3 Lighting Modifiers Portrait Photographers Can’t Live Without

Natural light portraiture seems to be all the rage right now. I get it–natural light does look incredible! But sometimes it just isn’t quite enough to make a photo as awesome as it could be. You gotta help it out a little, work the natural light by using modifiers. By using a light modifier (rather than bringing in flashes and strobes) you can still capture your images using only natural light, but have a higher degree of control over what that natural light is doing.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite lighting modifiers.

5-in-1 Reflector

Owning a reflector should seem pretty much like a given if you’re interested in portrait photography. If you don’t already own one, I strongly suggest you add one of these to your shopping list. There are plenty of DIY alternatives you can use in a pinch (or on a strict budget), but you can get a 5-in-1 reflector at a very affordable price if you shop around online. For example, the one in the photo below is under $20 on Amazon.


The 5-in-1 style reflector is a personal favorite, simply because it packs in 5 different features into a lightweight, ultra compact form. That makes carrying the reflectors around from location to location simple while minimizing how much gear you have to lug around with you.

Simply swap the color–they usually come with gold, silver, white, black, and translucent–to fit the look (and color temperatures) you are going for and use the reflector to bounce light back onto your subject. It’s perfect for subtly filling in shadows on the face.

Large Scrim

If you’re not already familiar, a scrim is a large piece of fabric designed to diffuse light that passes through it. As you can imagine, the fabric is lightweight–typically mesh-like, but not always. The transparent cover that came with your 5-in-1 reflector could also be used as a scrim. The idea behind a scrim is to hold or hang it between your subject and the light source, most typically the sun when shooting with natural light. The scrim will diffuse the light and soften is, creating even lighting.

For example, many portrait photographers will place a large scrim (4-foot by 6-foot) directly above the subject they are shooting, when shooting outdoors in bright, even overhead sunlight. This creates an area of diffused light which is large enough to blanket the subject with high-quality light. When purchasing your scrim, make sure you are getting the right size and density to fit your needs. They are typically labeled with how many stops of light they will block.

Neutral Density Filter

You may not have really expected to see a filter pop up on a portrait lighting modifier list, but the truth is a well made ND filter can be the natural light photographer’s best friend.

There will always be times when you’re shooting outdoors in harsh lighting conditions. For example, you’re shooting portraits and want to keep your aperture as wide as possible to get that gorgeous bokeh. But even at ISO 100 and a maxed out shutter speed of 1/4000 sec is still resulting in overexposed images. Not cool. Unless you have a ND filter in your bag. In that case, attach it to your lens and get shooting again.

What’s In Your Bag?

Did I leave out your favorite natural light modifier or lighting accessory? What modifier do you never leave home with out? Let us know in the comments below!



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