Fstoppers Answers - What is Your Favorite Light Modifier?

Fstoppers Answers - What is Your Favorite Light Modifier?

In our newest series, we're inviting you the viewer to ask a weekly question for the writers of Fstoppers. Last week, we touched base on what we each individually believe commercial photography to be. Coming from different fields of photography, we all shared similar thoughts on the subject, but with different arguments and approaches.

For the second installment, we're asking each of our staff 'What is The One Light Modifier You Couldn't Live Without?'.

Mike KelleyAssociate Editor | Architecture Photographer One lighting modifier I couldn't live without? Gels. Being able to match my lights to the color temperature of the ambient light is one of the most important parts of lighting architecture and interiors. In addition to that, gels let me get creative with the color temperature of my lights when the situation calls for it, which can add so much mood and drama to an image. I definitely feel that in a pinch I could modify my lights by bouncing them off ceilings and walls, or find certain objects and different textures to bounce off or shoot through to add character to my lights. But if there's one thing you can't fake, it's definitely going to be gels.


Trevor DayleyStaff Writer | Wedding Photographer As a wedding photographer I am looking for modifiers that make soft forgiving light along with portability. For that reason I love the Westcott Apollo Orb Softbox. My Speedlite fits right into it on an umbrella mount and it gives off gorgeous soft light while being easy to quickly set up and move around. In short, it's beautiful softbox light with the convenience of an umbrella.


Gary MartinStaff Writer | Studio Manager I couldn't live without Rosco Diffusion. Specifically the #3008 lux 4 foot roll. This material helps create the best glow and soft highlights for beverage photography. It's such a dynamic material that can be built into any size softbox. Best bang for your buck by far.


Taylor MathisStaff Writer | Food Photographer I primarily shoot food on location. Due to this, I need a lighting modifier that is light weight, compact, assembles quickly, and has a large surface area to create beautiful soft light. I have tried a lot of different soft boxes, umbrellas, and even some homemade versions. The one modifier that I never leave home without is the Westcott 43” Apollo Orb. With it, a light stand, and a 580EXII, I have all I need to create beautiful light for my food photography anywhere!


Jaron SchneiderFeatures Editor | Commercial Photographer For me, you can't beat a medium sized rectangular soft box (the ones that are two feet on the long side). Sure, I actually like an octabank or a beauty dish as a key for portraits a lot of the time, but I can always use that rectangular one for some fill. Plus they also work well as a key light for product photos and for food. It is for me the most versatile style box I own, which is why I own four.


Dave GeffinStaff Writer | Professional Photographer White beauty dish with grid. Everytime I've used it or seen it used, it produces a beautifully balanced light that's not as contrasty as silver dishes or parabolics and not as soft as a softbox. It's versatility is also excellent, allowing you to use it as a key light for both beauty and fashion work. The grid just allows you to focus things even more and you can get even more dramatic lighting out of the dish with this addition.


James RobertsonStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer Modifier I couldn't live without - I'd have to say one of those medium-sized 5-in-1 fold up reflectors. Sure having a light and soft boxes are a good idea, but the fact that I can have a ton of control over direction, tone, and shape with any available light and something that folds up into the size of a frisbee makes it my #1. When I'm not using it to bounce light, the black side makes for a great gobo (flag, whatever) that I can clamp almost anywhere, and in a pinch the soft white side has made for a great background for products and smaller elements that I may wish to cut out and use for composites down the road.


Rich MeadeStaff Writer | Fashion Photographer Definitely Grids. In the studio I'm a real control freak when it comes to the light. Grids allow me to keep the same quality of light yet limit where it goes. I have a grid for every single light shaper I own. Some modifiers I don't dare use without a grid. A "Beauty Dish" for example. Amazing light, but it goes EVERYWHERE.


David BickleyStaff Writer | Fitness Photographer The 5-in-1 reflector is essential without a doubt. Of course I would love to say a beauty dish or a giant octa but, when it comes down to it I know that a handful of 5-in-1's will never let me down. From diffusion to both additive and subtractive lighting this is the modifier you'd be daft to work without.


