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Thread: Help with selecting light modifiers

  1. #1

    Help with selecting light modifiers

    I have recently purchased a few speedlites (430EXII and 2 Yongnuo 560II's). I'm relatively new to flash photography and looking at all of the different modifiers available is pretty overwhelming. I like to shoot people, pets, and a little wildlife (probably in that order). I like to shoot both indoor and outdoor. My general approach to buying gear is to get stuff that will last a while. I'd rather pay a little more upfront and avoid the evolutionary process of upgrading later only to end up with the same equipment I could have purchased in the first place. I'd like to know which light modifiers (and size) you feel are more useful that I should purchase first and learn to use (soft box, grid, beauty dish, umbrella, barn doors, etc). Also, what brands and models do you have good experience and results with. I'm always interested in seeing sample photos of your work with said equipment if you are willing to share. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Senior Member neuroanatomist's Avatar
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    Sean's the expert on this, but I use and am pleased with a pair of Lastolite 24" Ezyboxes on Manfrotto 1051BAC light stands.

  3. #3
    Shoot first, then ask questions later :-)

    Seriously, It would be better start working with you flashes and take as many pictures as you can. Then you will realize what exactly do you need for you purposes. If you don't, you can ask how to achieve an special lightning technique or improve a picture in particular. There are many people in this forum experienced about flash photography that would help you.

    In this case, function create the organ. It makes little sense buy an umbrella or something else before knowing if you are going to need it.

  4. #4
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    I have two 430EXIIs, with 25 inch white umbrellas, and they work well. I use them mostly for outdoor shots. I like the umbrellas for softening the flash. I use them fairly close to the subjects, and typically operate them in manual mode, since my subjects are static. An umbrella is such an inexpensive accessory, it's worth starting with them. The smaller umbrella is less likely to be a sail in the wind (though, I always sandbag the stands, just to make sure).

  5. #5
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    One thing that would be good to know is whether you are wanting to shoot in a studio type environment or have a photojournalist approach with a need for mobility. The wildlife could be done from a blind or stand if you want to create studio quality shots or are you more of a hiker/camper coming across wildlife and taking shots when the opportunity presents itself. The portability requirement, if applicable, could have a huge impact on recommendations. There are some, such as Sean, who do carry studio type lighting to outdoor photo sessions and set it up on site as that is what is required to achieve the level of lighting control to meet their needs. Other people will carry a few flashes, improvise holders on site and are thoroughly pleased with the results.

    The point I am trying to drive at is that there are many approaches to lighting and without knowing what your preferred approach will be it is not easy to recommend specific equipment. For someone starting out it can be overwhelming with so many choices. The other difficulty in starting out is not knowing through experience how to achieve the effect that you want. Just start using the equipment you have and spend time with ratios and angles to learn what you can do with what you have now.

    You did say you are starting with flash units. Have you been using them? What method of triggering the slaves have you been using? Would cables or radio triggers improve your ability to work with them? In the shots you have taken, or will take in the near future, are you satisfied with the amount of light? Do you have the ability to control the transition from light to shadow to create the effects that you want? I know that I struggled with figuring out what to start with. Eventually it dawned on me that close examination of the photos and effects I was achieving and comparing to where I wanted to get to would be the best way to figure out what I would need to achieve it. That and a knowledgeable person behind the sales counter at the local camera shop who took the time to help me work through it all.

  6. #6
    Administrator Sean Setters's Avatar
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    To say I have a few light modifiers would probably be an understatement (I compiled a fairly comprehensive list below). I started out with speedlights, but have begun using monolights more and more over the past couple of years. Personally, I enjoy the flexibility that monolights provide in the wide assortment of modifiers and sufficient power to do whatever I want with them.

    If I were to pick two favorite modifiers with monolights, it would be the Mola Demi (I love that beauty dish) and the 64" PCB Extreme Silver PLM with the diffusion cover. The beauty dish wins out for the great quality of light that it shapes, while the PLM wins for its versatility.

    When it comes to speedlights, umbrellas a fantastic (and cheap). I like a 43" size for most general purposes. I have several, and I still use them often. In fact, I used them yesterday for a shoot; the results were especially (and predictably) flattering when used in a clamshell type of lighting. The other modifier I'd suggest is along the same lines as Neuro's Lastolite Ezybox recommendation. I purchased a cheaper, smaller 15" version from Alzo several years ago and I've used it on many (and I mean many) shoots. I used it last night for some jewelry shots, in fact. I like the collapsible softbox because it's easy to set up and the controls of the flash are very easy to get to when using the softbox (a stark contrast to the Westcott Apollo where you must rip open the velcro on the front diffuser to get to the controls). However, it's a bit small to recommend for general purposes. Therefore, I'd recommend something similar (a collapsible softbox) but larger, like what Neuro recommended. Given that you don't mind paying a bit more up front, the Lastolite gets high marks for its durability. If you find yourself in a budget crunch, however, you can find cheaper alternatives straight from China on Ebay, but don't expect the same quality.

