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
  • Lens flare and how to reduce it

To see further examples of lighting modifiers watch Beauty Lighting Comparison.

NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. Absolutely loving the attention to detail in all of these courses. Im coming from a film background and am now pursuing photography as a secondary income.

    Can i ask what Giraffe Boom set up that is? Moving in to a new studio space this week and need to order one in 😀


    1. Hi, thank you and glad you are enjoying them. I’ll check on the giraffe boom but usually you will find an equipment list on the lower right that details all items used in each module.

  2. Hi Karl, love your work as always! I’m using the siros and wondering generally speaking when using with a softbox (or para which I have on order) if I am fine to simply set my white balance at 5500 or would the softbox/para alter it in studio situation? Also would mixing bron and chimera softboxes cause mixes of WB and cause me problems too? Of course for very high end would use a color checker to make 100% sure but am more thinking generally speaking.

    1. Hi Cameron, Yes all softboxes will give a slightly different colour balance to silver reflectors such as Paras. Even some silver umbrellas can look a bit bluer than others. I find softboxes usually look a bit warmer. There’s not much you can do other than colour balance to which ever is the most dominant light. The flash out put from bron (bare bulb) is actually around 5800-6000K.

  3. It would appear that you tend to favor a darker exposure that does not fill the histogram. Is this simply your creative tendency for this type of subject or across most subjects? Are there situations or with certain subjects where you prefer a lighter-biased image?

  4. I guess this is one of the paramount lessons that we amateurs have always wanted to know about: studio lights and all its contraptions.

    Thank you Mr. Taylor for that comprehensive insight into studio lighting setups!


  5. Hello Karl,

    A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to try out one of your lighting suggestions. Namely, to use a horizontally-aligned 1×3 strip box for a close-up portrait. I did this outside in brilliant sunlight, with the strip box about a foot or two away from the subject’s face, at full intensity (an 800 W/S Siros L). Speaking of which, that was another of your suggestions, to put softboxes close to the subject. The result was a great-looking portrait that I am happy with. It had another result as well, and that is why I am writing now.

    After taking that photo and seeing the result, all of my photos look different to me. Now, I think I am more sensitive to what “three-dimensional lighting” means. Until I took this shot, I don’t think I quite understood what it looked like. It’s one thing to see it in professionally made images by experienced photographers, because almost all of those photos will have this quality, making it hard to see what it looks like when it isn’t present.

    Armed with this new shot as a comparative, it has become increasingly easy to see lighting problems in my shots. For instance, I did a series of portraits of fire men and EMT workers last week. Most came out well, but a group taken inside an ambulance have been bothering me for days as I try to figure out how to edit them to salvage the images. My “3D” strip box illuminated portrait came to mind and I suddenly saw that the ambulance lighting was washed out and flat. Short of painting in the detail by hand, the images did not have the raw information needed to deliver the shots I wanted.

    My question is this: would you consider making a video where you discuss a gradient of lighting effects, from flat to 3D (or whatever) to help subscribers understand what to look for in their own work when trying to determine whether the photos contain enough information to be worth retouching?

    1. Hi Apaq, very glad to hear that it’s working out for you and you are discovering these things with the help of our platform. I will certainly keep in mind your suggestion on discussing lighting in this way.

  6. Hello Karl! Thank your for these helpful videos!

    I wanted to ask, since I am a beginner and currently into food photography: can I use a speedlight with a softbox or an umbrella? What would you recommend best for food photography lighting?

    Thank you!


    1. Hi, Yes as a first choice I’d use your speedlite with a softbox, preferably something quite large like a 150 octabox to replicate natural window light well.

  7. Well Karl, I think it is safe to say that this course will end up saving a lot of people a l out of money. As a beginner you have the tendency to go out and buy them all, only to realise one year later that you didn’t use half of them. Good for me that I have my external conscience (wife)putting a brake on my purchasing.. haha thanks Karl, great course!

  8. Thank you Karl for these great lessons. You should really call it Karl’s University of Photography.

  9. Hi, congratulations on the lessons can only be upgraded. I like shooting with flash and I want to shoot mostly with sharp lighting what is your opinion on OCF Magnum Reflictor? And whether 400 or 600 should I choose?

