The best budget modifier for portraiture

Umbrella vs Octabox comparison

Est. reading time: 2 - 3 minutes

I’ve tested, rented and owned a lot of different modifiers over the course of my career, but what would be my choice of modifier for beauty, fashion and portrait work if I only had £50 or £100 to spend?

One of the most common questions I get asked is what I would choose if I could only have one modifier, and my common answer is that for most of my product photography work I’m actually using my own homemade modifiers called scrims.

If I'm shooting beauty or fashion work then it would be the Para 133 because it’s a very versatile tool, giving me hard light, soft light and great three-dimensionality. Unfortunately, though, that modifier alone costs around £2100 ($3000), not including any lights.

Read: The magic of parabolic lighting

Understandably, not everyone has this type of money to spend on modifiers, so if I had to choose one that cost only a few hundred dollars it would have to be the Octabox 150. I think this particular modifier gives great results in a variety of situations, from full-length portraits to upper body shots and even side-lit business shots too.

Read: Understanding softbox modifiers

Although I don’t use this modifier too often, simply because it’s a flatter light than I like for beauty or fashion work, it can still be used in a number of ways that can give great results.

But what if your budget was really tight?

Recently I tested a large number of modifiers for a new tool we’re creating, including an independent brand modifier that cost less than £50 ($70). Surprisingly, this modifier gave great results that were comparable to the Octabox 150 and it’s even easier to transport!

It was a 160cm deep white reflective umbrella.

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The results

Being big, the 160cm umbrella gave great soft light, but having the ability to use it bare bulb or with a more concentrated reflector meant I could get a little more out of it than just a softbox.

You can see a more detailed comparison of the results of this modifier in the video, but I’ve included some of these results below too.

By pulling the umbrella in very close to the light source, we are able to reduce the reflective area and create a slightly harder light. Or, by using it further out we are able to get a much softer light, which was equivalent to using an Octabox 150.

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Alternatively, by using a bare bulb we are able to get a mix of lighting.

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As you’ll see in the video, the 160cm umbrella gives a very similar light to the Octabox 150 when used for both headshots and full-length portraits.

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The advantages

One of the great advantages of this modifier is the ability to get very different results by using either a bare bulb or an additional reflector.

Setting it up is very straightforward and you don’t need any special equipment — you can use it on a standard lighting stand or even a boom arm, as long as you have the ceiling height and space.

The disadvantages

On the downside, its overall size is not quite as compact as an octabox 150, which means you’d need a little more space than if you were using the octabox.

But if you were to ask me again what my choice of modifier would be for less than £50 then I’d say it has to be this: a 160cm deep white reflective umbrella!

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To learn more about the different types of modifiers, take a look at some of our popular articles, featuring detailed comparisons and explanations. You'll also find a wide selection of classes showing how to use these modifiers for beauty and portraiture in our portrait photography course.

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