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Light Modifiers

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 11/9/2009

Different types of light modifiers are used to produce various lighting effects. Learn what each one is used for.

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    Light Modifiers

    When working with lights there are various ways to create the desired light(s) on your subject(s). Whether you’re wanting to achieve hard lighting or soft lighting, manipulate color temperatures or simply block light, light modifiers are used to modify lights accordingly.

    Modifiers are most commonly attached to a C-stand (century stand). A C-stand (registered trademark of Mathews Studio Equipment) is a rigging device used to hold the modifiers in place with the use of a gobo arm(s) and a gobo head(s). (Gobo is short for ‘go between’.) C-Stands are constructed with steel rods, with tripod like legs that fold out so that they can stand upright. Some C-stands are constructed with various holes in the main extensible rod act as grooves or slots for the use of interchanging the arms. This is very useful when considering the height and angle placements for the modifiers. Because C-stands are known to get knocked into and knocked over, sand bags or shotbags are used to add additional weight to the legs for support (For the best support, wrap or place the sandbag on the tallest leg).


    Flags are most often square or rectangular-shaped frames that hold thick material (steel wire netting), specifically used to block or ‘flag’ out unwanted light on the subject(s). They may also be used to block out lens flares on the camera lens or excessive light that ‘spills’ off distracting light in unwanted areas, such as in a background. Flags may also be used to create a fast fall-off line on a subject(s). There are other types of flags that may have cutouts or custom-constructed for a specific lighting effect. There are a variation of names, such as cutters and floppies. The possibilities with controlling light with flags are endless!

    Diffusions -Scrims, Nets and Silks

    Scrims are rectangular-shaped material with a diffusive material used to soften or reduce the amount of light on a subject(s) or background. Scrims may be constructed of different types, sizes, thickness, and colors of material, usually made of grid cloth material. Open-faced scrims have 3 frames, with the open side just the material. Using this opened side will give an even softer or unnoticeable fall-off line.

    Nets such as Bobinettes (aka Cinenet), single nets, and double nets are constructed from a variety of materials and are all used to diffuse light. Double Nets are similar to scrims except they’re constructed of double the amount of material. Some may even be made from a combination of materials, and depending on the amount of light you’re wanting to diffuse this will depend on which type to choose. When doubling or tripling nets that have the same or similar pattern, a wise decision is to rotate the second and/ or next layer by at least 90 degree; otherwise the pattern will be distinguishable on your subject (unless this is the look you want). There are now a variety of different types of nets available: sharkstooth nets and even camonets (military camouflage design).

    Silks are made of a heavy piece of fabric that is tightly interwoven and because of this, they need additional light to shoot through. The result is a pleasing softening glow on its subject(s). There are a variety of types and thickness to choose from: half silks, polysilk and quarter silks.


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    Bounces and Reflectors

    Bounces and reflectors are also known as light modifiers. Bounces (or bounce cards) may be made from different types of materials and colors and are used to bounce light wherever needed. Some may insinuate light; and others may soften the light, creating a soft, even glow. Bright painted walls or curtains, when lit appropriately, may also be used for bouncing light, much like muslins, which is a large piece of fabric used to bounce light onto a large subject or area.

    Grifflons act as bounce cards, much like a reflector, but with different types of material on either side. One side is able to bounce light with a solid type of fabric, and the other side, made from a reflective type of material, reflects light where needed. Gold and silver are the most commonly reflective colors used. Mirrors may also be used as a reflector; however the bounced light will be intense and therefore you may need to use a diffusive material, either on the light source itself or on the mirror.


    Gels are considered a type of light modifier because they can modify the color temperature, light intensity, and the quality of the light source. Made of thin, transparent, heat-resistant polyester film, gels are usually clipped directly over the light source. The many different types of colors to choose from are endless; however, the most commonly used gels are tungsten 3200K and daylight 5600K. Read more about color temperatures here.

    Gels offer a variety of effects, and not only are they used for altering color temperature but also decreasing light intensity and softening light and shadows. If the light is too harsh on the subject(s), using a neutral density gel will cut the light levels accordingly (there are a variety of thickness to choose from). Diffusion gels (aka Frost) are made of thicker material and when placed over light source, the light automatically softens the light and shadows. For more information about gels, Rosco offers a great selection!