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Light Modifiers – Overview and Comparison

Light Modifiers – Overview and Comparison

Modifiers are accessories that have accompanied studio photography since its inception - photographers have been seeking ways to adjust light for many decades, using solutions offered by well-known manufacturers as well as DIY accessories. But why are they used? What effects do they produce? Is it better to buy an umbrella or a softbox? Find out in our today's blog post!

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Light is the most crucial factor in photography – when you press the shutter button on a camera, you are capturing its reflections on various objects. However, it is not always ideal, and its characteristics can leave much to be desired. Often, we would like to adjust it in such a way that it produces effects in line with the vision of a given photo session, for example, softening the natural, harsh sunlight or the flash from a reporter and studio lamp. But how to achieve this? With the help of light modifiers! In today's article, we aim to introduce you to their types and outline the most important similarities and differences between them, thus making it easier to choose the right accessories for the studio or outdoor work.

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Types of Light Modifiers

There are endless ways to modify light – their purpose is to adjust the light beam according to the artistic vision of a film or photo session. Enthusiastic amateurs and passionate photographers use their creativity to invent new light modification techniques. Not all of them require the purchase of special additions – people with a limited equipment budget often decide to make their own modifiers using home methods. However, professional work on set requires reliable and proven solutions that allow precise control over the light.

The first patented modifier was introduced in 1939 – its design resembled a combination of a softbox and a beauty dish. Since then, as the photography market has grown, more and more of them have appeared each year, and their designs are constantly being improved. Choosing the right accessory often poses problems under the deluge of available products on the market – light modifiers come in many different types and sizes, and each of them allows for obtaining different effects in the photo. So how to make a good decision when choosing accessories for the studio or outdoor session? Below, we present you with the most popular types of modifiers, along with their main features and properties – based on this information, you will easily draw appropriate conclusions about the right solutions.


The first discussed type of modifier is the best possible solution for adjusting the light properties to our needs. But what is a softbox for? Its black housing limits the angle of light dispersion, directing it in a specific direction, and the silver material inside additionally strengthens it. The diffuser attached to the front attractively softens the intense light beam, resulting in less contrast shadows in the photo. Softboxes can usually be equipped with an additional honeycomb (grid) that focuses the light even more on the foreground.

Depending on the model, softboxes are assembled in various ways. Until recently, the design of most of them consisted of separate rods – their assembly and disassembly took a lot of time and were often not easy tasks. Although they are still available in photographic stores, mainly due to their lower price, over the years, accessory manufacturers have made efforts to improve their design and use quick folding mechanisms.

A frequently asked question on the internet is "which softbox to choose – octagonal or rectangular?". Contrary to appearances, the shape of the modifier does not significantly affect the final effect. All their differences lie in the details – the octa softbox leaves a naturally looking catchlight in the eye of the photographed person, while rectangular softboxes will look better on portraits of people wearing glasses.

When it comes to softboxes, it's worth remembering that size matters – the larger the modifier used during the photo session, the more diffused the light it will give. However, remember that the surface of the softbox should be appropriately matched to the light source – if you use a reporter lamp, choose among small and medium-sized softboxes. Large modifiers are usually used with strong light sources such as studio flash lamps.

Classic Softboxes

Classic octa rectangular softbox light modifier
  • Wide range of sizes
    From 10 to over 200 cm in height
  • Various shapes
    square, rectangular, hexagonal, and octagonal
  • Relatively shallow
    in cheaper models, light may cause
    a "hot spot" effect on the diffuser
  • Attached directly to the lamp
    the light passes straight through them

Strip Softboxes

Long strip softbox studio light modifier
  • Extended, narrow design
  • Used for rim light
    Separates the subject from the background and creates a sense of depth
  • Ideal for clothing photos
    Covers the entire silhouette of the model with light

Umbrella Softboxes

Cheap umbrella softbox light modifier for reporter lamp
  • The cheapest type of softbox
  • Lightweight construction
  • Quick folding
    Thanks to the umbrella mechanism
  • Used with reporter lamps
    Ideal for strobing
  • Small tilt range

