Light Modifier Glossary

Start experimenting with strobes, and you’ll quickly learn that there’s a limit to what you can achieve with a bare flash. Without modifiers, you can’t control many factors that determine how your photo will be lit. But if you aren’t familiar with common modifiers and how they work, tips and tutorials on flash photography can sound like a lot of nonsense. Use this glossary of light modifier terms to increase your versatility with flash photography.

Beauty Dish

beauty-dish-light-modifier

Day 171 – salad anyone? by Mathias

A beauty dish is a round, reflective dish around the strobe or other light source that directs the light toward a subject and creates circular catchlights in a model’s eyes.

Diffuser

diffuser

Street Strobist Backstage by Andres Nieto Porras

A diffuser is anything placed in front of a light source to soften the light. Often, it’s a piece of fine screen mesh or translucent fabric that reduces the intensity of the light. Diffusers are commonly found as the innermost part of a 5-in-1 reflector disc.

Flag

See “Gobo”.

Gel

light-modifier-gels

Roscolux Gels by Omer Wazir

A gel, or color filter, is a colored piece of transparent film that’s placed over a light source to change its color temperature. Gels are often used to balance out mixed lighting sources, for example, you might use them to color correct when shooting in a room that has both incandescent and fluorescent lights.

Gobo

gobo

_IMG3851-Edit by OzAdr1an

Gobo stands for “go between”. It is also called a flag. A gobo or flag is anything that goes between the light source and the subject to block some of the light. This kind of light modifier can help with eliminating unwanted reflections in glass or with keeping a backdrop from being lit by a flash.

Grid

grid

7dcp3035969-4mm-grid-modeling-light by Wolfgang Lonien

A grid is a honeycomb or similar pattern that’s placed over a light to direct the light without diffusing it. The grid creates a spotlight while keeping light from spilling onto other parts of the frame.

Reflector

reflector-light-modifier

Setup by Derek Dysart

A reflector is a board or piece of material used to bounce light back onto a subject. Reflectors are usually, white, silver, or gold, though other colors exist. Commercial varieties exist, but you can also use foam board, a sheet, or any other reflective material as a reflector. A reflector is probably the most common light modifier used by photographers.

Scrim

The term scrim is often used interchangeably with the word diffuser. Some photographers define it as a type of diffuser that is a piece of material placed in front of the light source with the purpose of softening the light.

Snoot

snoot

Last minute adjustments by Gene

A snoot is a light modifier that is essentially a tube that lets the photographer use a strobe like a spotlight, narrowing the light’s radius. It directs light to a small, specific area of the scene.

Softbox

softbox

90/365: SOFTBOX! :: Setup by Andres Nieto Porras

A softbox is a tent-like device that accommodates a strobe. The light is directed through a diffusion material, and the inside of the softbox is often reflective. The main purpose of a softbox is to enlarge the size of the light and soften it.

Umbrella

shoot-through-umbrella

Strobist by Vikram Vetrivel

reflective-umbrella

R’adys / Swing Shoot Setup by chriscom

An umbrella, in photographic lighting, looks just the same as a typical umbrella used on a rainy day. Shoot through umbrellas, which are usually white, are placed in front of light sources to diffuse the light in a way that’s similar to a softbox. Reflective umbrellas usually have a silver surface on their undersides. A strobe is pointed back toward the inside of the umbrella, and the light reflecting from the umbrella is bounced back onto the subject.

A bare flash can certainly create interesting images, but it does have its limits. With a few inexpensive purchases or DIY projects, you can expand the possibilities of flash photography. What are your favorite light modifiers, and how do you use them?

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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