Lighting Modifiers 101

Lighting is one of the most important parts of a great image. It has the ability to transform something ordinary into something remarkable and evoke emotion. Lighting is a deeply artistic venture but there is a technical side to it as well, one that involves many different tools you can use to achieve the look you want such as modifiers. Modifiers are tools you can use to shape and control light which is important for artistic goals such as conveying mood or technical goals like intensity and directionality. 

Lighting Modifiers may seem intimidating but knowing the specific purpose of each will help you in deciding which is best for you! Keep reading to explore the different kinds of lighting modifiers and how you can use them to take your lighting and your photography to the next level. 

Modifiers mostly fall under these categories: softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dishes, grids, and reflectors. 

Softboxes are great for creating soft, diffused light. They typically have some sort of fabric enclosure, a reflective interior surface, and diffusion panel. Softboxes are great for portrait and product photographers as they produce even illumination with soft, diffused shadows. 

Compared to other modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes provide a bit more control over your light source, allowing for more precise light shaping and control. Plus, softboxes come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, so there’s always a softbox perfect for your lighting application. 

When it comes to working with softboxes there are a few simple tips to keep in mind. The distance and angle between your subject and your softbox changes the softness and intensity of the light as well as how shadows cast on your subject which can impact the image’s mood. The larger the softbox, the softer and often more flattering the light will be, make sure to choose your softbox size based on lighting needs and space limitations. 

There are tons of great softboxes on the market, here are a few we recommend!

For photographers on a budget, umbrellas can be a great option! Not only budget-friendly, these modifiers are versatile, easy to use, and portable. Umbrellas are usually one of two varieties, shoot-through and reflective. 

Shoot-through umbrellas produce a soft, diffused light using a translucent material stretched over a frame. These modifiers pass light through the translucent material resulting in soft shadows and broad lighting which is great for portraits, group shots, and product photography.

Reflective umbrellas work similarly, bouncing light off a reflective interior surface for a more directional light than shoot-through umbrellas. Reflective umbrellas are available in different colors such as gold and silver, which impact the quality of light and are great for a wide variety of photography styles.

When using umbrellas, it’s important to remember that you can control the intensity and quality of light by experimenting with different light positions. Get creative! Try combining umbrellas with other kinds of modifiers for even more control over your light. When combining umbrellas with natural light, do your best to match the natural light so they work together instead of competing with each other. 

Shop our umbrella recommendations:

Beauty dishes are characterized by their shape. These modifiers are shallow or bowl-like in shape with a central deflector. Beauty dishes are designed to produce soft, flattering light popular in fashion and beauty photography with a little contrast and definition. These modifiers result in glamorous, high end portraits. While creating similar lighting to umbrellas and softboxes, beauty dishes add an element of specularity, softness while maintaining highlights and contrast, to lighting sources and can help in capturing catchlights in the eyes of your subject. 

In classic beauty lighting, try positioning your beauty dish slightly above eye level and angled down at your subject. Size matters! Smaller beauty dishes result in more contrasty and defined light than larger beauty dishes. Adding grids or diffusers to your beauty dish can bring an entirely different to your light. Grids help narrow and control light while diffusers can further soften light to produce dreamy, ethereal lighting. 

Check out our beauty dish recommendations!


Grids can help you modify your light and your modifiers! Placed in front of light sources, these help  to control the spread of light. Consisting of cells or honeycomb-like structures, grids narrow the beam angle of your light and focus the light on your subject while reducing spill and enhancing contrast. Grids are commonly used in portrait and architectural photography for precise light control and are great if you are looking to maximize your control and creative flexibility! 

Shop great grids! 


Finally, reflectors are the perfect modifier for photographers looking for a simple and effective lighting modifier. They come in various sizes and colors and have a wide range of applications for budget-friendly prices and space-saving sizes. Reflectors are used to bounce light into your scene and can be used to fill shadows and adjust light direction, color, and quality. They are also highly portable and very lightweight, making them easy to set up and adjust in any shooting environment. 

When using reflectors, size and color can make all the difference! The larger the reflector the more light you can bounce into your scene and the softer it will be. Silver reflectores are great for bright, contrasty light and gold is best for adding some warmth to your image or mimicking golden hour lighting. White reflectors create soft, neutral light you can use as a fill light. Many reflectors come with all three colors included so you won’t have to worry about picking until you’re shooting! 

Shop our reflector recommendations: 

Lighting modifiers are indispensable tools for photographers and can really enhance your images. Mastering the art of lighting is a lot easier when you have the right tools and whether you are creating soft portraits or dramatic still lifes, the right modifier can really make a difference! While we’ve provided a great starting point for those looking to learn the basics, experimenting with different modifiers, techniques, and lighting setups is important to your photography journey and can help you unlock the full creative potential of your images.

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