Parabolic Softboxes

Deep professional parabolic softbox light modifier for photo studio
  • Deep housing
    offering even light distribution
  • Precise light control
  • Almost circular shape
    Available in 16- and 18-sided versions
  • Quick folding and unfolding
  • Designed for studio lamps

Spherical Softboxes

Round spherical softbox for filming and photography light modifier
  • Spherical construction
    Light spreads in all directions
  • Ideal for wide shots
    as ceiling light

Zoom-Focus Softboxes

Professional advanced zoom focus softbox with light adjustment modifier for the studio
  • Two types of mounting
    Inside and outside the softbox
  • Wide range of sizes
  • Special focusing rod
    enabling adjustment of light diffusion strength
  • Precise light control
  • Quick folding and unfolding


People looking for a good but somewhat cheaper solution for light modification may decide to buy a photographic umbrella. Their prices start at 6 euro – however, it is worth noting that you will have to pay a bit more for good quality accessories. Despite somewhat limited capabilities, they are extremely practical and will take up little space in a bag or storage.

Reflective Umbrellas

Classic reflective photo umbrellas light modifier studio outdoor for reporter lamp
  • Silver umbrellas
    Offer intense, cool light
  • Gold umbrellas
    Reflect strong warm light
  • White umbrellas
    Guarantee a neutral effect
  • Possibility to attach a diffuser
    to create a simple softbox

Diffusive Umbrellas

Classic diffusive photo umbrellas for flash lamp
  • Attractively softens the light
  • Available in two types
    regular and parabolic
  • No light control
    the lamp also shines outside the umbrella
  • Possibility to attach black fabric
    limiting light from behind

Umbrella Softboxes

Cheap umbrellas with softbox function for studio outdoor light modifier
  • Budget solution
    for those starting with flash photography
  • Practical 2 in 1
    umbrella + diffusing or reflective fabric
  • Does not limit tilt

Parabolic Umbrellas

Deep professional parabolic umbrellas for studio outdoor light modifier
  • Deep housing
    precisely directing the light
  • Large sizes
    from about 1 meter in diameter and up
  • Almost circular shape
    usually have 16 or 18 rods
  • Possibility to attach a diffuser
    to create a parabolic softbox


Light modifier reflector enhancing light for film and photography
  • The simplest
    type of modifier
  • Increases the intensity of light
    flash or continuous light
  • Various reflective surfaces
    the intensity of the effect depends on the interior of the reflector
  • Wide range of sizes

Beauty Dishes

Beauty dish modifier for makeup and styling photos
  • Made of metal
    larger than standard reflectors
  • Available in two versions
    white and silver
  • Bounce plate
    helps in even light distribution
  • Additional diffuser
    Available in some models
  • Ideal for beauty photos
    for cosmetics and aesthetic medicine advertisements


Some light modifiers are used with the intention of achieving a special effect – one of them is snoots. Their purpose is to narrow the light beam in such a way that it falls only on a specific part of the photo - for example, only on the face of the photographed person.


Classic snoot for flash or LED lamp
  • Simple construction
  • Easy to use
  • Often sold with accessories
    such as grids or color filters

Optical Snoots

Advanced professional optical snoot for creative photos light modifier for photo or film studio
  • Construction with optical elements
    often offer the ability to change the lens
  • Compatible with GOBO attachments
    allowing creative work with various patterns
  • Light angle adjustment
    available only in advanced models

Grids and Honeycombs

These types of accessories are most often used with softboxes and beauty dishes. They limit the angle of light spread and precisely direct it to the foreground of the photo - for example, the silhouette of the photographed person - keeping the background dark. Grids are also increasingly used in LED lights.

Grid honeycomb light modifier for softbox lamp limiting light
  • Attached with Velcro or magnets
    depending on their purpose
  • Various grid widths
    the larger the density, the more they focus the light
  • Made of fabric or aluminum


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