Soft Boxes AKA Diffusers
Last post on equipment, I promise.
Once you get your strobe light you need to think about diffusers also known as modifiers. Basically what they are doing is altering the light created by the strobe light.
A few rules that I learned over time. The bigger the diffuser/modifier/soft box, the softer the light on the subject. It sort of makes sense. With a large soft box, the light is coming from several angles when it hits your subject. That means that those unwanted wrinkles and such are exposed with light and don’t show up as prominently. In contrast, if you go with a small modifier with just a grid or similar in front, the light will be hard. There are times when hard light is good. Usually if you’re consciously going for some kind of attitude. Personally, I am almost always looking for soft light. It makes for nice portraits and beauty shots.
These days, my go to modifier is a monster umbrella. It folds out with a 7’ circumference. It’s covered with white fabric. While big and somewhat unwieldy it does produce the best soft light next to natural light.
Also, the closer the light source is to your subject, the softer the image. So if you’re really looking for soft, you get a big modifier and place it close to your subject. Sometimes right next to them. And, if you want to maximize your softness you can use a local focal length, say 200 mm. This will provide compression around your subject focusing attention on what you want in focus. And finally you can also use aperture to “soften” your subject. You can knock down the power of your strobes and open up your aperture. This is where your more expensive lenses come in handy. Ideally you can get as low as 2.8f. 4.0f is still good and these lenses are a lot less expensive. What the low aperture setting does is open up the lense and limit the area of focus or depth of field to just those parts of the image on the same plane as your focus point. Everything in front of or behind the focus point will be blurred. The blurriness increases the further you get away from the focus point. This is also referred to as shallow depth of field.
But back to soft boxes and modifiers. You may notice that there are options to buy grids for your soft boxes. These are a nice added touch, but not critical if you’re on a tight budget. The advantage of the grids, usually made out of fabric and sometimes referred to as egg crates, is that they help to keep the light from bouncing all around. If you want the light to go in one direction and not to splash all over the studio, the grids can be helpful.
Another common modifier is the beauty dish. Typically these are made of metal and have a plate in front of the strobe which redirects the light to the outer edges of the dish. Normally you would put a cloth cover over the dish, that and/or grids to direct the light. Beauty dishes are often mounted about the head of you subject pointing down. If you like, you can put a bounce reflector below the subjects head to get some fill in the chin area. For many photographers, the beauty dish is a great place to start. You can get awesome looking photos without dropping a lot of money.
Finally, can’t say enough for v-flats to their equivalent. I’ve seen homemade versions that work great. Basically you’re getting a 8’x6’ foldable panel with white, silver or black finish. You can use this in place of an additional light bouncing the strobe light back to your subject. Or you can use the black to enhance shadows and separation of your subject.