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The Hard Truth About Hard Modifiers

Hard modifiers. They’re so misunderstood! Most photographers seem to always be chasing soft light, the softer the better. I understand that too, but in my world there is sometimes a need for hard modifiers. On location in high wind, nothing is better to combat the potential disaster of turning your light stand, modifier and strobe into an orbiting satellite than a hard modifier.

Yet there are many other uses for hard modifiers. Yes they CAN throw beautiful soft light. And in those instances where you need to throw and control light a long distance they’re wonderful. I recently had an assignment where I had to light 90 musicians on stage to make the scene appear like a Rembrandt painting which meant making the light even across the stage. It would have been impossible without the use of hard modifiers or Fresnel lenses.

To date this was the most difficult lighting set up I’ve accomplished.

But the point of this post is to advise you that the SHAPE of a hard modifier can easily be confused with how the light pattern will perform. Most of use ‘think’ that a long cone shaped modifier will throw light in a long narrow pattern focusing light in the same shape as the modifier. Back in the day when I was talking to Paul Buff about his long throw reflector he said “Mark, the long throw’s center concentration of light is NOT as intense as my 22” beauty dish. But it does throw the light further.” I thought to myself “Uh sure Paul, you must not know what you’re talking about…” Hahahahaha who was I to doubt the INVENTER of his brilliant products. So I tested them side by side and guess what? He was fucking right of course and I was shocked….at my ignorance.

Adorama sent me some of their modifiers so I decided to test them side by side with others I own to see the light patterns they produce. Having been schooled by Paul I was better educated to ‘theorize’ how each of the modifier’s patterns would perform.

All were shot using a Flashpoint xPLOR600 set at full 1:1 power. The distance to the seamless was 35 feet. Camera was set at 1/125th, f22, ISO 100. This test was performed just before a client’s session so it’s not about the power capabilities of the modifiers, but their light patterns.

Bowens long throw
Glow 45 Long Focus
Glow Magnum
PCB 18″ Omni
PCB Retro Laser

As you can see by the light patterns above and the shape of each modifier below, light patterns don’t always follow the shape of the modifiers. Right now my favorites are the Glow 70 Degree Magnum, the PCB Omni and Retro Laser for throwing concentrated beams of light over distance. The Glow 45 and Bowens long throw extend light with a much softer/less concentrated pattern of light.

Glow 70 Degree Magnum Reflector
Glow 45° Long Focus Reflector
Bowens long throw reflector
PCB Retro Laser (Discontinued)
PCB 18″ Omni reflector. How I modified the Omni for a Bowens mount can be found here.

So here is how I’ve used hard modifiers for different applications:

PCB Omni using a Priolite MBX1000 hotsync.
Outdoor on location portrait using the configuration above.
Same configuration, but using the PCB triple layer sock over the Omni to light the three bakers. The triple layer sock produces such wonderful soft light from the Omni.
Omni, two xPLOR600s combined to use the 1200 ws head for my Tango in the Mohave session.
PCB Omni
PCB Omni key light. Rim light and smoke light in behind talent.
Omni with two xPLOR600s with the 1200 ws head. As you can see from the shadows the sunlight which I used as a rim light was very bright and intense.
Bowens BW-1887 Maxilite 65 Degree Reflector 20cm

My point of this posting is to demonstrate the light patterns and possible usage of hard modifiers in your took kit. For the right application I find them an invaluable tool. In the future I will be updating this post with actual shots using the Glow line of hard modifiers.

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Just got the Glow Magnum for my Godox AD-200… At 11 feet, ISO 50, 1/250 I was getting F20.2 (at full power) pretty impressive increase over the F6-7 with just the bare bulb. Over-powering the sun might just be a thing with a single AD-200 and this modifier at a moderately close distance!! I think the bare-bulb really allows the light to be focused.

Hi Mark

Really interesting read about hard light, its something I have avoided and it has so much to offer, I just never really gave it a thought or a try. I mainly photograph horses and have been using softboxes for my location lighting. Recently I have started experimenting with long throw reflectors, I still have lots to learn, but am liking the different looks that can be created and like you point out, on location larger light modifiers can become kites and that’s not a good mix with horses. Have been reading your blogs and info about lighting and bookmarked your site. Just wanted to say thanks for sharing what you know and taking the time to post. Regards Fletcher

Hey. Nice job. Was this used without a diffuser?

Thanks 🙂