Understanding Parabolic Lighting

In this information-packed photography workshop (recorded live), Karl sheds some light on the mystery surrounding parabolic reflectors.

These versatile modifiers are a go-to for fashion and beauty work as they produce beautiful sparkly light that is very flattering when it comes to skin tone and able to reveal great detail in different textures.

Here Karl explains exactly what makes these modifiers so special and why the Para 133 is his modifier of choice. Touching on the physics of lighting and the science behind the parabolic shape, Karl demonstrates the effect of these modifiers, their versatility, as well as a few other, more affordable alternative modifiers.

In this class:

  • The science behind what makes a true parabolic reflector
  • When, where and why to use parabolic reflectors (and when not to)
  • The different parabolic reflectors and the results
  • Modifying parabolic reflectors
  • Parabolic reflectors live demonstration — beauty and product shoots
  • Lighting modifier comparisons
  • Affordable alternative lighting modifiers
  • Advantages and disadvantages of different lighting modifiers

To read more about parabolic modifiers, the science behind them and their uses, read our blog post here.

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Hi Karl, superbly informative!
    bought the godox 120H Parabolic Softbox a while back (before watching your video’s ) for its softbox function only (comes with baffle and diffuser). I was prompted by your video to study upon Paraboloids, more correctly “Focus-balanced reflector”. the key shape of the broncolor parabolic light modifier follows a radius to depth ratio of 1.47 (also follows the relationship of 4FD=R^2 with F= focus distance, D= depth and R=Radius), giving somewhat of a pyramid shape. ( previous viewer had sent you an image comparing the shape of other name brands to the broncolor as you show in this video).

    My question, finally, is it worth purchasing the focus arm for the godox 120H since the key shape , i.e. the R/D ratio, does not meet the requirements that the broncolor , a true focus balanced reflector, does? ( I don’t think so…)


  2. Excellent Para review and discussion Karl! I am drawn to the shots with the larger para’s (177 and 222) because of the beautiful rim shadow. The smaller Para’s also provide beautiful portrait lighting but with more shadow under the chin generally requiring a fill reflector. The picture you shared of Ophelia taken at Photokina with the Para 177 is one of my favorites. The lighting draws me into the face then out to the headpiece and sparkles on the dress. Absolutely amazing image taken with a simple lighting setup.

    Thanks again!

  3. People saying “This stuff is quite expensive, Karl” should look at Briese or K5600. Suddenly Broncolor stars looking like a bargain 😉

    BTW all Paras are on sale now – 30% off.

  4. hi Karl, how can I reduce the reflection in the model’s glasses? Out of 300 shots the model wears them only for 5-6 images and I would not give up just for this problem .. what can I do without photoshop? are there products that do not revive glasses that eliminate reflections?

    1. Hi Ravi, you can reposition your light and try changing your focal length to change your angle of reflection or I just ask the subject to take there glasses off and I take a few without and then use the eye area from one of those and comp it back into the glasses shot.

      1. I can’t change light and focal length: all shoot must to be equal.
        I take few shoot without glass like you advised me and I put some scraps of white paper behind the lenses of the glasses..perfect result!

  5. Karl, this was a solid demonstration, thank you so much! Turns out I’ve been using my Collapsible Beauty Dish incorrectly by covering it with the white diffuser )))
    Now, that I’ve watched this video, grabbed my beauty dish in a dark room, and, actually pointed it on a wall to see what kind of light I get. Surely enough, with the white diffuser I only get an evenly lit wall, just like I would with a softbox )))

    ONE QUESTION! Would it make sense to put a grid on a “beauty dish umbrella” or a parabolic modifier? I mean without the white diffuser – just a grid.

    I think it helps focusing the light and reduce pollution, but thought maybe you have a better view on this.


    1. Hi, a grid will reduce light spill but it will also take away some of the quality of the modifier so I very rarely use grids. I’d rather put flags at the side of the lights to stop spill or use darker panels, walls etc or move the model further from the background.

