Lighting Modifiers, an introduction
If you do any googling around the interweb reading about photography, you’re likely to see talk or mention of lighting modifiers. The next logical step from seeing a mention on a piece of must have equipment is to trawl a couple of online photography shops to look at prices, or to scan through ebay – your next reaction is normally one of shock horror as the prices are more than you would perhaps expect….but does it really need to be this expensive?…I don’t think so – enter the DIY photography lighting modifiers.
Firstly let me begin by saying that I don’t intend this to be the ultimate resource for DIY strobe lighting modifiers – but rather an introduction to what they are, what they do & what you can make them from (well what I have made them from anyway). I will at a later date add more detailed articles for each type of modifier including more information on the construction methods that I have used.
The miracle material that I use for pretty much all of my flash lighting modifiers is correx (also known as coroplast in the USA) – this is a corrugated plastic sheet/board that comes in a variety of thicknesses & colours. The most common use of this material that you will be aware of is on Estate Agents for sale boards. I have used 2mm thick correx in black, white & transparent….it can be quite challenging to find a supplier of this magic material – mine was left over from a previous hobby & I bought it from here: www.mugi.co.uk (I’m not suggesting that this is the best, cheapest or only source).
Correx is easy to cut with a sharp knife, can be scored, bent & rolled easily – gluing is also quick, easy & permanent with the use of a contact adhesive.
Anyway – onto the the modifiers….so why use a modifier at all? Well its all about the quality and control of light, I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on this, because I’m not – but I have played around with a good few different devices & I have seen the results.
If you look at the (really) tall set of images on the right, you can compare the different strobe lighting modifiers that I have made. All these shots have been taken with my Canon 450d, kit 18-55mm lens using a wirelessly triggered Vivitar 285HV strobe….all the shots have been taken using the same strobe power & exposure settings (white balance is set to strobe) – the light source is roughly 2 feet away from the subject (except for the large softbox shot further down). Because of this some of the images further down do get a little darker – but I think doing it this way gives you a better idea of what is happening.
- This is the starting point for any lighting setup, a bare strobe fully zoomed out to give a wide area of coverage. Light and shadows are fairly harsh.
- The same as above, but this time the strobe is zoomed in as far as it goes. Brighter & harsher.
- Small snoot, ok here we go, there is now a short 6″ snoot on the strobe. A strobe is basically a tube that is attached onto the front of the strobe that restricts the direction that the light can go in. You can see that the area of light has become tighter & harder. The pool of light has a nice soft falloff on the edges while the shadow is pretty harsh. (strobe is zoomed in)
- Large snoot, this is a 10″ snoot, you can see that the area of light has been tightened even more & the shadows cast are even harsher. (strobe is zoomed in)
- Small gridspot, I don’t use this one enough. A gridspot is much like a snoot but with a grid, or small set of tubes mounted internally all pointing in the same direction – this really chokes the direction that the light can go in. The 1″ gridspot gives a really nice tight area of light, again with harsh shadows…we’re now seeing a good amount of light loss as a result of using the gridspot, so in practical use you’d need to boost the power. This one is great to use as a beam of sunlight. (strobe is zoomed in)
- Large gridspot, I don’t use this one very much as its quite extreme. The 2″ gridspot again tightens the pool of light even more & we lose a whole load more light. (strobe is zoomed in)
- Shop bought fabric ‘diffuser’, these so called diffusers essentially turn your directional strobe into an omni-directional light source (think lightbulb). The light itself does not soften, but the light is cast in pretty much every direction allowing the light to bounce off other surfaces in the surroundings. These are cheap to buy & are quite effective….they can also be used to enhance your on camera flash. (strobe zoomed out)
- DIY correx diffuser, made using transparent correx, this is an open sided box that slots onto my flash & works in a very similar manner to the shop bought fabric version above. This is perhaps a little more efficient than the shop bought version, but it does colour the light slightly as you can see in the image. (strobe zoomed out)
- Small softbox, this really is quite a small softbox, but it works brilliantly for macro purposes. The purpose of a softbox is to increase the apparent size of your strobe – you have a large transparent, slightly diffused face & an internal reflector to push the light forward. The face of this soft box is only 5″ x 6″, but if you’re taking photos of small objects, then it makes a huge difference! This is one of my most used accessories. You can see that the cast shadow is considerably softer than of any of the above – these softboxes really come into there own when they are positioned closer to the subject (see below). (strobe zoomed out)
- Large softbox, in the scheme of things, this is still quite a small softbox – but is much bigger than the one above. At 7″ x 9.5″, I get much better coverage from this and it can also be used for close up portrait work. In this image you can’t really see much difference to the version above…read on down for a better idea of the difference that it makes. (strobe zoomed out)
- Large softbox in close, this is the same softbox as in no. 10 above, but this time brought into a more normal working distance relative to the subject. Now that the apparent size of the light source has siginificanlty increased, the quality of light is much softer, smoother, giving nice soft shadows & smooth falloff. (strobe zoomed out)
- Gel holder. This is a really simple attachment that I made to accept the free sample gels that you can get in swatch books (google Lee or Rosco to try & track yours down). This is the easiest, dirtiest & quickest mod to make (assuming your strobe has a wide angle filter slot). Using colour gels allows you to match the colour temperature of your strobe to the surrounding ambient light source – or it means that you can get creative & moody with the colours. All of the light modifiers above can accept the gel holders giving me masses of flexibility.
So this has been a very quick run through of the types of strobe light modifiers that I have built & use regularly. I will add more articles with shots of the modifiers themselves & basic construction information in the near future.
Further online reading: