Lighting Modifiers and Their Effects

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a softbox and a snoot? Or whether to use an octabox or an umbrella? If so, this class is for you.

Watch Karl demonstrate the differences between a variety of lighting modifiers, explaining their effects, how they work, and when to use each one.

You’ll also cover the principles of hard and soft light and learn how to optimise your ability to control light.

In this class:

  • Lighting modifiers
  • Hard light and soft light
  • Direction of light and the impact it has
  • Size of a light source and its effect
  • How to further modify certain modifiers
  • Lens flare and how to reduce it

If you enjoy this class, be sure to check out Precision Lighting: Modifiers and Techniques and Beauty Lighting Comparison.

Don’t forget to check out our amazing Lighting Comparison Visualiser tool.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl, again big compliments on your videos and style. I absolutely love it. Question: I am currently especially focused on portrait photography, and am practicing any time I can. As I have no models around, apart from my 10 year old daughter who is by now planning a revolution against me, I’d be very interested in Stiffany ( I love your English dry humour ;)). Is that a standard clothing doll? Or is it some specific brand of doll ( for example to replicate the reflection in eyes etc? ) Thanks and greetings, André

  2. Hi Karl,

    As I am just beginning and focusing on e-commerce product photography mostly Amazon resellers . What would you recommend as a cost effective light? And how many would recommend. Possible to do so with just one light?


    1. Hi Gobie, if you can watch a few more classes in the Lighting Theory section and then choose some from our product section that are appropriate to what you’d like to photograph that will give you a better indication in understanding lighting and the necessary equipment and techniques. After that feel free to come back to me with any questions that you may have. All the best Karl.

  3. Hi Karl,

    Which softbox would you suggest for a full body ecommerce fashion photography to light up the cloth on the mannequin in my case? Also, please mention the dimensions as well.

    Will a rectangular softbox like 36/160 or 80/120 be good? Please mention a modifier apart from a parabolic reflector as it’s too costly.

    1. Hi, I would go as big as you can because you can always easily mask a big softbox to make it thinner or smaller. The 120×180 is the biggest I know of and this would be a good size.

  4. Hi Karl,

    I find myself keep coming back to this tutorial as there is so much learning in different light shapers. I noticed that you didn’t use a Broncolor beauty dish in this tutorial and am interested in your opinion on the beauty dish softbox vs traditional beauty dish.

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Shan, thank you. I like my 70cm silver dish because it’s bigger which makes it a little softer but it’s also silver which keeps the sculpting and contrast. The bron one is good but smaller. I’m not a fan of the beauty dish softbox as it doesn’t function exactly like a proper beauty dish.

  5. Thank you Karl for effectively laying out all the “nuances” of the most common light modifiers. I am trying to create a few pieces for my product photography portfolio. I watched all of the lessons inherent to this section of “Lighting Theory” and found as expected amazingly clear and effective. However, I find it somewhat overwhelming to establish a clear and possibly linear learning path to address my product photography education due to the amount of information made available in order to reach those set goals. Would you please have any suggestions on where to go next? I see that there is a specific section to address product photography. Is there any precise path I should follow to start creating”? For example, the setup for product photography can greatly change depending on what we want to achieve in terms of lighting but also depending on the product we want to recreate photographically. Is there a setup that would be more organically suitable to a range of products in terms of surface and lighting? Thank you very much for your support.

    1. Hi, if product photography is your main interest then please start with our new ‘Getting Started In Product Photography’ section, I’d recommend watching all of that section especially the part about ‘Gradient Lighting’ and ‘Deeper understanding of the inverse square law’ – after that we have our product sections broken down into various sub genres and of course lots of live show replays and future live shows on product photography. In your personal home page you will also find our Lighting Comparison visualiser and Sara is on hand to guide you further if you need more recommendations and I’m on hand to answer any technical questions in these comments sections on any relevant class. Cheers Karl.

  6. Hi Karl! Two lighting modifier questions for you:1: I shoot a lot of reflective objects in my studio and love working with gradient light. As per your suggestion, I picked up some Lee gel diffusion a few years back and that’s really smoothed things out compared to scrim cloths I had been using. Now I’m in the market for a good strip box to really control fall off. Do you think I should go with a 1×6 or 1×4 strip? Again, mostly for creating gradient light on products like bottles or cosmetics but of coarse, I’d also incorporate it into fashion or larger product shoots as a rim light.

    2: what’s a good alternative to a pico light for labels? I’ve typically have to bring a small reflector into the shot and composite images when my set up isn’t hitting the label just right but would love to get it all in one frame. I shoot with profoto’s (b1s,b10s,a1s…) so a pico seems like a big jump for me. Alternatively, should I make that leap? How would it play with my other lights and what should I know? It’s such a specialty light that there’s really not a lot of people (other then you) talking about it.

    1. Hi Homeslice,
      1. The 1ft x 4ft (I think that’s the same as 120cm x 30cm) would be the one I go for but I’d also look at getting the masks that velcro on and make it thinner at the front. These strip boxes used through LEE scrims can create great gradients for more linear shaped products such as cosmetics and bottles and you will see me using this technique in many classes.
      2. The Pico Lite in conjunction with its projection attachment is the bit that is great for labels. Godox or someone does a similar projection attachment – you can see me using it in this previous live show and also check the comments below it – other alternatives are home made snoots with grids but really the Picolite Projection is the best I’ve used, but keep in mind you would also need a broncolor pack to power the lamp head.
      Cheers Karl.

