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Basic knowledge of light shapers:Everything about Softbox, Beauty Dish, Octabox & Co.

Rollei Lichtformer Shooting

Light shapers are indispensable if you want to take photos with a flash. It is only through them that one is able to effectively direct the light to where it should be. But what types of light shapers are there and what accessories should you have? And are there any mistakes you can make when buying? Ten questions for professional photographer Harald Kröher.r.

1. What is a light shaper?
2. For which scenarios do you need light shapers?
3. What types of light shapers are there and which light shapers do you need for what?
4. What should you pay particular attention to when buying?
5. Which accessories should you at least have for the basic equipment in the studio?
6. What are the most common beginner mistakes when working with light shapers?
7. What would be the basis of the exposure, for example?
8. So, and now a few valuable insider tips from professionals.
9. Roughly what are the advantages of individual light shapers?
10. What are the quality differences in flashes?

Lichtformer Shooting Frau mit Schwert

Photographer: Cornel Kramer


1. What is a light shaper?

A light shaper is an attachment for flash or continuous light, which directs the light onto the subject to be photographed. For example, if you had no way of aligning the light with flash heads, then there would be no bundling and it would be completely disordered and diffuse. So it would flow out to all sides..

Shapers give the ability to direct the light where we want it. It can be bundled, but it can also be made almost diffuse, or it can also be used in a very targeted manner, almost selectively.

In summary one can say: Withoutlight shaper there is no photography with flash technology.


2. For which scenarios do you need light shapers?

In fact, there isn't a scenario in studio photography where you can'tlight shaper uses. If you can't direct the light, studio photography fails. That's why you needlight shaper in all variations.

There is a tongue-in-cheek saying among photographers: only photographers who cannot use flash use available light.“.

The art is to flash in such a way that it does not appear as if the subject was shot down. The aesthetics for the eye only arise when the light is directed.
Without a flash there is no light shaper, without a light shaper there is no flash.


3. What types of light shapers are there and which light shapers do you need for what?

There are various types of light shapers. The different variants can be reduced to:

  • soft boxes with inner and outer diffuser and honeycomb insert
  • Stripes (also called Striplight) are in principle too soft boxes, which create their own hardness due to their construction
  • standard reflectors, which are available in different versions and with various inserts, e.g. the narrow-beam reflector (tube) and
  • The beauty dish

What does abeauty dish? The name Dish (bowl) already indicates the design of the Beauty Dish. It is a very wide-angle, flat reflector whose opening is covered by a small covering: the metal onesbeauty dishes are very good for portraits in the studio. But if you travel a lot, they should be foldable, which is the advantage of Rollei products, for example.
It is important that a honeycomb insert (grid) is included and that the coating is not perforated.

It's also a fact that the light from a softbox sometimes seems too flat for a portrait. With the foldable onebeauty dish from Rollei you can work very well there.

Reflex umbrellas are basically nothing more than umbrellas or parasols with a reflective (white or silver coated) inner surface that are mounted upside down, i.e. with the opening facing backwards in front of the light source so that the flash shoots directly into the umbrella. The subject is then placed in front of the opening of the reflex umbrella so that the light reflected from the umbrella is directed onto the subject..

Lichtformer Shooting mit Softbox


4. What should you pay particular attention to when buying?

Very important: the price-performance ratio must be right. Therefore, you should consider what you need the respective accessories for.
If you only take photos in the studio, you can also use the salad bowl (metalr beauty dish) take. If you travel a lot, the accessories must be quick and easy to fold.

Overall shouldlight shaper easy to transport (own transport bag) be robust and weatherproof, with easy installation (bayonet connection, e.g. Bowens) on the flash head even in adverse temperatures. It would also be desirable for a diffuser for indoors and outdoors, stripe and honeycomb to be available in one package.

tripods should be cushioned, easy to lock, robust and easy to transport. You should also check the weather resistance of tripods and light shapers beforehand. A large softbox also has a large attack surface for wind and weather. If it is windy, you should therefore be very simple if necessarystandard reflectors use, which only have a small attack surface.