    1. Hi, I’d choose 600 if you can. I don’t know the reflector you are talking about I’m afraid.

  10. Hi Karl, Really enjoying your classes – so much valuable information with such a friendly, accessible presentation. You are a great teacher! I shoot mostly dance and defining the three dimensional, sculptural shaping of the body is key. From the look of these demonstrations, the silver umbrella and the deeper (Focus 110) umbrella would seem to be best – I like the heightened clarity they give. What do you think? Thanks, Jim

    1. Thank you. Yes my favourite sculpting modifier is the Para 133 but the focus 110 is a very good economical alternative.

  11. Hi Karl,

    I’m primary shoot lifestyle work. Mostly my shoots are outside but occasionally shoot inside. My question is, if you have to pick one or two of these modifiers what would you choose?


    1. Hi Nick, If you had the budget I’d go with the Para133 as it’s very versatile. Otherwise I’d definitely have an Octa 150, a beauty dish, a deep focus 110 and several honey comb grids and standard reflectors.

  12. First of all, thank you so much for an incredible wealth of information presented very logically. One quick question; assuming a sturdy and solid light stand, do you think using a Siros 800L flash head with the Para 133 would be a problem, given the weight of the Siros? Is the focussing tube strong enough to carry the weight of the light and the required adapter? Many thanks and have a great evening!

    Best wishes,

    1. Hi Joe, broncolor have designed the Para’s to take any Siros no problem but yes you have to be careful with the stand that it doesn’t tip over so I highly recommend very sturdy stands and sandbags on the stands.

  13. Hi Karl,
    Are there any advantages to owning a Broncolor silver umbrella vs a Focus 110 aside from the (substantial) cost savings?
    I own economy-brand silver umbrellas and got the Focus 110 a year ago and love it but the color output is noticeably different. As such, I intend to replace the economy-brands with Broncolor silver umbrellas but it also occurred to me that I might want to just get another Focus 110 or two for their versatility.


    1. Hi JP, the main reason for the 110 as you will have discovered is that it focuses the light more accurately than a standard umbrella, this gives more light and more 3 dimensionality where you want it. Personally I’d go with the 110’s unless you need white umbrellas.

  14. Such an amazing tutorial !
    Thanks Karl for comparing so many light modifiers in one go !

    Its quite a challenging task to pack such great amount of information in just 41 minutes.
    Absolutely enjoying and learning all videos here.

    Thanks once again.

    – Sanket

  15. Hi Karl,
    Thank you for these great tutorials!
    How to decide between using Octabox or Softbox if both have same size?

    Thanks again

    1. Hi Thomas, if they are a similar size then there won’t be much difference on people or matt texture objects. I generally use softboxes in shapes that are most similar to the subject so that the light spread is similar to the area I am shooting.

  16. Hi Karl,
    Love the friendly way you teach. Lightning was scary, now I’m feeling ready to make my first baby steps in having more control on my photographs.
    I have a question; which modifiers should I buy if food photography and products are my main interest? I was thinking a 30*100 softbox and a snoot. I have two flash units at the moment

    1. Hi Alan, please watch our food sections but a 150 Octabox would be a good starting point and yes snoots and with grids.

      1. Hi Karl, thanks for answering 🙂
        I’m at the tea preparation video, the food section is amazing. Just wanted to double check before making any purchase.

  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.


    1. Hi Ian, yes and you will come across me mentioning that in several modules and live shows. A larger softbox is always more versatile as you can easily mask it to make them smaller when necessary too.

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. Hi Karl,

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


  28. 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.

  29. This course is awesome, everything what I needed is in the same place.
    I wish I could spend a few days with you learning more things.

  30. Hello.

    Will you go over the para in another tutorial ?
    I have heard a lot of good thing about them but I’m really curious to see how you use them in the field.

  31. 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.

    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

  32. 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 ?


  33. 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.

  34. 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 🙂

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

    Many thanks 🙂

        1. Followed you on youtube for sm time & i was just frustrated as my photos were becoming monotonous ..understood that i lack in area specifically understanding of light & the way u Teach is simply awesome ..

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