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Studio lighting accessories


The umbrella is probably the most commonly-used studio flash accessory.
The umbrella is probably the most commonly-used studio flash accessory.

Lighting control is essential in the studio. The photographer must be able to dim the lighting, increase its brightness, diffuse it, block it, channel it, color it, reflect it and then mix and balance it with other lighting sources to achieve just the right illumination to photograph her or his subject in the best way. To do all of these things, he or she has a wide variety of studio lighting accessories to choose from, including many that can be home-made.

Umbrellas - The most common studio flash accessory is probably the umbrella. This versatile and relatively-inexpensive item can serve as both a reflector and, when shining light through it (with its black backing taken off), a diffuser. It is available in a seemingly-unending variety of sizes, configurations, fabrics and finishes to provide the photographer with a wide selection of differing degrees of beam spread, diffusion and reflectivity.

Why is the umbrella so versatile? One reason is that you can adjust it for different angles of coverage by simply changing the distance between the umbrella and the flash head. (For maximum softness, ensure that the modeling light's beam just fills the umbrella's full diameter.) Another is that an umbrella folds down quickly for easy storage and can be set up just as quickly, making it ideal for location shooting as well as quick changes in the studio. Folded umbrellas also take up very little space. An umbrella that has a removable black backing can be "shot-through" to diffuse the light. You don't even need to purchase studio flash units to use an umbrella, since it will function very well using a standard removable flash unit that is normally camera-mounted. If you are new to studio flash photography, you would be wise to make an umbrella among your first accessory purchases.


Reflectors - There are two kinds of reflector for studio flash - those that fit around the flash head to control the direction and beam spread of the light (like a car's headlamp reflector), and those that the flash head is aimed at to bounce and reflect the light back onto the subject, like an umbrella reflector.

Most flash heads come with a standard reflector of the first type for directing the flash beam into an umbrella or elsewhere with fairly precise control. Optional reflectors may be available from the manufacturer that will provide the photographer with different beam spreads, creating more or less intense illumination from the flash over a larger or smaller field of coverage. Some reflectors have different reflective coatings - white, for example, (as opposed to shiny metal) - that give softening effects and a more intimate mood when compared with direct (non-reflected) flash.

Of the second type - the bounce reflector - there is an infinite variety, including the most common commercial one, the umbrella reflector, and fold-away reflector panels that have metallic surfaces. Almost any surface with reflective qualities can be used to bounce studio flash, and many home-made or "found" items will serve as reflectors, each providing a different "feel" to the light. Some will require experimentation, while others are tried and true. It pays to test a new reflector and know what you can expect from it. Reflecting studio flash in a controlled, predictable manner is one of the studio photographer's greatest weapons in her or his arsenal.

Grid spots - A grid spot (sometimes just called a "grid") serves to channel light from the flash so that its beam covers a wider or smaller area. They are usually designated by their degree of coverage - typically 10°, 20°, 30° and 40°. Light fall-off at the edges is rapid, so the effect of a grid spot is similar to that of a focused spotlight. Grid spots are usually round and must be sized to fit tightly into the flash head's reflector. If you have, for example, a 7" reflector attached to your flash head, your grid spots must fit into the 7" reflector and will not fit a 9" reflector. They are easy to change, snapping in and out quickly, and are great for getting light just where you want it.

A grid spot fits snugly inside the rim of the reflector, and channels the light in the manner of a spotlight.
A grid spot fits snugly inside the rim of the reflector, and channels the light in the manner of a spotlight.

A collapsible soft box provides an excellent means of diffusing studio flash.
A collapsible soft box provides an excellent means of diffusing studio flash.

Snoots - Think of a tall cone, and you have the basic shape of a snoot. The snoot converts a flash head into a flash spot light, channeling the light into a narrow beam that can be directed onto a small surface in the scene being photographed.

Barn doors - These are light blockers - not reflectors. In the same manner as blinders that are attached to a horse's head to prevent the animal from seeing things at its sides, they fit snugly onto a flash head and can be adjusted to block light from straying into areas where it is not wanted. Barn doors are hinged and can be swung "opened" or "closed" to block more or less light.

Soft boxes - The ultimate in simple, quick light diffusion, soft boxes fit onto flash heads using a special ring adapter that must first be attached to the flash head. Set-up is so fast, a matter of minutes, that soft box manufacturers call their ring adapters "speed rings." Soft boxes are shaped somewhat like curved cardboard boxes - perhaps more like an igloo with a square or rectangular base. They are fabric tents, really, that have one end that is rectangular or square in shape. The other end narrows down to fit snugly around the flash head. The material on the outside is black and opaque, but the inside surface of the material is shiny metallic (silvery), except at the square or rectangular end, where it is translucent, diffusing the light that passes through it. Soft boxes are designed so that the light they transmit is evenly distributed over the translucent surface (sometimes two such surfaces, the front one a few inches apart from the inner one), giving the effect of a much larger light source. Their lighting is soft and even, and very effective for portrait work and general studio photography.


Light banks - Not all soft boxes are small. Some are quite huge, in fact, as much as 10-feet by 30-feet, and even 15-feet by 40-feet, on their translucent side. When they get this big, they're part of a configuration called light banks, because they are illuminated by more than a single light source. The really big lighting systems generally require special mounting, like on a studio ceiling rail system with remote controls. They are used in special photography applications - photographing new car models, for example. (Note that some manufacturers call their smaller soft boxes "light banks," too, even though they operate from one flash head, with no banking of lights.)

Other studio flash accessories - The list of electronic flash accessories available to the studio photographer is a long one, and seems to change almost daily as new items provide even greater and more diverse lighting control. Background reflectors, pattern-projecting lights, lantern-shaped soft boxes for a soft, bare-bulb effect in small rooms and so on are available. It is hard to keep up with. Until you begin to specialize in your studio and require the lighting effects and controls provided by specific products within the range of accessories on the market, you probably will have little need to know about these. And when you do, the range will very likely have changed. The variety available to you will undoubtedly be even more diverse than it is today.

The variety of studio accessories is almost endless - from simple clamps that securely hold a mono-light to a ceiling-mounted pipe (seen here) to highly-sophisticated lighting control systems.
The variety of studio accessories is almost endless - from simple clamps that securely hold a mono-light to a ceiling-mounted pipe (seen here) to highly-sophisticated lighting control systems.

A standard soft box is spread open by four flexible wires or thin rods. These are attached to a speed ring, which in turn is attached to the front of the flash unit. Velcro strips are used to close the back flaps once the unit is in place.
A standard soft box is spread open by four flexible wires or thin rods. These are attached to a speed ring, which in turn is attached to the front of the flash unit. Velcro strips are used to close the back flaps once the unit is in place.

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