I’ve found that all flashes emit a bright flash of light when you fire them. Really expensive ones, really cheap ones, studio strobes, hot shoe flashes – they all do basically the same thing: They create a bright flash of light.

Now for creating different moods, specific atmospheres and for telling stories you can’t just use a bare flash bulb all day long. By physically modifying your light source, you are able to control the shape and spread of light in your images. Best of all, it enables you to build selective lighting designs.

The way of achieving this control is through the use of different (light) modifiers.

Light Quality & Shadow Patterns in Sexy Women Photography

Lighting, in most of my cases, needs to be diffused in order to create an appealing model shoot.

Spotlights can produce very dramatic fashion and character portrait images – partly due to their harsh quality, but also because of repetitive shadow patterns that can be created.

However, diffused light has many more applications, mostly for beauty and glam/nude photography purposes. Most of the time, softbox-lighting will be combined with other diffusers like a beauty dish for a more shaped light setting.

Quality Of Light: Shadow Cast/Pattern Simulation

To give you detailed visual examples, I’ve created a set of series using different modifiers for demonstrating the quality of light and shadow casting (hard <> soft).

Light Modifiers Comparison - Shape of Light - Studio Photography

For the simulation, I use the following setup:

  • The distance between key light and subject is always 2.5m/8.2 feet.
  • The subject is 80cm/2.6 feet away from the background. She stands so close to the wall in order to see and judge the shadow fall-off the modifiers produce.
  • Key light power is adjusted according to the modifier used to get a balanced overall output (final photos). Meaning: a softbox absorbs more light internally than a silver standard reflector. Therefore, I increase the output power of the key light when using a softbox, for example.

Standard Reflectors

A standard reflector throws a direct, concentrated beam of light and creates deeper shadows on the subject which creates harsh light in return. These devices are all-purpose reflectors. Their diameter is between 18-34cm/7-14’’. The beam emitted from the flash light is restricted to between 90 and 120 degrees.

By using an additional metal honeycomb grid over a bare light source, you are able to pinpoint your light even more precise.

In this first simulation, I intentionally cast a harsh shadow to help you get a clear understanding of what I mean:

Light Modifiers Comparison - Shape of Light - Studio Photography

Beauty Dish

Light that is modified by the beauty dish can be compared with what you get from a parabolic reflector. But be aware that you still will receive hard light with semi-soft edges from it, and no hot spot in the middle of the light. This makes it perfect for your nude portrait lighting. The contrast is higher, while the shadow is sharper.

Be careful when placing the light and posing the model because you don’t want to reveal her flaws – nobody is perfect after all 😉

Light Modifiers Comparison - Shape of Light - Studio Photography

Softboxes vs. Umbrellas

Basically, you should shoot with both types of modifiers. If you just want to create a soft light in a very fast manner and other light characteristics are not very important, then simply take a shoot-through umbrella. It takes about 5 seconds and you’ll have a soft key light that spreads and spills all over the set.

In my beginnings, I used these umbrellas a lot because they were cheap and just right to learn lighting directions. As I started out with modeling photography, this simple modifier made sure that I basically could do nothing wrong in my early “beginner lighting days”.

Note: When you are just starting out, “umbrella vs. softbox” shouldn’t be an “either one or the other” decision to be made. I think that you’ll want to use both, depending on the shape of light and shadow) you want to sculpt.

Light Modifiers Comparison - Shape of Light - Studio Photography


Due to their incredible design, softboxes evenly spread light to all the surface areas of the box and the light itself is of a clean and natural quality. Though it does allow for open shadows, it does not necessarily create soft light only.

Varying the size of the softbox and the distance from the softbox to the subject can have a profound impact on the look and quality of the light and the associated shadow cast.

Light Modifiers Comparison - Shape of Light - Studio Photography

Light Modifiers Comparison - Shape of Light - Studio Photography

Restrictors Or Light Controllers: Barn Doors & Flags

Barn doors and flags are used to control or limit the light, to flag the light, to prevent the light from reaching places the photographer does not wish it to go. Unlike most modifiers, these are used to limit/restrict the light.

Barn doors are quite popular. They allow you to control the light at its source by preventing it from spreading either vertically up and down, or horizontally side to side, or (with a 4-door barn door) in all those directions at once. Barn doors allow you to shape the light, rather than soften or diffuse it.

8 - Photography Lighting - Using Gridded Standard Relfector & Snoot

Emotions Of Light: Use Shadows

The best photos are often those with shading. The balance between shadow and light is what makes photos more interesting and all the tools just described are designed to allow the photographer to apply those shades of light and shadow in creative and interesting ways. When we’re viewers of photos, our eyes automatically move towards the brighter areas of photos. Because of this, photographers can use these tools to move viewers’ eye when looking at photos to where they want them to go.

All of the tools described, whether they are diffusing and softening the light, or helping to create or prevent shadows, allow photographers to paint with light and shadow in ways that make more interesting pictures. And painting with light is exactly what photographers – in fact it’s what the word “photography” means – when they’re creating photos, i.e., painting on their blank canvases… in this case, their models.

9 - Photography Lighting - Emotions Of Light - Working With Shadows - Light Modifiers

PS: Shooting With Speedlights

When shooting with your speelights/speedlites/small strobes, the exact same principles will apply. The only differences are that the original light modifiers you put in front of your speedlight are most likely smaller. And smaller modifiers generally result in overall harder light characteristics!

In order to give you a glimpe of different light small modifiers, I did a quick test shot a while ago, supported by the attendance of the lovely, dressed, unretouched Jenni Czech. I decided to convert the images into black & white so we can fully concentrate on the light quality and character.

1 Light Setup - Light Modifier Test - Speed Lights - Jenni Czech

Once you discover (and experiment!) the versatile beauty of light modifiers, there’s no going back. And your sexy women photography will take a giant leap forward!