How Light Is Used To Create Images – 2

by William Lulow

In the last article, we talked about MODIFYING light in order to create images. Today, we’ll talk about the various types of light modifying tools we can use. Since the simple reflector is limited in its ability to provide the kind of light necessary for good, commercial portraits, it needed to be changed. Over the years, photographers found that they still needed to direct light toward their subjects, but that light was much better if it was soft. So, they tried to figure out what could make the light soft. And, they discovered that a large light placed fairly close to their subjects would give a very pleasing effect. Manufacturers of photographic lighting equipment began making very large reflectors that were able to take large bulbs. Today, these kinds of light fixtures are sometimes referred to as “beauty dishes.”


They are large, very broad reflectors that are also fairly shallow. (The one pictured above is only 22” in diameter. But some were quite a bit larger.) They were of the theatrical variety in that they often took a fair amount of electricity to run and became very hot to handle. But, the science of these lights, in terms of the effect they had on the light they produced, made for nice, soft light that could be used to create great portraits. THE LARGER THE LIGHT SOURCE, THE SOFTER THE LIGHTING EFFECT.  This is one of the main ideas for portrait photographers. They need large light sources in order to provide the kind of light required for commercial portraits.  Photographers began to use these large lights in their studios to get that special, soft light they wanted. Because they were hard to handle, people began looking for ways to get the effects they wanted more easily.  As manufacturing practices improved, they found that this effect could be obtained with a large umbrella with a reflective material inside it. Light from a bulb had to travel to the umbrella, bounce off it and then travel the remaining distance to the subject. This served very nicely to soften the effect of the light. One of the problems with this application of light is that it tended to lessen the light’s brightness and therefore, called for longer exposures, something that often made portraiture difficult. As soon as electronic flash units began to be manufactured, photographers found that they did indeed, produce enough light for short exposure times as well as smaller f/stops.

7foot umbrella

This photographic umbrella has a diameter of roughly seven feet! It also has a black backing which prevents light from escaping through the material which would greatly lessen its effect.

The next article will deal with modern uses of light modifiers. Stay tuned!