Shaping The Light: 7 Key Light Modifiers For Your Studio

August 25, 2014

By Theano Nikitas

The Chimera F2X Lightbank is ideal for shoots that require continuous highlights and even coverage.

Shaping light in your photo studio is an art that requires experience, a keen eye for highlights and shadows, and the right modifiers. While you may be able to keep your core lighting gear to a minimum, you can never have too many light modifiers since each one is capable of delivering a different look and feel to your images. Regardless of your photographic specialty, we think you’ll find a light modifier (or two) in this list of favorites to pique your interest and imagination. 
CHIMERA F2X LIGHTBANK (pictured above)
When even the largest softbox in your studio doesn’t cut it for those big shoots, it’s time to unleash the Chimera F2X overhead lightbank. Ideal for photographing the newest Lamborghini or a classic ’57 Chevy, as well as other large objects that require long, continuous highlights and even coverage, the F2X can be set up in studio or on location. Color-coded aircraft aluminum tubing forms the super-strong but lightweight frame of the lightbank, and the entire setup can be assembled with no tools. Chimera estimates it will take two people about 2 to 3 hours to set up a 10 x 20-foot F2X model. The lightbank is available alone, with frame components, lightbank body and lid, internal baffle and shipping duffels, or in a Triolet kit with the appropriate number of lights. For example, a 5 x 10-foot F2X kit comes with two lights, while the largest, 10 x 30-foot, uses 12 lights. Other sizes include 5 x 15 and 10 x 20-foot. Not surprisingly, these lightbanks are pricey, but if you don’t want to splurge on something you might only use for specialty shoots, they are also available for rent. See the Chimera site for more information about rentals and modular versions of the lightbank. 
PRICE: From $3,600 (lightbank only) 

Designed to work with K 5600’s Joker HMI lights as well as strobe lighting from other brands, the Big Eye Fresnel delivers soft, versatile light for both still photography and motion. The Big Eye is a standard, 24-inch 18K Fresnel, providing access to all the same light patterns as other 18K Fresnel fixtures. But the Big Eye’s polymer lens is unique because it accepts interchangeable light sources and folds down flat. And, at around 20 pounds, it’s a lot lighter than the typical 140-pound 18K Fresnels. An easy-to-attach (and detach) black skirt covers the setup’s wire frame and the lens edges to prevent light spill. Transitioning from 10-degree spot to 60-degree broad flood coverage requires nothing more than moving the light source farther from or closer to the lens. The Big Eye kit, which consists of the structure, lens, light center adapters, reflector, black skirt and transport bag, measures 26 x 15 inches when collapsed, so it is easily transportable for location shoots. If you’re after the look of 18K Fresnel lighting in a more portable form, the Big Eyemay be the perfect solution. 



Broncolor’s latest softboxes come in an assortment of shapes and sizes to fit a variety of shooting scenarios, from large-scale shoots to smaller, more targeted jobs such as product photography. Among Broncolor’s nine softbox models, you’ll find rectangular, square and striplite variations with sizes ranging from 1.1 x 2 feet and 2 x 2 feet to 3.9 x 5.9 feet. The series includes 2.5 and 4.5-foot octaboxes as well. Each softbox can be modified with up to three diffusers, one atop the other (two are bundled with each model; the third is optional). The ability to combine multiple diffusers allows photographers to fine-tune the depth and breadth of light according to need. For additional control, light grids are also available. Thanks to an array of speedrings, Broncolor softboxes are compatible with a wide range of flash units from manufacturers such as Profoto, Elinchrom and Hensel, to name a few. There’s also an adapter for flashguns, so you’re covered no matter the light source. And, thanks to color-coded struts and speedrings, setting up the softboxes is a no-brainer, even for those just starting out with studio lighting. 
PRICE: From $224 

Elinchrom announced two Softlite 17-inch reflector sets earlier this year and they’re well suited for both portrait and commercial photography. Available in silver or white, the sets are bundled with a matching 17-inch grid and a carry bag. These parabolic “Pan” reflectors are compatible with any Elinchrom flash head and produce a slightly crisper light than a softbox while maintaining broad, even illumination. The bundled grid provides more pinpoint and sculptural control, and an optional diffuser is available when a softer light is desired. The ProTec carry bag, which protects against dents and scratches, includes a shoulder strap and an extra slot for the accompanying grid. The bag measures 23 x 9 x 22 inches and weighs 15.5 pounds when loaded with the reflector and grid. The protective bag is convenient for storage, transporting to off-site locations, and for shipping as well. 
PRICE: $300 

Setting up and tearing down lightstands takes time, but if you’re in a hurry and need to place a light panel between the light and your subject, this handy little kit will do the trick. With its quick release system, the boom arm is designed for speedy setup. The four-section boom arm is constructed of aluminum and can be extended up to 9 feet 7 inches or collapsed to 35.5 inches. The LitePanel, which measures 39 x 39 inches and utilizes one-stop diffusion fabric, is equally easy to assemble and, when attached to the boom arm, provides that extra reach (and portability) that is often needed when on location or even in the studio. The device features a “balance ball” at the bottom of the pole, saving wear and tear on your assistant’s back and arms since the pole can be comfortably braced against the waist, hip or the ground. Everything you need is bundled with the kit, including a carry bag for easy transport to location shoots. 
PRICE: $284 


Umbrellas are part of most photographers’ lighting kits. They’re relatively affordable, easy to store and set up and, most importantly, can help produce beautiful light. While shallow umbrellas, like those from Profoto, work well on most shoots, it’s their Deep series that provides even better control over how the light is shaped and focused. Profoto’s series of Umbrella Deep L (51-inch) and Deep XL (65-inch) models are each available in a trio of options: translucent, silver and white. The translucent model delivers the softest light of the three, while the silver produces the crispest (albeit still soft) light. The white version combines the best of both the translucent and silver models. Profoto also offers optional diffusers to further customize the Deep L and Deep XL’s lighting capabilities. 
PRICE: $249 (large); $349 (XL) 

Announced at this year’s WPPI, Westcott’s Zeppelin Parabolics are some of the most affordable paras on the market and are ideal for creating the kind of wrap-around illumination required for studio portrait and fashion photography. Available in three sizes (35-inch, 47-inch and 59-inch), the Zeppelin light modifiers are constructed of durable but lightweight material with a highly reflective silver interior. Outer and inner diffusion panels are bundled with the softboxes, along with a removable rear cover for extra ventilation, all the rods needed for setup, and a travel case. Mounting brackets are available for Profoto, Bowens, Balcar and Elinchrom, and while the cost of the brackets ($249 for Profoto; $199 for the others) will add to the overall price, Westcott’s Parabolics are still well within reach even for smaller studios or independent photographers. 
PRICE: $400/$500/$700