      1. Right, that makes sense – flags might be a better way than adding the grid (especially in your case, when you use the top notch parabolic lights )))

        Thanks a lot!

  6. Another superb lesson. You really worked your assistants in this one 🙂 One small question: Has the “Beauty Lighting Comparison” tutorial that is referenced in the lesson found a new home again? I believe I trawled through most of the site and couldn’t locate it (the “Equipment” and “Articles” tabs appear to have been substituted for the new menu structure).

  7. A note on using the Broncolor Siros lights with a Para133: I bought this combination because it was either that or a Move-L kit without the Para, but I wanted the Para. In practice, the weight of the Siros is problematic. I have had the rig tip over, causing the glass housing on the Siros to crack (it shattered a month later). Even when I don’t have that problem, the rod on my light stand bends from the weight, even at the lowest height. For that reason, I have started using two light stands. One is for the Para133, the other is for the Siros, which is connected to the Para with the cage-like connector. This only works if the focusing rod is fully extended but that is when it is most needed. Regardless whether I use a second light stand (depending on focus rod position), I use six fifteen pound sand bags, two on each leg of the light stand, for a total of ninety pounds.

  8. Hello Karl,

    I have the opportunity to buy this Saturday a second hand Para 222. The seller proposes also for a very good price a Broncolor ringflash. Is it useful to use the ringflash in the Para222 ? I have an old powerpack a Pulso4 (3200j) and 3200j Pulso heads. Is it better to use the Pulso heads ? Is there a difference in the light ? Of course the Ringflash can be used in other situations as well…

    Kind ragards from Brussels

    1. Hi Michel, the old para 222 uses the ringflash so it’s not quite the same as the new para 222 which you can mount a standard light inside. Personally I’d say the new one with the pulso heads is slightly better but as you say the ringflash can be a useful tool in other situations, especially as a shadow fill light.

  9. Hi Karl,
    Thanks for the show, clarified all concepts with parabolic shaped lighting.

    One query I have, during the course you mentioned about tutorial/class named as ‘beauty lighting comparison’ under equipment drop down.
    I am not able to locate the EQUIPMENT header, could you please guide.

    Also additionally, if it is possible to share any KTE website architecture – it will be easy to navigate through and locating or re-searching particular content will be easier.
    As this website is huge pool of information and inspiration, and always like to come back to see new content or repeat earlier class.

    Thanks once again.
    – Sanket

  10. Hi Karl, is there a comparison coming soon with the Satellite Staro? I saw a capture during the Para 133/222 comparisons that was labeled Staro. I ask because I am interested in both modifiers but can only invest in one that needs to serve a couple of purposes between fashion and product.

  11. Hi Karl,
    thanks for the show, like it very much!!
    One point you mentioned, that in order for the para to work efficiently the light source should not be flat (speedlite for example) that is why when you use the Siros you remove the front reflector to have a round light what do you think when using the Profoto B1 or D2 they got a round flat front, I guess in this case it is better to use the Pro Heads, in addition what do you of the Profoto Giant Reflector comparing to Bron Para.

    1. Hi Ashraf, yes the front of the light must be protruding forward so that it emanates in all directions otherwise the physics wont work in a Para. With regards the Profoto as explained in the video if the shape and curvature are not right then it wont be as good as the bron.

  12. Hi Karl,

    thanks for the video. I use a Para133 and I like it because since I’m not a photographer, this light is fantastic, and with a minimum of knowledge you get very good pictures. A friend who hapened to have a Para133 and sold it, says that he prefers his 165cm deep Profoto umbrella. Easier to transport, to setup in location and a light stand is sufficient. And futhermore, he doesn’t see any major difference comparing to his umbrella !!! I also have these Profoto umbrellas and it’s true that it’s an easy solution, but I like the Para133 (cannot afford a 222), it gives me everytime very good results…

    I’ll see you in Paris in June for the workshop, I hope you’ll be as entertaining and exciting as in your videos….

    Thank you Karl


Leave a Comment