Photography is light. In order to capture the feeling you are trying to convey, you need to be able to shape light. We asked 8 photographers to choose their favorite light shaping tool and explain what they like about it.
Profoto offer an array of Light Shaping Tools that enable you to be more creative and to turn your ambitions into reality. Whether shooting commercial ads with complex multi-flash setups or portraits using only a single monolight, all photographers aim to recreate a certain feeling when capturing an image. And that feeling is determined by the light. The fact that light is important for the outcome of a picture comes as no surprise to any committed photographer. In fact, photography means “drawing with light” in Greek. But in order to draw with light, you need to be able to control it – that is what light shaping is all about.
Just as a painter uses different paint brushes, a photographer needs different light shaping tools in order to create different lighting effects. With the Profoto OCF Grids you create dramatic and focused light, with the Magnum Reflector you shape with power and finesse, and with the Hard Box you create the hardest light possible.
We asked 8 photographers to choose their favorite light shaping tool and explain what they like about it.
Perhaps one of the first light shaping tools ever invented, barn doors are used for flagging off light, allowing you to shape the light spread without changing the light characteristics. Since each set of barn doors has four doors, it permits you to create an asymmetric light spread if – let’s say – you want a soft, gradient fall-off on one side and a sharp fall-off on the other.
Barn doors may be the most basic of light shaping tools. But basic doesn’t have to mean simple, and Italian fashion and editorial photographer Luca Masarà claims it is a must in most sets.
“The importance of barn doors is often underestimated, but they are of great help in controlling light. They are extremely common in my setups, and I have used them in about 70% of my jobs. I like it because it is a very simple accessory that offers great help in many different situations.”
Normally, Luca uses barn doors when he wants to create blades of lights or control the background light and adds that he uses them for main light, fill light, as well as for details.
“I use them when it is necessary to focus the light effect and to limit an area. I can create a feeling of intimacy and contrast between light and shadow.”
Profoto BarnDoors are compatible with the Zoom Reflector and Cine Reflector, the Magnum Reflector, TeleZoom Reflector, and NarrowBeam Reflector, as well as with the ProFresnel, the StripLight, and the Off-Camera Flash System.
One of the most multipurpose Light Shaping Tools that we’ve ever created, the Profoto Cine Reflector combines the movie industry’s popular parabolic reflector with the unique zoom features of the classic Zoom Reflector. Ad and commercial photographer Tomas Kauneckas is a frequent user of this versatile modifier. In fact, he uses it on a weekly basis.
“Really, you could use it both with continuous light and flash, but I tend to use it with the Profoto Pro-8a Air. I put the Cine Reflector on a ProHead Plus and bounce fill light with Collapsible Reflectors. Sometimes I add an extra Zoom Reflector as fill from the other side of my subject.”
The Profoto Cine Reflector offers a wide range of optional accessories that grant you matchless creative freedom. All the different lenses, barn doors, scrims, and filters make Tomas think of another world-famous tool of creativity.
“I can construct it how I want, in the same way that my kids play with LEGO.”
For him, the consistent spread and hard light makes it ideal to imitate the sun.
“When I shoot in studio, I usually shoot with white backdrop and add the background in post-production. This way, I can focus on recreating sunlight on my subject using the Cine Reflector as main light.”
Shooting with the Profoto Magnum Reflector, you shape light with power and finesse. Compared to the standard Zoom Reflector, this versatile hard reflector amplifies the output by one f-stop while maintaining a flooded light. Destination wedding photographer Muse Chan, also known as Muse Muse, calls it a “mini sun”, since its light spread and quality as a hard light are very similar to that of the sun. It’s his favorite Light Shaping Tool for on-location portraits.
“I usually shoot portraits with landscape in the background. Because of its light spread, the Magnum Reflector is my go-to shaper whenever I need light to mix with sunlight. The focused area in the middle makes the subject the center of attention. The light falls off quickly but gradually, creating beautiful shadows that are strong and soft at the same time,” he explains.
Muse explains that the Magnum Reflector has a unique ability to increase light output and focus the light beam.
“I love using the Magnum as main light, especially in its most focused position. The spread around the light beam (i.e., the hot spot in the middle) adds a movie feeling. When used with grids, the light will be very focused and can easily be used to highlight the subject. In addition, the zoom range offers various focus options, making it convenient for me to adapt from shooting one person to shooting a couple.”
The Magnum is a great option when you want a smooth and even light with maximum output. And as Muse mentions, even though strictly speaking it is not a focusing reflector, you can create interesting lighting effects when zooming it across the focal point.
To match the portability of the Profoto Off-Camera Flash B1 and B2 units, we have developed a small and super portable Grid kit consisting of a holder and three different honeycomb grids.
Portraiture photographer Ki Price is an avid user of the OCF Grids, and since he does a lot of his shoots on location he depends on mobile equipment that offers varied effects.
“The OCF Grids are lightweight and can always fit in the bag, with three different looks”.
