web analytics

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.

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.

6 thoughts on “The Hard Truth About Hard Modifiers”

  1. 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.

  2. 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

    • Hi Fletcher, thanks for the kind note. I too was an exclusive ‘softy’ back in the beginning only chasing soft light through umpteen diffused softboxes. I noticed that infant kids always gravitated toward my car keys or metal watch to put into their mouths! I then realized that all the things we give infants are soft, plush; ‘safe’ and they craved things with an edge, so….

      I started to observe light in nature and on stage and in movies. A hard edge/shadow in the right place and time conveyed a richer story and feeling to me. So that’s when I began to use hard light more often. My favorite light today is Fresnel light, but I’m fickle and that can change. LOL I checked out your site since I’m not familiar with equine portraiture. My favorite is image 17/32, such a wonderful feeling and story in that image. And the light is just delicious (my highest compliment for light btw…) Well done!

      • sorry for the late reply, only noticed this when I just posted a question. Thank you for your kind words. Trying to light horse is far from easy and I am still learning about lighting, so am always scoring the internet for photographers that share what they know or are working on. I love some of your images and the lighting you use.


  3. Hi Mark, this was a really interesting read and I wondered if you have ever used the Magbeam by Magmod with Godox AD200’s?

    I have be experimenting with the round head for the AD200 together with a Magbeam. although the round head loses about a stop of light compared to the fresnel head, the round heads light pattern of the round head is far more appealing to my eyes.

    My question is, are long through reflectors more efficient than the Magbeam or do they roughly provide the same light output? One of the reasons I am asking is that the Magbeam colapses down to such a small size, if it can produce the same output as a long throw reflector at the same distance, then if a person need to keep kit really light and compact, a Magbeam might be a win win?

    Just curious as to what you think and opinions might be.

    • Hi Fletcher, my gf grew up around horses and so did I although ours were thoroughbreds and hers standardbreds. Yes photographing horses is an art in and of itself. Where their feet are place in the shot, etc. I have never used a Magbeam or Magmod since I use strobes and not speedlights so I cannot comment on them. I will say that you never get something for nothing, meaning portability sacrifices power and vice versa. It would also depend on if you are shooting out in daylight or dusk or evening. The long throw reflectors I prefer for my work are the discontinued PCB Retro Laser and the Glow 70 Degree Magnum Reflector with Diffuser for Bowens Mount Flash Heads. You can read about that one in my Holiday Gift Guide.

      You may also want to look at the Aputure Fresnel heads, they work great.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *