December 10, 2009

Backpacker's Studio Part Dos y Tres : Light Modifiers Explained!

Alright folks, part 2 of the Backpacker's Studio is up! Note: part 2 is split into two videos because we went over the 10 minute mark on youtube.

 Examples after the break...

The most important thing for an unbelievable photograph is light. Without light there is nothing but a black frame.

But all light is not created equally for photography. We love natural light, but sometimes it's not enough or we want a different look to our photographs and this is when flash comes into play and although a bare flash can be very cool you will eventually need to modify that flash using light modifiers.

So here is the scoop, in what we think is a pretty basic explanation (if you disagree, let us know and we'll figure out how to explain better) of the differences between the light modifiers in our backpacker's studio.

The first light modifier is the 60" convertible umbrella. The umbrella should be in everyone's bag!! It is a highly versatile, powerful and extremely inexpensive light modifier.

                                           click photo to make larger
In this example above you can see how the umbrella's lit up the entire scene pretty evenly. That is the umbrella's claim to fame. Light and a whole bunch of it. So much in fact that it is sometimes impossible to control.

The convertible umbrella has 3 different setup options in no particular order.

Reflective Mode, Shoot Through Mode and Softboxy-like Mode

Reflective Mode is when you fire the flash into the umbrella with the convertible cover on and have the light reflected back onto your subject. You shoot using reflective mode when you want to control the light from going through the umbrella. To put is in easier terms. When you only want light coming out of one side of the umbrella. It is also necessary to avoid lens flare when you are shooting from behind the umbrella.

Shoot Through Mode is when you fire into the umbrella without the convertible cover and you will have light coming out of both ends. The main reason for this mode is that you can get the umbrella really close to your subject causing extremely soft light.

Softboxy Mode is the way to have the most possible control over the light coming out of the umbrella. Although not as controllable as the softbox it does come close. The softboxy mode is a great way to shoot dramatic lighting effects.

The next modifiers are the softboxes. The softboxes produce beautiful soft and most importantly controlled light. Unlike the umbrellas, when you are using a soft box you tell the light where to go. The easiest way to explain this is that if you have a model next to a wall and you do not want your flash to hit the wall, you can tilt the softbox away from the wall to avoid any spill. This is the softboxes strong point.

Notice in the example below how soft the light is, but at the same time we have as much control as possible over the light spill. We didn't light up anything we didn't want to and this is what makes the softbox better than the umbrella for this situation. If we would have fired with the umbrella, everything would have been lit up destroying the dramatic look we wanted for this picture.

Next up, gridspots. I love gridspots. The creative effect that they can cause are my favorite, along with gels. With gridspots the turn your flash into a flashlight basically. Shooting a round beam of light. There are various versions of gridspots, but they all do the same thing. In these examples you can see very defined circles and shadows, which I love. If you are not so into the shadows you can add another flash with a gridspot on the other side to kill the shadows.

So when you think gridspot, you think flashlight. The closer you are to your subject the smaller the circle. The further from your subject, the larger.

Gels, oh how I love thee!! Gels will make your creative juices flow like the Medellin River, all sorts of colors. These are just different color films that you put on top of the flash to change the color of light. They are great for rim lighting, background lighting, or simply making your subject a little warmer or cooler or pink or get my point. Go experiment, you will love it...I guarantee!!

Check out this example where a pink gel was used as a rim light (rim light is a flash fired at the side or back of a subject that gives a slight colored outline).

So that's pretty much it guys/gals. Hopefully this helped someone or a lot of people understand the differences between our most used light modifiers. If you still have questions, leave a comment, email us, skype us or come over, we are trying to be very good about answering everyones questions!!

So on a final note, sign up for our newsletter. Join our webinar, it's free but it is limited room because if not we would have to charge you fine folks. And the final know what it is...come I really have to tell you.....GET OUT GO SHOOT!! NOW YOU KNOW!! NO MORE EXCUSES!!

Oh and one more thing, what do you think of us doing some workshops in different cities, the only downside is they would cost some money...but you would you get to hang out with the lightenupandshoot guys! If it sounds like a good idea let us know, same way from above.

Also,  I want to add some photos from a recent magazine shoot we did for Toda Mi Boda (using the Backpacker's Studio):


  1. It's always a pleasure to watch your videos. Greetings from Slovenia!

    - Ric.

  2. Great job and fine example shots.

    Nice looking cover on that magazine too - congrats!

  3. backpacker's studio helped with the cover! The art director for the magazine almost had a cow when we showed up with two lightstands and a couple of speedlights. But, we got the job done.

