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Published Aug. 18, 2021

Light is everything when it comes to photography. It’s why photographers love shooting during a golden hour sunset so much. But sometimes your shoots aren’t going to happen during that perfect hour—sometimes you get stuck shooting in harsh midday glare. Luckily, once you learn to control the light it won’t matter during what time of day you are shooting. Investing in a few key lighting modifiers and learning to use them will go a long way towards improving the professional quality of your images. Accessories like softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dishes, LED light panels, and snoots are some of the most popular light modifiers used by professional photographers because they allow you to control the intensity and shape of your lighting sources.

What do light modifiers do?

Photographers use light modifiers to shape and control their light sources. Although you can absolutely make beautiful photographs without lighting modifiers, introducing them into your tool kit will give you more creative control during your photo sessions. Light modifiers can be used with speedlights, studio strobes, or continuous LED lights. Depending on what modifier you are using, it can either produce soft diffuse light or dramatic contrast lighting. Using lighting modifiers is the best way to produce photos that are light and airy—or dark and moody. 

When shopping for a light modifier, it’s important to consider what you will want your end product to look like. If you are looking for light that is very soft, your best bet is to use a large softbox or a shoot through umbrella. These light modifiers will spread your light source out to create very even light. If you are looking for moodier, intense lighting, consider a beauty dish or a snoot. These modifiers will give you a much more defined light source.

Things to consider when shopping for light modifiers

For every style of light modifier ,you will find very high-end versions and very inexpensive versions. Higher-end brands like Profoto are often designed specifically to work with Profoto Lighting equipment, while lower-end brands tend to be more universal. 

If you are just starting to experiment with light modifiers, we recommend starting with the lower-cost modifiers. The biggest difference between high-end and low-end models is their durability. If you are shooting in the studio every single day, it obviously makes sense to invest in higher-quality tools. But if you are a more casual shooter, a low-cost modifier should be enough to get you started. 

Ultimately, the brand of light modifier that you choose to use is most connected to the style of lights you are shooting with and how often you plan to shoot.

Best shoot-through umbrella: Neewer 2-Pack White Translucent Soft Umbrella

Beginners Tool

These handy umbrellas create beautiful light without much fuss. Neewer

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Shoot-through umbrellas like the Neewer 2-Pack White Translucent Soft Umbrella are easy-to-use tools, making them an excellent choice for beginners. They create light that is soft and incredibly forgiving, and they light your subject evenly. Umbrellas are easy to set up, work with a wide variety of lights, and pack down small, making them great for travel. Think of them as incredibly inexpensive softboxes.

Best light reflector: Neewer 5-in-1 Light Reflector

5-in-1 Tool

A versatile reflector works wonders in mediocre natural light. Neewer

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The Neewer 5-in-1 Light Reflector gives you the option to fill in shadows, replicate golden hour, create a bright neutral fill, or block out unwanted light and cut down on reflections—all without having to invest in a light source. This 43-inch model collapses down into a compact bag for easy travel, too. Just make sure you bring an assistant along to your shoots to help keep this reflector working as intended.

Best beauty dish: Neewer Aluminum-Standard Reflector Beauty Dish

Circular Soft Contrast

This is a beloved tool of fashion and beauty photographers. Neewer

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An excellent option for lighting faces close up, the 16-inch Neewer Aluminum-Standard Reflector Beauty Dish will define bone structure by creating a soft contrast between your highlights and your shadows. It also creates a beautiful circular catchlight in the eyes. It’s not a bad idea to use a beauty dish in conjunction with a white reflector to minimize harsh shadows underneath your model’s chin and nose. If you are interested in beauty or fashion photography, a beauty dish light modifier is a great place to start. 

Best softbox: Impact Luxbanx Rectangular Softbox

Imitate Window Light

An easy-to-control, versatile light source. Impact

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The Impact Luxbanx Rectangular Softbox imitates the quality of light created by a large window, which is why it’s a tool favored by portrait photographers. Changing the angle and distance of this light modifier from your subject will change the quality and intensity of this light. Softboxes come in various shapes and sizes, but for a large softbox like this one, it’s best to pair it with powerful studio strobes.

Best snoot: Neewer Conical Snoot Kit

Precision Lighting

This is a hard lighting tool. Neewer

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A snoot is a specialized lighting tool that will produce hard, precise light. The is a great tool for creating moody work with a lot of contrast between your subject and the background. You can use a snoot for a spotlight effect, to create low-key lighting, as a hair light, or to add flare to an image. Often you may use a snoot in combination with other light modifiers; the Neewer Conical Snoot Kit comes with a variety of small gels which lend the ability to add creative color to your images. 

FAQs

Q: What are softboxes used for in photography?

A softbox is designed to imitate the quality of light that one would get from a large window. It creates a large soft light source that minimizes harsh shadows, making it a popular choice among portrait photographers.

Q: What is the difference between a beauty dish and a softbox?

While a softbox will give you large, soft, very diffuse light, a beauty dish is a tool used for creating a more sculpted, high-contrast look. A beauty dish will give you a more intense quality of light and is a popular tool for cosmetics and fashion photographers.

Q: How do you use a snoot in photography?

Use a snoot when you are looking for direct, hard, concentrated light. A snoot will shape your light into an intense small beam. It’s great for creating dramatic lighting or when you want to create a lot of contrast between your subject and the background. 

Final thoughts about photography lighting and modifiers

Lighting modifiers allow you to control your photography light with precision, which ultimately opens the doors to unleashing your creativity. Most light modifiers are designed to work with an artificial light source like studio strobes or continuous lights, although simpler light modifiers like shoot-through umbrellas will work just fine with a compact speedlite. Many photographers choose to shoot with a variety of modifiers to better control the way in which light interacts with their subjects. When shopping for light modifiers, keep in mind what you are planning to shoot and if you are looking to create imagery that is light and airy or dark and contrasty. Take control of your photography light today by integrating lighting modifiers into your photo kit.

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