    As for the modifiers I own and have used, here's the current list. Legend: M = Monolights, S = Speedlights, B = Both

    Used with - Light Modifier

    M - PCB 48" Foldable Octabox
    M - PCB 24"x36" Medium Foldable Softbox
    M - PCB 32"x40" Large Foldable Softbox
    M - PCB 64" Extreme Silver PLM w/ Diffusion Cover
    M - PCB 42" Extreme Silver PLM
    M - PCB 22" Silver Beauty Dish (HOBD) w/ Diffusion Cover or Grid
    M - PCB 20" White Parabolic Reflector
    M - PCB Honeycomb Grids for standard reflectors
    M - PCB Standard 7in reflector
    M - Mola Demi Beauty Dish w/ P.A.D. & Opal Diffusers
    M - Ebay 16" Beauty Dish w/ Grids
    M - Ebay 70"x48" Giant Softbox
    M - Gels for monolights
    B - 25", 43", 60", 86" White umbrellas
    B - 43" Silver umbrellas
    B - Impact reflector
    B - Sunbounce Sunmover reflector
    S - 48" Apollo Style Octabox
    S - 28" Westcott Apollo Softbox
    S - 15" Alzo Collapsible Softbox
    S - Opteka / Honl grids
    S - Small Opteka collapsible diffuser
    S - DIY snoot
    S - 14" Lumodi Titanium Beauty Dish
    S - Gels for speedlights

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by jrw View Post
    One thing that would be good to know is whether you are wanting to shoot in a studio type environment or have a photojournalist approach with a need for mobility. The wildlife could be done from a blind or stand if you want to create studio quality shots or are you more of a hiker/camper coming across wildlife and taking shots when the opportunity presents itself. The portability requirement, if applicable, could have a huge impact on recommendations. There are some, such as Sean, who do carry studio type lighting to outdoor photo sessions and set it up on site as that is what is required to achieve the level of lighting control to meet their needs. Other people will carry a few flashes, improvise holders on site and are thoroughly pleased with the results.

    The point I am trying to drive at is that there are many approaches to lighting and without knowing what your preferred approach will be it is not easy to recommend specific equipment. For someone starting out it can be overwhelming with so many choices. The other difficulty in starting out is not knowing through experience how to achieve the effect that you want. Just start using the equipment you have and spend time with ratios and angles to learn what you can do with what you have now.

    You did say you are starting with flash units. Have you been using them? What method of triggering the slaves have you been using? Would cables or radio triggers improve your ability to work with them? In the shots you have taken, or will take in the near future, are you satisfied with the amount of light? Do you have the ability to control the transition from light to shadow to create the effects that you want? I know that I struggled with figuring out what to start with. Eventually it dawned on me that close examination of the photos and effects I was achieving and comparing to where I wanted to get to would be the best way to figure out what I would need to achieve it. That and a knowledgeable person behind the sales counter at the local camera shop who took the time to help me work through it all.
    Thanks for your feedback. I'm probably more interested in shooting outdoors than anything else. I tried to setup a shot with my wife and dog in the park. I quickly realized that the light was harsh even at low power. I also had a challenge of positioning them to test out different angles because I didn't purchase any light stands yet. I'd like to get 2-3 light stands along with some modifiers to control and shape the light a little better.

    I haven't shot that much with the flashes. So far I've just done some shots with one or two, just to test them out and see how they fire. When indoors, I usually bounce them off a wall or ceiling to improve the light. But there is little control with that approach and not easy to achieve outdoors without some other gear.

    As for firing the flashes off camera, I bought Yongnuo radio triggers. They work well.

  8. #8
    Administrator Sean Setters's Avatar
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    Once you get the lightstands and modifiers, you'll need a reliable method to anchor them to the ground. An umbrella on top of a light stand quickly becomes a wind sail with the slightest of breezes. There are several ways to tackle the problem--commercial sandbags, milk jugs filled with weight and tied with bungee cords, tent stakes, full camera bags, etc.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Sean Setters View Post
    To say I have a few light modifiers would probably be an understatement (I compiled a fairly comprehensive list below). I started out with speedlights, but have begun using monolights more and more over the past couple of years. Personally, I enjoy the flexibility that monolights provide in the wide assortment of modifiers and sufficient power to do whatever I want with them.

