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Overview: Modifiers

Lesson 22 from: How to Take Amazing Photos with your DSLR

Julia Kelleher

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Lesson Info

22. Overview: Modifiers

Lesson Info

Overview: Modifiers

We've been using light strictly as a single source this whole time. Just to keep things simple, this is beginner class, we're just starting to use a DSLR, we want to keep it simple, to begin with. But, once you understand how light behaves on its own, then you can start influencing it using what we call "modifiers," okay? Basically, modifying the light. So, this segment, we're going to be discussing what that means, what types of modifiers there are, how you can use them to even create more beautiful lighting effects, and just understanding how light behaves, in other words. But, before we do that, modifiers. They do one of three things, okay? They either add light to a scene, okay? They subtract it or they diffuse it. Now, diffusing is kind of like subtracting, right? But what I want you to think of diffusion as scattering, okay. It scatters the light. So, it does one of three things, adds light, subtracts light, or diffuses it. Okay? think about that. How cool would that be to be abl...

e to take light away from a scene, add more of it, or change the way it behaves. Pretty cool, right? So, we're going to go over the basics of modifiers here in this class. I'm going to bring my studio manager, Belinda, up and she's going to be my subject here so you guys can fully focus on learning. And she doesn't mind sitting for an hour while I play, you know, photo person with her. So, she'll be patient. She asked me, she said, "Can I drink my coffee while I sit there?" I'm like, "Yeah, you can drink your coffee." But, before we do that, let's talk a little about what those modifiers are and how they operate, okay? The first one is a reflector, okay? Reflectors basically, this is my 72-inch reflector in the studio, they basically reflect or bounce light. Remember, light travels in a straight line, right? Straight line. It's a particle and it goes in a straight line. Reflectors bounce that light back, okay, so it can fill in harsh shadows, it can soften what we called a contrast in the image. So, if you're trying to take a portrait and you've got lots of light over here and tons of harsh shadows in here that you want to get rid of, a reflector can be brought in to soften those shadows and decrease what we call the "contrast ratio." What does that mean? The ratio between how bright it is over here and how dark it is over here, that's called the contrast ratio. And it has to do with stops. So, you can measure a certain amount of stops over here. So, say it's F/8 you're shooting at, this is a stop, then over here it's like F/4, there's a ratio of contrast. So, if this is more like F/2 darker over here, then there's going to be a higher contrast ratio and a more dramatic look to the portrait. If you bring in a reflector and all of a sudden it takes this from F/2 back up to F/6 or whatever, you're softening the contrast ratio between it. Does it make sense? So, I know that's like Math, and sometimes, I don't do my own bookkeeping for a really good reason. I'm a right brain kind of girl. So, you can use reflectors to bounce light back into a shadow area so that it softens those shadows and makes them not look quite so intense, okay? You can use reflectors to create highlights and I'm going to show you that here as well, which is really fun, and just to accentuate key areas. Oftentimes, when you're shooting on say, for example, a dark background, instead of bringing in a whole another light back here to create what we call a "highlight" on the edge of someone, you can bring in a bright shiny reflector, pop it right here, and you'll physically see this light bounce off the reflector and give a kiss of light around the shoulder line or the hairline that accentuates them and pulls them off of the background. This is particularly helpful if you're shooting a dark-haired person on a dark background. You don't want their hair to like melt into the background so you can't see it. And adding that reflector back there would produce just enough kiss of a highlight in order to bring them off the background and create what we call that separation, okay? Reflectors, there are silver, white, gold a combination of silver and gold, and shiny, matte, there's all kinds of reflectors out there and they each behave in different ways, particularly on skin tone, okay? So, we're going to talk about how that looks and what kind of impact that makes. Other modifiers include things like on-camera flash. On-camera flash, there must be care taken with that. I am not going to be using on-camera flash here because I think it's one of those things that, it's adding a light source and until you fully understand how the single light source you have can be influenced with reflectors and gobos and diffusers, I would wait to add another light source, okay? I never ever use on-camera flash as a main source of light because it just blasts the scene with flat light from the front and creates no dimension in your shadows. The key with on-camera flash is to bounce it off something or use it as a fill light. So, for example, if I'm shooting a scene with a backlit sun and the sun is kind of my main, creating that neat look and then the flash, the fill flash, will just make sure there's not too many harsh shadows coming in. So, for full in-depth content on working with flash, I suggest looking at Pye Jirsa's class here on Creative Live, amazing photographer, he does just awesome stuff. And that Working with Flash class will get you to that next level with flash. But, for now, those of you who are at this level with DSLR, I want you to stick with one light and just start using modifiers to change it up a little bit, okay? Because, if you try to do too much too fast, then it starts to confuse you about how light behaves, about how exposure should be treated, and it gets very hard to make it all happen. You know how you put too many moving parts it makes you just kind of break down, that's where I don't want you to go. Once you understand how to use one's light with modifiers, then you go, "Okay, now I can add a new layer on that, which is flash, or adding additional lights," okay? Okay. Another type of modifier is what we call a "gobo," okay? Of course, Lacey, bless her heart, was willing to let me shoot her this morning. A gobo is short for go-between. Now, keep in mind, gobos are one of those things that have lots of different terms, people will call them many things. All it really is something that stands in the way of a light, it blocks light. It goes between the light and the subject. Gobo. Go-between. Okay? So, it's just something that blocks light that you don't want in a scene. It can create direction of light, reduces the size of your light source, should you want a more dramatic look, it can block highlights and hot spots, and can diffuse harsh light, okay? So, I'm going to talk about diffusers next. But, a diffuser, in essence, is somewhat of a gobo, but it can also be a reflector, okay? So, I know I'm starting to confuse you there, I don't want to. But, essentially, just know that you can subtract light and a gobo lets you subtract light from a scene, okay? And that's what's important to recognize is that light can be added to a scene, it can be subtracted from a scene, or it can be diffused through a scene, okay? So, we'll work a little bit with gobos. These v-flats are awesome, you can make these if you want. Again, just getting a nice big panel of foam core from Home Depot, putting some gaffer tape down the middle to get two panels with gaffer tape down the middle, and all of a sudden you've made yourself a homemade gobo. Now, what's beautiful about this is it's also a reflector, okay? Because this white panel inside here will bounce light as well. It's a huge source, right? So, if I put this on the other side over here and let these lights bounce into it, I'm going to have incredible balance because I have a large white source that will help soften shadows and add light to the scene okay? So, if this was silver, it would do that even more so, almost too much, I think, for the size of this. So, the size of the modifier, as well as its tone and color, influence heavily its behavior with light. All right. So, like I said, a go-between creates direction of light, it reduces the size of your light source, it blocks highlights and hot spots if you want it to, and it can diffuse harsh light. Now, remember yesterday, how I was talking about being outside and finding the tree that overhangs and then allowing...because what is that tree doing? Because you'll be shooting on the edge of the tree so that's where the directional light is coming in. That's a gobo. I'm blocking the light coming in from above with a tree to create a direction of light. Makes sense? So, gobos are really powerful but people don't think about them as much as they do reflectors and I don't know why. Adding light is great but sometimes subtracting it is the solution. So, be thinking constantly when you're seeing if there's too much light or not enough direction of light how you can use a gobo to change that, okay? All right. Diffusers. Diffusers are, basically, let me pull out my ripstop diffuser, this is totally homemade but that's what I think I love about it, is how homemade it is. This is literally PVC pipe from Home Depot, okay? You can see on the back here it's just a brace made with, you know, PVC pipe and teeth fittings, okay? And then, this is called ripstop fabric. It's basically like parachute fabric. And it's that just kind of polyester see-through, translucent, and then I sewed, really badly sewed, a piece of elastic back here so it stays around it. And then, sewed the panels over so that it fit over the top, and this is like ghetto homemade, it's not even funny. But, it works. This thing's awesome.You can actually shoot strobes through it and create diffusion of light through a strobe, you can use it on a beach sunny scene, you can use it over, I mean, you need two people, but you can use it overhead of a family or a client to block this harsh sunlight from hitting them, and it creates gorgeous, soft, beautiful light on a face for a portrait outside. And this thing breaks apart and folds in half so I can take it on the go with me, which is really nice, the thing's been beat to shreds as you can see. It's got holes in it and whatever. But, I think this thing total cost me like, maybe 23 bucks to make, so it's totally possible to, and this is my diffusion panel, it's just totally my homemade diffusion. You can buy them if you want, but it'll cost you 200, 300 bucks for it. I like the Home Depot version. It's kind of nice. And then, it's got this handle back here so you can pick it up. So, we'll use that in the next segment. But, I also...Thanks, Adam. I also want you to note that this softbox is a diffuser, right? Whoa, bright light, yeah. Okay? This is same thing. This is that same ripstop fabric on the inside here. And all it's doing is covering the light to diffuse it, and scatter, and create a soft force, that's why it looks so pretty. It's because all the light's coming through that diffusion panel, basically okay? And a lot of softboxes have multiple panels in there, apples, and all kinds of things going on. It gets all fancy schmancy but they're cool, I mean, it works. It's cool. But, diffusers are an incredible way to make a hard source, soft. So, any kind of softbox out there is considered diffusion, okay? They soften the light source. These include things like a scrim, a softbox, an umbrella, or even a bounce card, okay? I have seen amazing photographers, food photographers, will set up several of these behind a subject, okay? Kind of like this. So, your food is right here. Sarah will love this. So, I'll do two right there, or whatever, and they'll put strobes facing that way into the huge v-flats. What does that do? It bounced this big. They just created a huge window by bouncing a boat load of light into this v-flat. And then it goes back in here and, beautiful backlighting, okay? Light travels in the direction you send it, and it'll bounce back in the exact same opposite direction, okay? So, once you understand that light travels in a straight line then it'll bounce, now, all of a sudden, you're going to have fun bouncing, okay? But, this gets complicated, right? You can see how very quickly you can confuse yourself and go, "Should I bounce or should I not?" So, that's why I'm saying, one light first, just one light. Then we'll add a couple of modifiers in, once you master that and you want to make things interesting, then you can start bouncing strobes into v-flats and doing the fancy stuff like that, okay? But, it's killer, looks amazing, looks like natural light because of just big, beautiful... Steven Scardina, who is a wonderful food photographer in Portland, we used to share studio space when I first started getting studio space. Him and another commercial photographer, the three of us shared a 4,000 square foot studio in Old Town, Portland and it was great because I was portrait photographer, shooting like every day, and they were the commercial guys who just needed the studio all day once a day, like once a month, you know, kind of thing. So, it was a beautiful partnership. And the rent was dirt cheap because of it, because we all shared, and it was wonderful because I got to see these amazing commercial photographers at work doing things that were just cool. I mean, just amazing, think-out-of-the-box kind of lighting techniques. So, don't be afraid to experiment. If you understand how light behaves, and you understand that it can bounce, and you understand that you can block it, now, all of a sudden, the world is your oyster. It's just a matter of having the tools to do it, and cheap $10 foam core from Home Depot will do just fine, okay? Right. The industry wants to sell you everything they can, though. So's like the total rabbit trail but, how many of you have kids? Moms, especially? Kids? Well, you know how on your baby shower, they like think you need everything? Or, you need this stroller for this and this stroller for that, and the fold up stroller for this, and oh, the bob for off-roading, it's like really? Do, I need all these strollers? It's the same with the photo industry, they try to sell you everything. But, it's fun, the gears is fun. Okay, let me continue, where's my clicker?

