In this post I will compare all of my speedlight light modifiers. I plan to use it as a quick reference sheet available from any online device (I think being able to pull this up on my phone could be handy). You can find links to get specifications or purchase these modifiers on my photo gear page.
This shoot was done over the course of two days in a large white-walled and white ceiling room. The vaulted ceiling was approximately 12′ above the model and all walls were at least 20′ away from her except for the background, which was 3′ – 6′ away. All lights were the same ~6′ distance from the model. All lights were placed 45 degrees to camera left and 45 degrees above the model for classic Rembrandt light when the model squarely faces the camera. The only processing done to these images was color correction, minor exposure tweaks, cropping, and sharpening in an attempt to make the images uniform but still basically unedited.
As you peruse the images compare the shadows and highlights. Are the edges of the shadows hard or soft? Are the highlights specular (bright and hard) or diffused (more even). How is the background being lit?
Let me know any of your favorites in the comments below!
Photek Umbrella – Softlighter II – 60″ – Front Diffuser Removed
This reflective umbrella is my largest modifier. It provides beautifully soft light. In these three images the front diffusion material has been removed. Compare it to the next three images and you will see that these highlights are more specular. Due to the wrapping nature of this light her top is lit more when she is facing away from the light source than in many of the other “away” shots.
Photek Umbrella – Softlighter II – 60″
Here we have the same shadows as above but notice the more diffused light on her forehead now that the diffusion material is attached. This is the most flattering, easiest-for-all-faces, directional light modifier I own. This can be your single lighting solution. You don’t have to have a fill light. I see why so many pros use this or something similar. Downside: This thing eats light. Consider using two or more speedlights in it. It is also huge. Without a high ceiling, you may have problems.
22″ FTX Beauty Dish
The beauty dish gives a hybrid style of lighting that I’ve heard described as both hard and soft. To my eye, the images it produces tend to be more punchy with harder edges to shadows while the lit parts of the image are not overly harsh. If I’m looking for bolder more sculpted lighting, this modifier will be a strong contender. It has the bonus of being built like a tank making it a better choice in windy locations.
22″ FTX Beauty Dish with Grid
The light falling on the model might be a tiny bit more contrasty, but the big difference is the background. With the grid installed, notice how much less light spills on the background.
NEEWER 24 inch Softbox without Diffusers
This little cheap softbox is quick to set up. Shown here with no diffusers, you can see how hard the light is by looking at the shadow cast by her nose on her check. Compared to the much larger 60″ umbrella, the light does not wrap the subject as much leaving the shadows much darker. If I’m looking for a contrasty light and choosing between this and the beauty dish, I’d probably pick the BD in any situation where weight and portability are not an issue. I just like that light a little better plus I like round catchlights more than square ones.
NEEWER 24 inch Softbox with Internal Diffuser
With just the internal diffuser, this light gets much softer. Again, look at the shadow beside her nose. The light is closer to beauty dish light.
NEEWER 24 inch Softbox with Internal and External Diffuser
Here we add the second diffuser. The shadow edges look about the same but the lit areas are more diffused giving less shape information but also being more forgiving – something to remember on models whose skin is less youthful and smooth than this.
RoundFlash (Collapsable Speedlight-Powered Ring Light)
This modifier is the most different from the rest. It is a large ring that encircles the lens and is attached directly to the camera. The model liked this light the best on the day of the shoot. I’ll be interested to see if she still thinks so now that she has all the final images to choose from. Originally developed for dentists to be able to photograph teeth without shadow and often used by forensics dudes on TV shows, this modifier creates a very trendy distinctive look. You can often spot a ring flash from its telltale very soft weird halo-like shadow. I really like the quality of light for specific applications and got this modifier with the intentions of using it as a fill light, but the fact of the matter is that it is kind of a pain in the pitute to work with this thing hanging off the front of your camera. What do you think?
10 x 36-Inch Softbox with no Diffusion
I love working with this strip box – once it is assembled. I HATE the 15-minute ordeal required to set it up (that sometimes draws blood). It won’t show in these headshots as much but it gives a more controlled light when working on 3/4 length portraits. Here we see it without any diffusion and I don’t like it much. Check out the weird double nose shadow. You can see how much more directional the light from this modifier is by looking at the gradation on the background.
10 x 36-Inch Softbox with Internal Diffusion
With the internal diffuser, this light is getting much nicer – contrasty without the strange shadows. Notice how the background is more evenly lit now.
10 x 36-Inch Softbox with Internal and External Diffusers
Now with all of the diffusion, I like this light the best for this modifier. Highlights are slightly more diffused than with just the internal diffuser.
10 x 36-Inch Softbox with Diffusers and Grid
When the grid is added, the biggest difference is the background. This loose waffle-pattern does not provide as much directional light as the very tight grid on the beauty dish.
Bare Flash set to 24mm
This is the hardest light of any I tested. Notice the crisp edge to the shadows. With the spread set to 24mm, it really lights up the background too. When the light source is this small relative to the model, it is finicky. Notice that the straight on shot is not a perfect Rembrandt because there is no triangular highlight on the model’s left cheek. Still, this is a very useful solution – compact, light-efficient, and moody.
Bare Flash set to 80mm
The biggest change I see is how the background is lit. It also uses even a little less power than the 24mm setting.
Bare Flash set to 200mm
This setting is often used to be able to throw light farther. In this case, we use even less power and light even less of the background. Notice just how little this hard light wraps in the shot of her facing away from the camera. Her torso is basically black.
Bare Flash with Grid
If I need the most precise light placement, I’ll be using this setup or a homemade snoot of paper wrapping the flash. It was surprising to me how little difference there was between this and the flash set to 200mm.
Westcott 2001 43-Inch Optical White Satin Collapsible Umbrella
Finally, we have the humble shoot-through umbrella. There is a reason this has been in service since what seems like the dawn of photography. It gives great soft wrapping light in a cheap easy to use package. Its biggest disadvantage is that light goes EVERYWHERE so it takes on the characteristics of the environment in which it is used. It is very forgiving when setting up but, in an enclosed space, also has a lack of control. Sorry I forgot to take the left and right shots.