Peter HouseStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer For me it's my Photek Softlighter. For those unfamiliar with the product it is a reflected brolly box. What makes it so great, in my opinion, is the extreme versatility. It can be set up as a regular shoot through umbrella, a reflected umbrella, or you can add the diffusion panel to create the reflected brolly box. I use it most often as a reflected brolly box because it gives off an incredibly soft and even light that works very well as a fill light and does wonders for most product work that I do. In addition, because it is essentially an umbrella, it is VERY easy to set up and set down, and even easier to transport. It can also be set up to shoot overhead on a basic stand without the need for expensive booms that take up space.Because of the flat diffusion panel on the front, it is also very easy to attach custom templates to the softlighter for very interesting and custom lighting effects. The fact that it is also one of the cheaper light modifiers makes it a total win win for me. Effective, portable, and economic. If there is one modifier I need to have, this is it.


Rebecca BrittStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer My 47 inch Paul C. Buff foldable Octabox with speedring is my go-to modifier for almost all my shoots. I love the soft, smooth and consistent light it helps produce. I use it for anything from headshots, fashion to outdoor shoots (when the wind is calm). It's a versatile and must-have piece for your lighting arsenal.


Pratik NaikStaff Writer | High End Retoucher I couldn't do without using a beauty dish for photoshoots. While I primarily enjoy shooting beauty work, I find it versatile in all areas. I've used everything from Mola dishes to Paul C. Buff dishes and they each give a unique look based on the size of the dish. What I like most about a beauty dish is how it won't sail away outdoors like an umbrella or a softbox and can be grounded much easier. Secondly, you can change the quality of light much easier. For instance, if you angle the dish away and use just the feathered light, it gives a much more beautiful quality to the light than using it directly as you normally would. Also, using a sock or a grid changes it even further. So it becomes one of the most versatile and smallest modifiers in my tool kit. The only downside may be the space required to store it as most of them do not collapse.


Zach SuttonAssociate Editor | Headshot Photographer For me, it has to be the 21" Beauty Dish. The light from it is stellar, and the fact that its metal, makes it perfect for on location work, as the wind won't turn it into a kite. The directional work with Beauty Dishes is also amazing, its a light that is easy to feather, and small enough to allow some directional control over it. I currently use the old Paul C Buff Beauty Dish, and while it looks like its been to war and back, it still works like a charm.


If you have a question you'd like us to answer in this weekly series, feel free to post it below in the comments. They're welcomed to be as broad or as focused as you'd like. One question from the comments will be used for a question in next week's installment of Fstoppers Answers.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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A cheap umbrella. It's the most bang for the buck when it comes to simple solutions.

Look what this guy achieves with just one umbrella :

Any ceiling or wall nearby that is not black.



Definitely a 21" beauty dish for me. Majority of the time, I feather it and/or use a grid. Once in a while I use a sock on it to soften it up, BUT, I gaff tape the grid in front of the sock so I still have more controlled fall off. Try it out!

Hard light, I like the 8.5" reflector on the Einstein, as well as the Profoto Magnum

Great discussion! It´s always interesting to hear what other photographers fancy.
I have just been shooting portraits of musicians for three days straight and I used my Elinchrome Deep Octa (70 cm) for 80% of the shots! Very useful af a keylight for a single person portrait!

You're not the only one who loves 70cm Deep Octa. I judged between normal and deep one and then bought the deep one. Immediately I fell love with it. Just amazing light. Second one is a Maxilite from Elinchrom.

I'd have to say I absolutely love my Elinchrom Fiber Lights. It is unbelievable what kind of light control you have when you have 9 heads half an inch thick outputting up to 1200 watts. Great for products, but the 3 kits not to mention lights were extremely expensive. Example of an 18 inch statue shot portrait style with 7 fiber optic heads.The one head on the bottom had an orange gel attached.

Since I picked up a dual speedlight mount I've been shooting my Westcott Apollo Orb everywhere, under every condition. Take off the front baffle and with the silver inner lining and two Kungpao 560s it can battle the sun.

i definitely can't live without 75" parabolic umbrella (silver)

12x12 silk.

My all time favorite is the 22" white interior beauty dish!

Hands down, all time favorite light modifier: A window.

Standard 22" beauty dish. Why are you guys saying 21"? :-)

Any opinions out there on white vs silver beauty dishes?

I prefer the white over the silver. The white is a bit softer, and with less contrast. Sometimes I think the silver has too much pop for my taste. But it really is a matter of preference.

Really down to preference. As Zach said, silver will give harder light. I use a silver dish since most of my modifiers are extremely soft, and I generally prefer to use those if soft light is what I'm after. If I remember correctly, my profile picture here was a quick snap under the silver dish I use.

And my profile picture on here was taken using a white dish.

See how soft it made everything? :-p

Here I thought it was just your amazing complexion, haha.

Alright. thanks for the feedback. much appreciated! I can see how there would be difference between the two.