Ratings and Reviews


Julia is an amazing teacher!!!! Funny, go with the flow, honest, and obviously so gifted at what she does. That came through and also inspired those feelings in me as a novice photographer. I left her class feeling excited to play with my camera and appreciate that she encouraged me to use what I have now and get good before spending tons of money on fancier stuff. I also love that she showed how everyday materials from Home Depot can make for great images. I particularly appreciated the 2nd day on product photography, social media images and the short demos in PhotoShop. Please do a full class on just this Julia/Creative Live!!!!!

Brandon Couch

So first off I've been doing photography for a little bit now and only shot in manual 20% of the time and was okay with it. Since coming to this class and seeing how manual mode isn't scary, it is everything you need and want in the life of photography, I now will not use anything else. The team at Creative Live is amazing and Julia's love for other starting and even professional photographers is amazing. She would sit and talk to us together and individually and really loves those who love photography. I would recommend this class and any other one of Julia's classes here on CreativeLive. I can't wait to come back. Was AMAZING!!! LIFE CHANGING!!!

a Creativelive Student

What an awesome class! I am not a beginner and am currently making a living as a photographer and was interested in this class because #1 Julia is such a great teacher with such talent and #2 I was expecting to take away some valuable information to pass along to my little after school beinning photo club. I am happy to report Julia did not disappoint:-) What actually happened was that I learned so many things that I probably should have known being a seasoned professional that I lost track of my original intention of why I was there. I couldn't wait to pull out my camera and try all of the new things that I had just learned. The color balancing and the little dot showing when your camera (Nikon) was manually focused alone was worth the price. I enjoyed every minute of this course. Thanks Julia! Anyone would benefit from this course....

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