5 Types of Light Shapers and What They Do


Some of us have one, some of us don't, but use one. I'm talking about a studio, and what do all studios have? Lights!

Studio lights are quite different to speedlights; size and power output being just two of these differences. They're often referred to as monoblocs, and can have a number of light shapers attached to them. So what are the 5 most common light shapers, and what are they used for?

High Key Set-up

High Key Set-up – Image by Alan Ant

Barn Door

Let's start with the most simple and humble of them all – the barn door. Named due to the way it looks (and works), this light shaper plays a useful role. Barn doors are frequently used on lights used to light the background, such as when you want a pure white infinity curve but don't want any light to spill onto the subject.

To use them, simply place one (or more) on the flash head with the ‘door' positioned in such a way that it blocks any light from a certain direction. They're basically blinkers for your flash.

Barndoor studio light

Barndoor Studio Light  – Image by Fotodiox Pro


One of the most useful light shapers, and one of the most used is the softbox. It comes in many sizes, ranging from tiny to absolutely huge. Different sizes give different results, and it usually depends on the area you're trying to light. The softbox also comes in different shapes depending on your needs and preferences (such as catchlights in the eyes) – for example, an octabox is a very large softbox in the shape of an octagon, and a striplight is a long, thin softbox. Softboxes have reflective interiors and a diffused layer on the front which can often be taken off to give harsher light.

The main use of a softbox though is to give nice, even soft light falling onto your subject.




The umbrella is favoured by many photographers, for its easy setup, portability, compatibility and for the unique, interesting catchlights it gives. It's also a cheaper (thought slightly different in the results it gives) alternative to a softbox. You can get both shoot through and reflective umbrellas, and some even do both – they have a reflective cover so when removed, it turns into a shoot through. Umbrellas tend to spill more light out into the surrounding area than a softbox, but the general effect is very similar to that of a softbox.




This attachment is used to create a concentrated area of light on your subject. You can concentrate it further by putting a honeycomb grid in the end of it too. It's frequently used to create a rim/hairlight because of this. You can use it to pick out certain features on your subject, or if used as a hairlight, you can make your subject stand out from a dark background instead of blending into it by lighting them with it from behind. It's also incredibly easy to make a snoot for your speedlight using some card, some tape or velcro and some black straws.



Beauty Dish

Often silver or white on the inside, like the softbox and umbrella this is also a light diffuser. However, a beauty dish gives off a harsher and more contrasted light than a softbox, which can be more flattering on your subjects as it gives them better-defined features. It also creates a circular catchlight in the eye.

beauty dish

Beauty Dish

Now that you know what five light shapers can do, why not try out some studio lighting? Play around with them and see what you like best!

Article by Emma Brabrook – Emma is a photographer from the UK. You can follow her on Twittervisit her Flickr, join her Page on Facebook or visit her Blog.

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I wish we had some example to demonstrate the effect of the Beauty dish modifier. Good overview still.

Great article and well explained. I am looking to try and get a simple studio lighting set up fairly soon, so these articles really help. Not a pro, just love shooting people properly.

When I started with studio lights and tried different light modifiers, I sometimes documented what kind of equipment I had used for a specific photo, together with the settings and a sketch of the setup.

Now I do that for almost every shoot, because it is much easier if you want to do the same thing again (or make it a bit better), rather than trying to guess.

A good way of learning what kind of light you can achieve with different modifiers.

A man after my own heart – I do exactly the same thing. I note down all the settings in a notepad for future reference, it’s saved me so much time. Even if I don’t want something that’s exactly the same, it’s easier to do something similar when you have the notes as a starting point to tweak from. I also love taking behind the scenes photos đŸ˜€

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