part so I get a gradated effect so I feather in that respect. I guess my point is yes I'll feather it but not really, on overhead light I don't think about feathering that much, but on a cross light I do. So really let's keep going 'cause we'll be stuck here for a while, let's keep going. So on the source, the larger the source or the smaller the source, I always say this the larger or smaller the source in relationship to my subject the softer or harsher the light, that's my little quote that I've been saying for the last 10 years. Never heard that before, 25 years prior to that, I'd never heard anyone say that to me. No book ever told me that and so that's kind of my little go to thing. If I wanna create a softer quality of light I get bigger modifiers and lots of bounce, move 'em all in, bounce big cards, so that's got a big card underneath there, two big seven footers behind her, one big five footer over the top of the camera. The five footer's about three feet from her face. So I'm moving all my modifiers in, big sources in. I could have never done that shot had I not known what I just told you in the slide before. Now that I know that I can go and I can take any photograph you give me and say, they go how did they light that? Oh, okay, I can give you a pretty good idea. That's really small sources backed up, that's really big sources moved in, that's one big source on the right and a small source on the left, or that's a big source on the right, probably a fill card on the left. Does that make sense? I can look at lighting and pretty much figure it out. I don't know exactly what brand they used, they used a shower curtain or a big seven foot Octo, I don't know but I know it's a big source and it's close. Does that make sense? All right, to create a harsher quality of light you move your modifiers further from your subject or get smaller modifiers. Do you understand how this works? Now all you gotta do now is you gotta grab a subject and grab a modifier and test it out. I can show you how to play guitar but if you never pick the guitar up, forget it it won't work sorry. The more ambient or reflective bounce that you have coming into your subject, the softer the light. We've covered that kind of. Let's talk about the shape. In the 60s, they used umbrellas a lot in the fashion industry and so we kinda got that look with the light going over the top of the camera. We like that little round catch light in the eye. So the shape has really nothing to do with the quality of light, it has everything to do with the catch light or the reflective surface so if you're a product shooter and you wanna photograph a bottle of wine for a client it's got a glass whatever, you don't use a rounded modifier to do that, you use a rectangular modifier. You want that lit evenly across the surface so it's not a bright centered with you know tapered off. Same thing here, you want your modifiers to be evenly lit. Now the problem I had with umbrellas years ago is that I put a, back when I had studio packs on the ground but you had your cord with a light hood, a light and you had a hood on it, standard hood you had an umbrella slot you put your umbrella. I'd have a 60 inch umbrella put my light on it, I'd put it over here take a picture and it was really harsh, and I'd move it in but what I didn't understand was that my hood on my light was only shooting a narrow beam into my umbrella so I had this big umbrella but a real narrow amount of light hitting the umbrella so I had a 60 inch umbrella but a 20 inch modifier. Do you see where I'm going here? I didn't understand that, it took me 25 years to figure that out. One day I realized, take the stupid hood off and back the light as far as you can on that rod and spread the light as best you can across that umbrella, becomes a bigger source. So that's why they call it a parabolic 'cause you can kinda move the light on it technically every umbrella I guess would be considered a parabolic in some way or another. Basically you can adjust that beam to give you more spread or less spread. I would say this, typically you want to set your umbrella and light up to give you the best spread then you would go and adjust the distance a little bit, that's how I would adjust the harshness or softness. Get a smaller umbrella, bigger umbrella. Like I said, I didn't understand it so if I didn't have this dish in the middle then I would blast light through here and I would have a hot spot in the middle and it would taper on. Here's a 24 inch beauty dish but it would be more like a 16 inch beauty dish because blast in the middle. Most modifiers have a baffle, that baffle is yes you think two pieces of diffusion make it softer. No, it's the fact that this diffusion makes it evenly spread across the front which makes it softer. I thought one day I'd put three pieces of diffusion in, another extra one in there that'd make it softer, didn't do it necessarily because it's already spread evenly across the modifier. So these are things I had to work out in my head, right, I had to solve these problems so if I take out the inner baffle this technically becomes a smaller modifier. That's it, and if you wanna go and adjust your lights accordingly that's fine but what I'm saying is think about it. I always take a picture of my modifiers so when I designed this, you bet I took pictures straight into this thing looking at how this was illuminated, so when we first designed it, they had this dish out here, took a picture, I had a little halo, I said nope, it's gotta go on the inside so once we put the dish on the inside then I had a smooth diffusion across the front. Does that make sense? So had I not known that, I probably couldn't have been a part of designing this modifier. The point is, is understanding how that works makes it in your head you can go and solve problems. Let me just give you a real quick thing, so here's a white wall. So Kenna you're sitting there, right? So let's say I want that source right here to be my broad source so I take a light and let's say I put a grid on it and I go bink and I put a little teeny hot spot right off to the side of your head. That's gonna bounce back to your face, that's gonna be a pretty harsh light on her face so as I either back that light up or take and make that light broader, the broader I make the light the softer it's gonna be on her. 'Cause I'm making that source bigger, bigger, bigger. If I light, I take and throw light on this whole thing, this is like eight feet, ten feet tall and obviously my light can't hit her but let's say I light this whole thing that's gonna create a ultra soft light on her. The broader I make that light, the softer it's gonna be on her so any wall, any piece of foam core, anything that I can bounce off can become a broader source onto my subject. That creates some fun options for you as an artist because the bigger the window naturally and the natural light in the arena, the bigger the window the softer the light. If I walk my subject right up to the window softer, if I walk 'em, so I can have a 30 foot window but if they're 60 feet from the window it's gonna be a harsher light, the closer I get 'em to the window softer the light. Do you see where I'm going here? This is lighting, this is not rocket science though it seemed like it when you first start learning it. It's just that you gotta think through so if you are a car shooter in L.A. or Detroit or maybe in Europe somewhere, and you have a client that wants you to make their car look really good with nice highlights on it you wouldn't use a round source to do that, you would use a big source. Either the biggest soft box they make on the planet or what they do is they have these huge flats. I've walked in the studio, I've seen 'em, they're on conveyors you know and they get right over the car and they angle 'em, they're literally 40 feet by you know whatever, 30 by 40 feet and then they throw light into the flat and it bounces back. It becomes a big soft box so to speak. Don't get too caught up in the fact that there's this material here, all you want is the light that comes through here evenly so I've done a demo where I've taken a reflector, a round reflector that's the 3 foot reflector. Little pop up reflector, it's white and you can take this and put it off to one side, shoot a picture. Take this out put the reflector up, put a light bounce it in get the same value of light, you can't tell a difference between the two. It's not the soft box, it's how much light is illuminating across the surface of your modifier. The bigger the source the softer the light in relationship to the subject. Got it? Yes. So I see you are using Octaboxes often in your photography and I'm wondering why you're using that over umbrellas at this point like fast umbrella that might be three feet wide as well. Okay, so Westcott makes a seven foot umbrella, 82 inches I think it is with a piece of diffusion in the front you can buy the diffusion separate so they make a translucent one, they make a white one and a silver one. The white and silver have a black backing on it. If I take and they also make a seven foot Octo. If I take and I've done this many times, I take my seven foot umbrella with the diffusion, set it up so I'm shooting light in the umbrella and it's bouncing light back through the diffusion so it creates one big seven foot round source of light, the total cost of that is about $130. Westcott runs specials all the time so you can get 'em sometimes at discounts. I take their $700 Octabox and set it up, you can't tell the difference between the two. Now, why would I use an Octabox over an umbrella. It looks better. No, I'm just kidding I don't. It's a light source okay I happen to have the Octabox and if you're gonna use it everyday probably the Octabox is gonna last longer. Being if I can just set it up, boom boom, and you're outdoors, it's all one big thing you just pop it up, put it on you know, it's a big source you gotta be careful the wind doesn't blow it off but really the two sources create the same exact quality of light so if you're on a budget go for the umbrella with the diffusion. If you got a bank account and it's filled up and you know your wife approves, your husband approves go ahead buy that Octabox and Westcott'll be happier. The light source is the same, I just think that in the long run if I'm gonna use a seven footer all the time, I'll use the Octabox because that's a little bit more durable and it does kinda look a little bit more professional, and when I'm on the set with you know $100,000 ad campaign it kinda looks a little more like you know I don't know, when I say it looks cool, I think it has kind of cooler look. You gonna continue on that? So but it's important when you're shooting that umbrella to be reflecting into the umbrella and having it bounce back because that's giving you that big wide diffusion as opposed to being shooting straight into the umbrella itself, a translucent umbrella 'cause that's doing what you're saying it's creating a narrower light source doesn't matter how wide it is. If you just shoot straight in the umbrella and it's diffusion, the diffusion one it's still gonna be a hot spot. Just turn it and shoot a picture into it, get your f stop down, you'll see the hot spot in the middle, it'll taper off. When you flip it around, put the diffusion on it will smooth it out a little bit more and you want your light to go pretty much even from side to side. Do you have to have more light power to get that reflection? Do you lose something as opposed to shooting straight through a Rapid Box like this if you're reflecting back into the umbrella? You're gonna lose some bounce in coming out yes. Your strobe should cover that, I mean I use it pretty close.