  7. Hi Karl, thanks for all of the great information on lighting modifiers. I have numerous artist friends (mostly painters) whose work I photograph using 2 2’x3′ softboxes positioned at 45 degrees to the subject. I clip linear polarizer sheets to the outside of the softboxes and use a linear polarizer filter on my lens to eliminate glare from the artwork surfaces. Overall I’ve been pleased with the results, but I’m always looking to improve my craft, and I’m curious if you have any suggestions for modifiers to use when photographing artwork. Thanks in advance! Matt

      1. Thank you!

  8. Karl,

    Really enjoying your program and the way you share your knowledge. I’m trying hard to absorb the massive mount of information in each lesson. What would you recommend (lights/modifiers) for someone at an intermediate level wishing to establish a home studio. I recognize its a bit of a how long is a piece of string type of question but I will scale and priorities to available budget.


    1. Hi Ian, the go to workhorse is always the Octabox 150, very versatile. Then for beauty a Focus 110 or 70cm silver beauty dish, for products and other stuff make your own scrims as described in our product section. Then a couple of standard reflectors with grids.

  9. thanks to you for the detailed video about the modifiers.

    Since I work with 2 systems (elinchrom brx + Speedlite from Canon) depending on the situation, an important question now arises for me.

    There are situations where I am more efficient and faster with the gliders and the Speedlites on site. I use a large deep umbrella. Now to the question: How do I position the Speedlight correctly, is there any experience of how the light changes. (I swing between straight into the umbrella with the furthest focal length setting in the system flash or alternatively upwards with the built-in white card).

    greatings from vienna

    1. Hi Adrian, your most efficient use of the speedlite should be straight into the umbrella with the speedlite set to it’s wide angle setting. The best way to confirm the spread of the light is to actually photograph the umbrella with it facing camera when the speedlite fires to examine the resulting spread of light across the surface of the umbrella.

  10. Have you ever had a chance to compare Broncolor Paras with the Parabolix from California? Or do you think they might offer one for comparison? They only make parabolic reflectors, so it seems like a promising parabolic for someone on a more restricted budget.

    1. I’ve heard they are pretty good and I hinted to them to send me one for review but nothing so far.

  11. Thanks Karl. Will do!
    As I do, however, please note that I am asking about calculating specs, in advance, that accompany modifiers like Paras (i.e. f/90 @ 2 m, fully focused)

    1. Hi Balance, most brands give their lights output specs based on a standard reflector like a P70 but I find these specs a bit hit and miss. The benchmark I suppose is simply the watts/sec or Joules stated, so for example an 800J lamp is one stop more powerful than a 400J lamp but again how accurate the brands are with their Joules is unknown. In terms of a calculation to convert a benchmark from a standard reflector to something like a Para then I’ve never seen that before and I would imagine there are too many variables for it to be reliable. If it’s any help 800J lamps are pretty good for most scenarios occasionally I need to use 1600J but these days with such good performance in ISO you can just increase the ISO one stop to get the extra light.

  12. Good Day Karl.
    (I’m not Aussie, but I realize part of why they may say that since I’m rarely in same time zone as people I write to).

    I hope this question finds you well and in good spirits (whether that’s a mood or a cocktail). I am writing here a bit prematurely because I don’t know if you already cover this here and I’m unable to access the “help” icon and don’t want to lose time while I figure out the issue in my side. I’m hoping that you can help me with my light science question:

    • I’m knowledgeable about waves and how they behave from my professional background in acoustics. Light has many similarities, so I’m not afraid of the math or anything like that.

    Q: I’d like some guidance on the proper way to calculate light power and light intensity values with & without modifiers, but this likely applies for head, modifier combinations. Like with sound, the info needed to really understand the performance of a modifier/light combination is often omitted (partially in order to not confuse laymen).

    • I understand inverse square and that the answer will vary. Knowing this will help me prepare for productions in advance, make informed equipment decisions and comparisons, be more creative and the like.

    If context helps, I work in architectural photography and environmental portraiture.

    1. Hello Balance, thanks for joining us. Yes there are many similarities with sound waves and light but there are also many differences. Many of the answers you are looking for are covered in this section and I would encourage you to watch chapters 1. 3. 4 and 6. – measuring light does require either a light meter or a tethered screen setup to measure RGB values. The inverse square law and the effective power of light are (as with sound) affected greatly by the ‘transmitter’ shape and I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the use of Parabola’s in sound, Inverse square law does apply to light but it varies slightly based on the type of modifier used, the more effective the modifier (parabolic) the less the law applies. You should also find these two posts interesting – and this one useful –

  13. Hello Karl, If I have situation that choosing Octa or soft box, what is key standard of choice? what is the most important requisite of making a decision ? it’s just a result what I want to make?

    1. Hi, Personally the most useful softbox to anyone (assuming they have the space) is the biggest one. This is because a bigger one is most versatile in providing you the softest light and you can also mask it down to make it smaller if needed. The Octa 150 is a good allrounder because it’s big, relatively shallow in depth and almost round shape which is good for catchlights in the eyes. It can be used for people, products, food and fashion.

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