  4. It would be fun to attend a workshop, but not in Ohio any time soon. It's brrrrrrr cold here now. It was 17 degrees (-8 C) with a -2 (-18 C) wind chill. But none of us really have any money. We're buying used SB-25's & SB-28's from the internet instead of high-falutin SB900's and Canon 580EX's. So if you'll take a Spanish-to-English dictionary and a $25 Amazon gift card in trade, then I'll be there!

    Seriously, great information and always great videos.

  5. Nice! Just got the 28" Westcott and will order the 50" from B&H tomorrow. I envy you guys. Looks like you're having too much fun at this! Keep up the good work and keep the videos coming.

  6. Awesome info here guys! Seriously addicted to your blog!

    I'm getting the 28" Westcott too! :) I'll also get the big umbrella eventually as well as I like both.

    Oh and the GELS!! *LOL* ok, my list keeps getting longer and longer.... :-)

    Tom: where are you in Ohio!? I'm in Cincinnati, and it's CHILLY! Brrrrrrrrr

  7. Hi Andy & Michael,
    Is there any big advantage using the Westcott soft box over say the Lastolite type box? With the Westcott the speedlite is shooting into the reflector and back out of the defuser, and any adjustments required on the gun are made by lifting the defuser screen. On the lastolite type box the speedlite faces towards the defuser screen and the gun is easily accessible at the rear of the softbox.

    Your video’s are real good, you explain this stuff so well.

  8. do u guys using flash meter to find the correct F/stop to shoot?

  9. Loving this stuff guys. Learning, learning, learning! Thanks. Come to Liverpool. You will have a blast!

  10. Ric,

    Slovenia!!! One day we will be there!!!


    I read your comment and you made me want to put on a jacket while reading your comment. Then I realized I was in Medellin, 73 degrees right now....come visit!!!

    I hear even the ones that do have money are buying up the SB-24,26 and 28's you haven't seen how hi they are going for on ebay!! Besides manual flash rules!!!!

    As far as the Spanish-English dictionary...we have plenty...but the gift card I'll hold you to. Keep never know what could happen!!!


    I've never used the lastolites but it should be exactly the same. The reason the westcotts have the flash inside is so that they can fold like an umbrella. The only difference I see is what you stated, the flash access. The only two advantages I see over the westcott are the size (they are bigger) and the price. But if you have the lastolites, you are fine!!!!

    Keep shooting.

    Anonymous 2,

    No flash meter, we have a histogram that tells us everything we need. We try to downsize as much as possible and we think the cameras meter is good enough for us!!


    Glad your learning...that's why we do this!! Oh and pistachio's!!!!

    Everyone sign up for the webinar, and if you haven't yet, sign up for the never know it might save you a couple bucks!!!


  11. @Anonymous,
    Ive got a few photoflex boxes and if im not mistaken they are about the same as the lastolites go as far as having the light on the back and shoot through. I have not noticed a difference in light quality from the photoflex versus the westcott. The reason I went with the westcott over the photoflex or lastolite was purely storage. The photoflex has the standard rod system that hooks to a speedring. This works well for stuff you are not taking apart often but can be a drag to break down and put back up. The lastolites are a way to avoid that as they fold like a reflector, BUT then I have this big disc that doesn't fit well in my bag. Ive found I dont even carry my reflector often unless its a shoot Im bringing everything along ( I often toss a 5x6 white piece of cloth in my bag to use as a reflector, used to be a background but works well as a reflector in a pinch).
    All that being said the huge advantage I like about the westcott is it folds like an umbrella and stores as a long thin umbrella. I can bungee it directly to my stand not have a big bulky disc flopping around. That and its quick and easy to set up. Disadvantages have been mentioned before ( hard to tilt, solvable with an assistant or a boom stand, and you have to open the front to change the flash power, not a huge dilemma once you get up and shooting from what Ive found)
    Hope that helps a bit,
    Brian w/ ShowFocus

  12. Awesome vids guys. I started off with a 45" Umbrella that I used in "convertible" mode. Now I use a 33" brolly box (that Michael so wonderfully gifted me). Thanks man, you're the best.


  13. I got an apollo 28 inch softbox now. Tried it last week and it was good. Canonxt

  14. Just found out your Youtube work and your great site! I just bought a quality camera and blown away by your simple and straightforward (minus the humorous personality :-) j/p) breakdowns. I hope to find a local resource to get my equipment. Thanks for the tips and keep them coming!

  15. Carole,

    I'm from Dayton, Ohio just north of you. Sorry I hadn't responded earlier. I have the RSS feed and didn't see it until now. How do you like the snow? It makes it harder to go outside and shoot during this cold weather.

  16. just curious how much does it cost for u guys to run a workshop say in hong kong? hhmmmm...