The three honeycomb grids come in 10°, 20°, or 30°. The variety gives you a direct, circular shape of light that can be used for many applications.
“The concentration of light changes dramatically between the 10° and 30° grids. I use the 30 degrees the most – to create moody, atmospheric portraits. They’re great for strong male portraits and great for hair and back lights for women and men.”
Ki continues to explain that the small size of the OCF grids enables them to project only a small amount of light, unlike e.g., a gridded Magnum Reflector that covers bigger areas. The light is harsher with the OCF grids.
“I like harsh lighting. I use grids on 80% of my shoots – either as a key light or a backlight – when I want that Alfred Hitchcock feeling, full of drama and suspense.”
The Profoto MultiSpot might very well be the smallest professional flash spot available. Apart from being perfectly suited for still life, food, and beauty photography, its small size makes it an obvious option for photographers who are looking for a portable Fresnel spot for on-location work. As it happens, it is the favorite Light Shaping Tool of lighting wizard David Bicho.
“When you shoot product portraits in studio there is no other alternative if you want to shape light with precision.”
David explains that it is the concentrated light from the Fresnel lens that enables you to control light, almost like a painter with a paintbrush. You get complete control over the contrast. The difference from – let’s say – a grid, which also provides contrast, is that all light beams are parallel. This allows the MultiSpot to generate more light with no indirect light sources, as well as dark, well-defined shadows. David’s shoot with furniture from Zweed.se is a great example of how the photographer “paints” with light.
“I use the MultiSpot very often because I love natural light, and with it I can create an illusion of awesome ‘natural light’. If I shoot portraits on-location and have the possibility to show up a bit earlier to do a setup, I always bring it. My ambition is to paint with light, and that’s what the MultiSpot is made for.”
Nicknamed “Beauty Dish”, the Profoto Softlight Reflector offers a perfect combination of even light, crisp definition, and contrast. The Beauty Dish comes in two different versions, silver and white. The white delivers a softer and slightly more even light, the silver counterpart generates more punch and contrast. For Roy Rossovich, winner of Hasselblad Masters 2016 (Fashion/Beauty), the Beauty Dish holds a special place in his heart.
“The Beauty Dish has been one of those light shaping tools that I’ve just fallen back to every time I need a timeless look. Funny part is, I’ve only ever submitted to two serious competitions in my career and the Beauty Dish saw me through both of them with winning laurels.”
He says that he normally uses the Softlight Reflector as a main light and often as the only light, focusing the light and letting the backgrounds fall away. This, he explains, is quite easy when using the grid.
“I use the Grid with the Beauty Dish 90% of the time since it’s a means to separate the subject from the background. The light fall-off becomes quite extreme and it can really bring a subject out and make an image pop.”
“The light is very intimate as it needs to be pretty close to get that nice soft fall-off and separation. This is subjective, of course. I like the look it produces so I use it as often as possible. For the most part, I find myself shooting portraits, beauty, or fashion-based images, so this fits right in with all those for me and the way I shoot.”
A favorite with fashion photographers, Profoto StripLights are special application flash heads that provide a long and narrow light source with a subtle fall-off. They are commonly used by car photographers to create razor-sharp reflections in the car body or by fashion photographers to make the model pop out of the image. The famous photographer Geoff Ang knows all about this and regards strip lights as an absolute necessity. He describes the Profoto StripLight as a soft directional light source and points out its highly controllable light. When he wants control, he turns to his StripLights.
“The major difference from, let’s say, a RFi Softbox Strip, is its ability to have even flash output over the entire length of the light. I always use it as a fill or edge light, when I need light in a very tight location with little space. When used with the optional BarnDoors they generate perfectly even highlights with sharp outlines.”
“It’s hard to say how I know when to use it, it’s a gut thing, you know, but I typically use it when I want a beautiful catch light in the eyes of my subject.”
But that is not the only reason he likes the StripLight. ”It impresses the hell out of my clients!”
If you like to work with deep light, the Profoto TeleZoom Reflector is the tool for you. It shares some basic lighting characteristics with the classic Zoom Reflector, but when it comes to creating directed and even light, thrown over large distances, it is second to none. Canadian fashion and editorial photographer Miguel Jacob calls it one of the more versatile tools in his lighting toolbox and uses it for its distinct fall-off.
“Due to its wide zoom range, I can really play with this function to control the fall-off by purposely placing areas in my frame in shadow. I normally use the TeleZoom Reflector when I want a high-contrast, punchy look in my portraits.”
The wide zoom range differentiates the TeleZoom Reflector from other parabolic hard reflectors. For Miguel, this is important because it allows him to achieve a wide array of lighting options without using grids.
“I used the TeleZoom Reflector exclusively as my main light for a series of portraits I shot a few years ago, for an art project called ‘Always on camera’, on exhibition in Toronto, Canada. The project explored the process of performance, its geometry, and the interaction of the subject with costume and minimal props in a vacuous studio space. The ambition was to create unique, graphic, and arresting portraiture. The TeleZoom Reflector was the perfect tool for expressing this point of view.”