Light Modifiers 101

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When going through the more advanced websites about lighting, you’re bound to run into a lot of terms you’re not familiar with. In this article, we’ve compiled some of the most mentioned equipment and techniques photographers today use to modify light coming from a hot-shoe flash or studio light.

Barn Doors
Barn doors have four leaves or doors that act to shape light. This is usually used to prevent light from spilling into where its not wanted or to block the light from hitting the lens.


A cookie is any object that is placed between the flash and the subject. Shadow patterns are created from the light passing through the cookie and to the subject. The most common use of cookies is to create interesting light and shadow patterns to make the background of a portrait more lively.

In the photo below, a plastic water container was placed between the flash and the flower to create the shadow pattern on the wall. In this case, the water container was used as a cookie.

CC Photo by Larsz


Flags are used to block light from hitting a specific part of your subject. This are usually rectangular in shape and are opaque. You can use almost anything as a flag such as illuatration boards as long as light can’t pass through it.


Gels are colored plastic light modifiers that effectively change the color of the light coming from your flash. The most common gels are the orange ones that simulate tungsten lighting, and the green ones that simulate fluorescent lights. Gels are rated according to what specific Kelvin temperature the light will be changed to.


Gobo literally means “goes before optics” which is now used to describe either a flag or cookie.

A grid attaches to the flash unit and places a grid-like or honeycomb structure in front of the bulb. The grid forces the light to travel in a straight direction as it passes through it. This makes the light from our flash look like its from a spot light.


A softbox is a rectangular device with a translucent material lining the opening.
It produces soft even lighting that is sometimes used to soften blemishes in portraits.

A snoot is a tube like material that is placed or attached on the flash head. The tube restricts the light into a narrow beam. This isolates the light into a specific area. In case you’re wondering, using a grid has a more pronounced effect of restricting light compared to a snoot.

There are two basic types of umbrellas used to diffuse light. The first is a shoot-through umbrella wherein the umbrella is between the flash and the subject. It’s called a shoot-through since the light is diffused as it passes through the umbrella’s translucent material.

The second type is a reflective umbrella. With this type, the flash is aimed away from your subject and towards the umbrella. The diffusion happens when the light bounces from the umbrella towards your subject.

You can easily purchase most of these equipment, but you can also save a lot of money by going the DIY route. All it takes is a little research and ingenuity.

Related Reading:
Flash 101: On-Camera
Flash 101: Off-Camera
How to Get Soft Diffused Light from Your Flash

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