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Bonus Video - One Light Portrait

Ratings and Reviews

Christopher Langford

I love Joel, even though I'm not a big fan of his style. He's a great teacher, really down to earth, and best of all, humble. He's a true professional and knows the business. Even if you're a seasoned photographer, I believe you will pick up some great tips throughout this course. What I enjoyed most from this course was learning Joel's thought processes and how he takes on challenges.

Dana Niemeier

After seeing Joel at Shutterfest 2016, I am a fan. He is intense, but that is inspiring. I especially like the segment using ND filters as I live in Florida where bright sun can be an issue! His teaching method sets the student at ease. You see him make mistakes and then figure them out! Makes us believe there is HOPE for us in the learning process! I also bought his commercial photography class as an add on. Great to see him work and think on his feet. Thanks CreativeLive for giving artists this platform that reaches out to artists around the globe.

Gilbert Wu

I did enjoy the class despite not being used to the American product placement culture. The British say “the proof is in the pudding”, Joel’s pictures are fantastic and create drama. He has the eye. I like his very down to earth approach which is far better than many youtube photographic charlatans. Apart from the techniques he shared, one very important thing I learned from this class is “Be an artist and not a technician”. If you want to learn from people who can take better pictures and more confident and experienced in his/her work than you, Joel is one of those people.

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