5. Which accessories should you at least have for the basic equipment in the studio?

For the basic equipment, I always advocate three flash heads. In this way you can easily build a basic set that is completely variable and multiple in itself:

  • front light ( dish), looped and butterfly shot on man's face. Loved by Marilyn Monroe, who really made the Beauty Dish famous (eye reflex is round like the pupil) and looped means about 30 degrees to the side
  • parabolic or stripes (Striplight) from the other side perpendicular to the model
  • head light With standard reflector , (shadowed, background is black and can be lit with fourth head as needed)

With this set construction you can play with the light. The main light (beauty dish) should at best be two f-stops brighter than the side light with the stripe or vice versa. Always with the question of what the photo should express. The head or contour light offset behind the model is also variable and depends on the model's hair color and skin type.

Shooting Lichtformer Frau mit Blume im Haar


6. What are the most common beginner mistakes when working with light shapers?

A major flaw is not directing the light properly. Means that the head light does not go on the hair, but over it or in the nape of the neck.

Tip: Before taking a picture, the photographer should stand next to the model and see if the light is aimed at her head.

Otherwise, you might photograph an entire set and only then realize that the light isn't right. It is important that you learn the basics of flash technology, i.e. that you can also use an exposure meter. Adult education centers offer basic courses that you should definitely attend.
Otherwise it would be like learning to write for me without knowing the letters.


7. What would be the basis of the exposure, for example?

For example, the five different light setups in the portrait photography to know.

  • Butterfly Light ,   also Paramount Light: This light setup was particularly popular in Hollywood in the 1930's. The light is centered over the model's head at an angle of 25 to 70, creating a signature butterfly-shaped shadow under the nose.e.
  • Split Light: One side of the face is directly lit, the other is shadowed. The light is at a 90-angle to the model. This light is very dramatic..
  • Loop: A small shadow of the nose falls on the model's cheek, but does not touch the shadow of the cheek. This setup is used very often. To do this, the light must fall from slightly above the model's eye line towards the corner of the mouth. It's similar to the Butterfly Light above the model's head, but shifted slightly to the right or left (between 20 and 50).).
  • Rembrandt: Rembrandt, after whom it is named, often used this light for his pictures. It's as dramatic as Split. The main light is above the model's head, but is strongly shifted to the side. A striking triangle of light is created on the shadowed cheek of the face pointing towards the camera
  • Broad Light: Similar light position to the Rembrandt Light , but the model's face is turned away from the light. So the brightly lit side of the face is facing the camera and the triangle of light on the cheek is on the far side.


8. So, and now a few valuable insider tips from professionals.

Before you buy inferior goods, it is better to wait a bit and then buy something of high quality. For example the freeze 6 with different light shapers that can be used universally. It always convinces me in all situations and not only with its usual menu navigation and extreme robustness. Such a flash head with light shapers is of course not a purchase for a year, but should still be sufficient even when the demands have grown, because they change very often over time.

Gradually you can then expand the equipment, depending on what you want to photograph.


9. Roughly what are the advantages of individual light shapers?

The benefit of one Reflex screen is, for example, that it emits very homogeneous, soft light, depending on the coating on the inside Gold, Silver or just looks bright. It's also cheaper than a softbox, costing about a quarter of the price. Small umbrellas are also very useful outdoors. A very big advantage is the easy transport..

If possible, umbrellas can be used for nudes and portraits. I wouldn't use just a flash head and an umbrella alone, I still need hard light, for example a stripe from the side as a contour light or an additional head light with a standard reflector offset behind the model.

This is how you achieve depth in the photo and, as they say in photographers' jargon, the picture doesn't look flat.

Lichformer Shooting Frau mit Blume im Haar


10. What are the quality differences in flashes?

There are big differences in quality. State-of-the-art technology is only possible with state-of-the-art flash heads. That's why I would never buy a flash (especially for outdoor photography) that couldn't work with HSS technology. If he can't flash on the second shutter, it's just no good. Because showing movement is a main concern in photography.
If these basic techniques are not available, I do not need to buy modern flash heads. It is also crucial today that the flashes are battery-operated. Of course, they must have a certain power and not be changed after 100 shots. Of course, this is always very temperature dependent.

I always say: What should I do with a flash head that only has a cable connection, when I really rarely have a socket on the beach.

More from Harald Kröher

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