Photographers: Modifier Cheat Sheet

Okay guys, we just finished up filming our second lighting tutorial which we are in the midst of editing, and we wanted to cover a common topic that pops up in studio and workshops all the time. Modifiers!

Whether you’ve been shooting for years or you’re new to dance photography, lighting modifiers are a photographer’s toolbox. Each modifier brings its own quality of light, intensity and mood to lighting and the more knowledge you have of how to use them, the more you can build and sculpt your image to fit your vision.

While we go much deeper in our lighting tutorial, I wanted to give you a basic cheat sheet on the most common modifiers you might use. For more information, I highly recommend you check out Pop Photo Magazine’s in-depth look at some of the same modifiers and Paul C Buff, Inc’s examples of what effects the different modifiers can create.


Behind the scenes with Rachel Neville Paris workshop
BTS at our Spring 2018 Paris workshop


The modifiers that I use most regularly in my studio fall into two categories: softboxes and reflectors.

1. Soft Box

A soft box stays true its name. It dilutes the intensity of the light as it comes through so you will get a softer, less harsh light.

  • Mimics window light
  • Directs the light through a layer of material called a baffle
  • The baffle helps filter and diffuse the light’s intensity
  • Comes in all shapes and sizes, each with different applications
Paul C Buff foldable soft boxes

In my studio I have a tendency to use small to medium soft boxes so that we can be very specific with where out light falls on the dancer.  The very large soft boxes tend to have too soft of a quality to them for lighting dancers and tends to not be as malleable as smaller modifiers

2. Reflectors

We use 7”, 11”, and beauty dishes at my studio. They have a harder quality than softboxes. They help to define the shadows and edges of your subject.  The different shapes of reflectors will give you different spreads, reach, and fall off.

Einstein reflector from Paul C Buff
Google Images

3. Beauty Dish

A disk that attaches to a source of light, directing light off a plate towards the subject

  • Commonly used in portrait and beauty photography 
  • Focuses the light without a hotspot 
  • Eliminates harsh shadows

We also use the beauty dish in my studio as it gives off a more contrasting quality of light and offers a drastic fall off from the dancer’s body that feels more fashion-oriented.  They are incredibly trick to use with dancers: the dancer has to be exactly on their mark, so I don’t recommend you use them for everyday work unless you have a highly seasoned dancer to shoot with who has a ton of patience for you to get the light right.

Behind the scenes with dancer
Behind the scenes at the studio


4. Grids

  • Narrows the beam of light and allows you to direct the light more specifically 
  • Commonly found partnered with reflectors or soft boxes 
  • Forces you to be very specific in how you direct the light

I strongly suggest getting the corresponding grids for your soft boxes as well.  They don’t change the quality of light, but they focus the beam of light more. This is really helpful when we’re trying to be even more specific with where your light falls on your subject.

5. Reflective vs Translucent Umbrellas

True to their name, reflective umbrellas are just that, reflective. They’re designed to return reflection towards the subject of your photo. Read this guide from Explora to choosing your umbrella here.

  • Funnels and projects light
  • Can create tighter or feathered effect depending on the depth of the umbrella
  • The interior can dictate how the light is reflected and how it reads on the subject
  • Placement is key so be mindful of where the light is hitting the dancer

Translucent umbrellas are also known as shoot-through umbrellas because you place them between the subject and the source of light

Translucent umbrella from
  • A “training wheel” for beginners
  • Produces softer light and shadows, not unlike soft boxes
  • Casts light over a room rather than focusing the light
  • The closer the umbrella, the softer the light



3 Tips for Successful Dance Photographers

Interested in improving your dance photography even more? Check out my tips for successful dance photographers and you’ll be on your way to success in no time!

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Robyn Jutsum

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