Light Modifiers

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This tutorial is about the lights photographers use. It starts off by describing the two basic lights available to photographers: hard lights and soft lights. With that out of the way, the tutorial moves on to compare two different types of soft lights: umbrellas and soft boxes (also know as bank lights). The tutorial describes a way to improve the catch lights a soft box creates in reflective subjects. Finally, the video explains how to make a simple diffusion frame that, when used with a light mounted on a second light stand, can replace a bank light. The primary reasons for building and using a diffusion frame instead of a soft box are as follows:

  1. The materials required are inexpensive.
  2. The tools required are minimal.
  3. The construction techniques required by the builder are simple.
  4. One diffusion screen can take the place of multiple sizes of soft boxes.
  5. The open architecture of a diffusion screen allows heat to dissipate easily.

But, the real reason for using a diffusion screen, with a light mounted independently from it, is to provide you with three lighting possibilities that no commercially available soft box can. They are:

  1. You can change the distance between the light and the diffusion screen (the distance between the light source and the front diffusion surface of all commercially available soft boxes is fixed).
  2. You can change the position of where and how the light hits the diffusion screen (the light source hits the center of the front diffusion surface of all commercially available soft boxes).
  3. You can change the size of the pattern of the light that hits the diffusion screen (the light source's pattern is designed to evenly cover the front diffusion surface of all commercially available soft boxes).

Bill of Materials for a 3 X 3 foot diffusion frame

  • 12 feet of 1 X 1 clear finished pine @ 55 cents per foot $6.60
    Some photographers use 1 X 2 lumber instead of 1 X 1 lumber for their diffusion frames. The price for both is approximately the same. In truth I have diffusion frames made from both sizes. 
  • 4, 1-inch or 4, 2-inch Corner Braces (price of 2-inch size) $3.92
    The 1-inch corner braces are more than strong enough to support your frame with its Tough Lux covering but some photographers like to overbuild things so they might prefer the stronger 2-inch corners; I did!
    While the 1-inch "L" shaped inside corner brackets only require 2 screws each while the larger 2-inch versions require 4 screws each. But, because I'm only using this wooden frame to hold a few ounces of Tough Lux in place I feel the smaller 1-inch versions are more than sufficient (even though I used the 2-inch size). 
  • 1 package of 100, #6 X ¾-inch Flat Head Phillips Wood Screws $2.27
    I always buy screws and nails by the 100 count (or a 1 pound box). Doing this is much less expensive then buying these items 1 or 2 screws at a time. 
  • 1 quarter of a roll (48" X 15') of Tough Lux @ $65 per roll $16.25
    The Set Shop sells 60" X 15' ($ 85.00) and 48" X 15' ($ 65.00) rolls of their Tough Lux. I buy the 60-inch wide rolls so I can also use it for backgrounds as well as diffusers. But, if your budget is tight, a 48-inch wide roll will work and it's 15-foot length will have a lot left over for many other applications. Furthermore, for the really frugal, you might consider hooking up with two of other photo buds and buying a roll collectively. Personally though, I buy a whole roll for myself because it is the diffusion material I use most frequently. 

Total Expenditure: $29.04

It should be pointed out, that some collapsible metal hoop diffusers have a street price of close to $ 50.00 (with others coming in at over $ 85) and, while these diffusers certainly have a place in location photography (I have 4 of them!), the non-collapsible one described here is more adaptable for studio use, stores in a minimum of space (it's only ¾-inch thick), and is certainly less expensive.

Tutorial Supplies Checklist

  • Set Shop Tough Lux 60"
    Tough Lux has been the industry standard for years. It is a neutral, heat stable diffusion material. It offers the perfect level of diffusion for most applications.
    (Tough Lux - Set Shop Original Brand)

    Set Shop Tough Lux 48"
    This is a 3 Mil. version of our ever popular Though Lux. sold in 48" width. Tough lux is a good all around diffusion. It is also the densest diffusion available in rolls.
    (Tough Lux - Set Shop Original Brand)

    Gaffer Tape
    Black Gaffers Tape - Professional grade.

    Grip Heads
    Matthews Grip Heads feature two holes of 3/8" and 5/8" diameter and castings that offer positive lock in all directions.

    Bogen Clips
    Great for creating quick flexible joints on showcards or foamcor.

    Black & White Showcard
    These black and white showcards are 30" x 40" and are perfect for masks, gobos or reflectors. They also make good backgrounds and cue cards.

    Fun Tack
    Fun Tack is not a wax, but this man-made nontoxic putty-like material behaves a lot like wax. It does not melt or leave any waxy residue and it can be reused over and over again. Great for modeling and model making. This is the real Blue Tak by DAP not the imitation (Also sold in a box of 12)

    Staple Gun
    ARROW T50 Stapler — Portable industrial strength stapler. Great for all projects.

    Matte Knife
    Set Shop Utility cutter is a great tool for cutting paper products. Fast and simple to use. 

    Set Weight Orange
    These classic double zippered saddle-style sand bags are available in Black or Blaze Orange. 22lb when filled with sand. (Sold Empty)

    Set Weight Black
    These classic double zippered saddle-style sand bags are available in Black or Blaze Orange. 22lb when filled with sand. (Sold Empty)

Steve Sint

Digital Still Life Photography: Art, Business, and Style

Steve Sint has spent a great deal of his life walking down aisles backwards. Over a 40 year career, he has photographed over 4,000 weddings, taken over 2 million photographs, and shot over 1 million portraits for his own studio and others in the New York metropolitan area. As a commercial photographer he has photographed thousands of executives and still life subjects. His client list includes, or has included, the American Broadcasting Company, Time Inc., Hearst Publications, Yves St. Laurent, AT&T, NCR, National Semiconductor, Miller Freeman Publishing, MacGroupUS, and Hachette-Filipacchi Magazines. His photographs have appeared on the covers of over 60 national magazines including LIFE, Omni, Stereo Review, and Modern Photography.

As a columnist and contributor his words and photographs have also appeared in Studio Photography, Lens Magazine, Modern Photography, Popular Photography, View Camera Magazine, Railroad Model Craftsman, and he has authored 7 books on photography. In his most recently published book, Digital Wedding Photography: Art, Business, and Style, he shares his experience with his readers in the breezy, knowledgeable, and accessible style his writing is known for. At this point in his career he limits his assignments to 50 per year for a select New York clientele, photographs and writes about things he enjoys, and still finds time to lecture on professional photography, create and produce tutorial videos, conduct workshops on wedding, portrait, and still life photography, while still finding time to work on his model railroad.

His newest book, Digital Still Life Photography: Art, Business, and Style, was released in January 2013.