07. Lighting modifiers and their effects

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between a softbox and snoot is or whether to use an octabox or umbrella, this is the class for you. Karl demonstrates the differences between a variety of lighting modifiers, explaining the reasoning behind their effects and where they’re most suited.

Karl also recaps on the principles of hard and soft light and how we can control light. (NOTE: If you’re unfamiliar with these concepts, please watch chapter one of this course.)

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • 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
  • Flare and how to reduce it


  1. FANTASTIC!!! This is EXACTLY what I was looking for and badly needed. Once again Karl, you nailed it perfectly!

    Many thanks 🙂

  2. Great and useful comparison! Thanks a lot 🙂

    Ps. Maybe it might be useful if you use compare option [C – button] in the lightroom – then would be more easier and clear to see the difference in pictures in future materials 🙂

  3. I love these videos. Great comparisons across a range of gear I dont have myself yet. This video confirms conclusions I have made with my own tests with diffused lighting. It seems for many people its a race to the largest, softest diffused light source possible and your done. I have found over-diffused lighting can look too flat and bland as it washes over the contours of the subjects surfaces too evenly instead of rendering or describing those contours with some degree of gradient shadow. Painting the subject with shadow is just as important as with light.

  4. Hi Karl,

    I see you use Grids to control the spillage of the light on the subject matter but I do not see the similar application of grids and hoods on Softboxes ? Any particualr reason for this ?


    1. Hi Karen, get the biggest soft box you can, it is more versatile, a soft box needs to be really close to get properly soft light, so if you are wanting to shoot portraits the biggest is best, if you move the soft box further away it becomes a smaller harder light source

  5. Wow, that was fascinating! Thank you. With the snoot did it have a grid in it? And if it did could you tape over part of the grid to create a gobo like the one you used for the whisky bottle label on YouTube?

    1. Hi Mark, you can hold grids in front of the snoot for similar effect. Check out the recent live food shoot in the ‘live shows’ archives to see this technique.

  6. Hi Karl, please help. The videos are not loading as fast as they use to. I need to re-watch the videos and it is being really difficult. 3 minutes videos take over 30 minutes to watch and this particular 42 minutes video is taking hours to load.

    I guess all the photographers in the world are subscribed here because the videos are so educational and that is why it is so slow!

    Do something, i really need to watch the videos the videos again. You tube videos are loading just fine, so not my network.

    1. Hi Laurenta, It does seem odd that your youtube videos are playing correctly so I will put a support note in to check but the amount of people on our platform watching would not be the issue. We use one of the best video services available and they encode our video in various resolutions to feed for different internet connections.

  7. Hi Karl,

    I’m wondering if you recommend the deep 110 umbrella for outdoor locations ( portraiture / fashion ) and if not what would you suggest?


  8. nice content like always! I’m learning a lot! I was just wondering of to achieve the punchy look of fashion shots and you explained very well the use of umbrellas and reflectors! Thank you!

  9. Hi Karl, loving the course! Can you give a recommendation for a basic set up for home portraiture with relatively limited space? Would you get a backdrop, couple of stands and lights with soft boxes ? If so, what power lights and what size soft boxes ? Or would you get speed lights and shoot through umbrellas etc? Many thanks, Andy

    1. Hi Andy, any lights will do 400J or above is good, we recommend broncolor but if they are out of your price range then Elinchrom may be another to look at. You can do more with 3 lights but as you will see in our ‘Portrait’ section you can also do great stuff with one or two. Yes a background is essential again I’d refer you to our portrait section. Biggest softbox you can go for, again the reasons are explained in the Light Source course in the portrait section. Cheers Karl.

  10. Hi Karl, Great series!
    Have you considered making the photos available for download? This would make side by side comparison in high quality even easier. Sometimes you are switching the different views to quickly for me to really get all nuances of the different shots.
    Thx, Oli

  11. Thanks for this great course!

    I have a question. I just received a umbrella mount 120cm octabox. When I close the aperture and take a picture of this modifier I can see that the diffusion of light is not even, it’s concentrated in the middle. Is that a common issue with the umbrella mount and flashgun ? Or is this particular octabox a bad quality one ? There is no diffusion layer inside.

    Do you think I should switch to a speedring mount octabox ?

    1. Hi Quentin, umbrellas will generally have central lighting unless they have and inner layer of diffusion. Most good softboxes have a good silver internal surface and then a mid layer of diffusion as well as the outer layer, some even have three layers to make them more homogenous.

  12. Hi Karl,
    Really informative comparison, thank you!
    Just wondered where you use the golden reflector to create warmer tones, could that also be achieved to a similar effect in post, eg adjusting the RAW file’s temperature or tint settings in Photoshop?


    1. Hi Maha, my first comment would be why do it in post if you can do it for real? Doing it for real will always look like more real and doing it in post will often take longer.

  13. Hey Karl,

    I’m looking more into buying my first light setup with a light modifiers.

    Am I correct to think that silver modifiers are more suited for fashion, beauty & portraits and
    White modifiers is for a more soft result like for a wedding or natural light type of look?

    I’ve also read somewhere that if i’m not sure yet which kind of softbox to buy, my best bet would be to start with a deep umbrella. Is that good advice?

    1. Hi Jacques, that is sort of correct. I would say a large softbox like the Broncolor Octabox 150 is an essential tool to have as it is a good allrounder. Softboxes are more forgiving, especially on older people. Silver stuff has more punch and sparkle, the deep umbrella such as the focus 110 is a better choice than a standard umbrella. Check out the chapter on lighting modifier comparisons in the ‘portrait’ section.

  14. Great course. I am introducing friends to join in. One interesting question, when you go back to compare with pics, you can find the correct pic is because you marked them already or you can see the config from the pics? 😉

    1. Hi Devel, I’m usually pretty good at spotting which modifiers were used based on contrast levels, highlights, specularity, fall off etc. However I wrote down each shot for this tutorial as there were similar size softboxes in my test and I needed to be sure. If I’d also used Paras in these test you would have noticed a difference in their lighting effect too.

  15. Hello Karl, I see you are wearing glasses and remove them when looking into your camera, do you have some diopter on this latter ?

    1. Hi Yann, no these are only reading glasses, beyond 1m I can see perfectly sharp and don’t need a diopter but many camera viewfinders have a diopter built in if you need to adjust.

  16. Hi Karl and the team
    Thank you so much for these in depth tutorials. I have very limited equipment, but from watching these videos I now have a much better understanding of how it can be used. It is also encouraging me to be more creative and satisfied to use the gear I already own. Definitely the best £12 I have ever spent.

    Thanks again

  17. Hi Karl,
    Firstly, thank you for all the knowledge you are sharing. I have learned more from your videos the past few weeks than all the other courses I have done in the past 5 years. And, I’m only just scratching the surface so far.

    Secondly, as a very general rule of thumb, would you say that the larger the surface area of a softbox, the greater the wraparound effect and more versatile/softer the light? So, for example, a 120cm Octabox has a surface area roughly 25% larger than a 120 x 80 rectangular softbox and would be the better purchase in terms of creative flexibility?

    Keep up the good work and thank you again.



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