What size Light Modifier do you use?

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: April 29, 2019

Category: Kit

One question I get more than most is “What size of light modifier do you use?”, so I thought here would be a good place to answer…

First off…

Octa or Square Softbox?

You may have seen from some Behind the Scenes posts that I’ve shared either here on this blog or on my social media, that pretty much all of the time I opt for an Octa. Why? Well I think some of the reason is that it stems from having used an umbrella so much in the past with it being the same shape, and secondly, and certainly this is relevant now more than ever, is because of space. What I mean by that is when I am setting up in someone’s home, space is valuable as pretty much most of the time there isn’t much of it. The shape of an Octa seems to make it much easier to use in limited space and lower ceilings than in a studio AND the Octas I use aren’t deep which really helps. I’ve heard some people say they use the Octa outdoors because it mimics the shape of the sun and they use a square softbox when indoors as it mimics the catch light created by a window. Not something I subscribe to because I think the only people who scrutinise the shape of catch lights is photographers (clients couldn’t care less), however I can understand the logic behind it.

Glyn Dewis Westcott

Large or Medium?

Now for me the main thing with my lighting is that it MUST match the subject I’m photographing. For example, thinking about the World War 2 Veteran Portraits I’m working on a lot at the moment, I don’t want the light to be hard, and contrasty; I want a much more gentle, kind, lighting style because for me this feels right for the subjects. So with that in mind we’ve already established that I prefer to use an Octa, so the next question is what size of Octa and this again is heavily influenced by the space available.

Glyn Dewis Westcott

My goal with lighting the Veterans is to create a Rembrandt Style of lighting but to ensure that the subjects body is lit evenly (the Rembrandt lighting pattern is all about the light on the subjects face). Now because I want the subjects’ body lit evenly it means I don’t want to have the light modifier (Octa) right next to the subject; it needs to be far enough away so as to get enough light fall off aka Inverse Square Law (I’ll be covering this in the video tutorial being recorded very soon).

So what does this ultimately mean?

In an ideal World, with plenty of shooting space I would use the Large Octa because I can move it away from the subject and still maintain a soft light. However, as space is limited I use the Medium Octa because of its size and the fact I don’t have to move it away from the subject as much as I would need to (had I been using the Large Octa). The smaller size of the Medium Octa combined with not moving it back as far as I would have to, had I been using the Large Octa means I get pretty much the same quality and look of lighting. Make sense?

Glyn Dewis Westcott

Bottom Line

Bottom line is that there isn’t one modifier that suits every situation; as Photographer’s we adapt to the given environment, and this is all about knowing what you can and can’t do with certain modifiers and understanding why you need a particular one or a particular size. I only wish I’d known this a few years ago rather than going out and buying way more than I needed; especially when I didn’t really know why I was buying it, but I guess that’s all part of the learning process 🙂

My 2 Main Light Modifiers

So here’s the two modifiers I turn to over and over again; which of the two I use totally depending on the environment as I’ve mentioned…

Oh and both of these I happily use with a Speedlight (these particular modifiers are the ‘Switch’ line so can be used with both Studio Lights and Speedlights)

Right, can’t think of anything I’ve missed but if there is or you have a burning question, please feel free to make use of the comments section below and I’ll make sure to reply.


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1 Comment

  1. derek bell-jack

    how about grids on the octaboxes?do you use them at all to contain any unwanted light spillage on to the backgrounds etc?really enjoying your series with the military veterans,well done glyn.


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