    If I were to pick two favorite modifiers with monolights, it would be the Mola Demi (I love that beauty dish) and the 64" PCB Extreme Silver PLM with the diffusion cover. The beauty dish wins out for the great quality of light that it shapes, while the PLM wins for its versatility.

    When it comes to speedlights, umbrellas a fantastic (and cheap). I like a 43" size for most general purposes. I have several, and I still use them often. In fact, I used them yesterday for a shoot; the results were especially (and predictably) flattering when used in a clamshell type of lighting. The other modifier I'd suggest is along the same lines as Neuro's Lastolite Ezybox recommendation. I purchased a cheaper, smaller 15" version from Alzo several years ago and I've used it on many (and I mean many) shoots. I used it last night for some jewelry shots, in fact. I like the collapsible softbox because it's easy to set up and the controls of the flash are very easy to get to when using the softbox (a stark contrast to the Westcott Apollo where you must rip open the velcro on the front diffuser to get to the controls). However, it's a bit small to recommend for general purposes. Therefore, I'd recommend something similar (a collapsible softbox) but larger, like what Neuro recommended. Given that you don't mind paying a bit more up front, the Lastolite gets high marks for its durability. If you find yourself in a budget crunch, however, you can find cheaper alternatives straight from China on Ebay, but don't expect the same quality.

    As for the modifiers I own and have used, here's the current list. Legend: M = Monolights, S = Speedlights, B = Both

    Used with - Light Modifier

    M - PCB 48" Foldable Octabox
    M - PCB 24"x36" Medium Foldable Softbox
    M - PCB 32"x40" Large Foldable Softbox
    M - PCB 64" Extreme Silver PLM w/ Diffusion Cover
    M - PCB 42" Extreme Silver PLM
    M - PCB 22" Silver Beauty Dish (HOBD) w/ Diffusion Cover or Grid
    M - PCB 20" White Parabolic Reflector
    M - PCB Honeycomb Grids for standard reflectors
    M - PCB Standard 7in reflector
    M - Mola Demi Beauty Dish w/ P.A.D. & Opal Diffusers
    M - Ebay 16" Beauty Dish w/ Grids
    M - Ebay 70"x48" Giant Softbox
    M - Gels for monolights
    B - 25", 43", 60", 86" White umbrellas
    B - 43" Silver umbrellas
    B - Impact reflector
    B - Sunbounce Sunmover reflector
    S - 48" Apollo Style Octabox
    S - 28" Westcott Apollo Softbox
    S - 15" Alzo Collapsible Softbox
    S - Opteka / Honl grids
    S - Small Opteka collapsible diffuser
    S - DIY snoot
    S - 14" Lumodi Titanium Beauty Dish
    S - Gels for speedlights
    Wow that's a lot of gear. I think I'll focus on modifiers and stands for the speedlites I recently purchased. Based on the feedback I've read thus far, it looks like an umbrella and soft box may be a couple of good modifiers to start with. For the umbrella, is it a shoot through more useful than a reflective one?

    I've seen a lot of cheaper soft boxes on eBay. Not sure if anyone has any experience with these. I also noticed that Lastolites are on the pricier end. Are there other brands that are just as good (or close enough) that I should consider or is this the recommended brand considering portability and durability? Ive read a lot that people recommend to spend the money without compromising for things like good glass and tripods. Does this fall in the same category or is it relatively simple enough equipment that a I won't see much difference in another brand?

    I also need to get the stands and attachments to mount the flash (both to the stand and to the modifier). I'm not really familiar with how this is done and what parts I need to get.

  10. #10
    Administrator Sean Setters's Avatar
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    White umbrellas tend to be more versatile because you can use them as a reflective umbrella or a shoot through diffuser. Also, personally speaking, I prefer the warmer color of the light and the more diffused nature of it when using a white umrella compared to a silver reflective one.

    If you're unsure whether or not a softbox is worth investing a good chunk of money into, buying a 28" collapsible Ebay version is a decent route to take. It may not hold up for years, but it's a great way to [cheaply] dip you toe into the pool. If you end up using it a lot, you may end up seeing the value in purchasing the Lastolite version.

    In order to connect your flash to a light stand, you'll need an umbrell swivel. Also, as you're connecting wireless remotes to your flashes, you may want to pick up a few Hotshoe with Miniphone adapters for an easy way to connect your flashes to the wireless remotes if your wireless remotes don't have the hotshoe built-in.

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