When it comes to Leica cameras, the first thing that pops into everyone’ mind is the Leica M camera. While this rangefinder camera has been a much-loved way of capturing images there are a few more cameras in Leica Camera’s line-up that serve as the go-to cameras for professionals.
For professional work, I go between my Leica SL and Leica S cameras for different types of photography projects. In just about all my professional work I need to use lights, meaning strobes or continuous lights to shape the light in the way that is suitable for the project.
It is a natural progression to go from photographing with available light to shaping the light to create the images we are after and for that it is absolutely essential to use light-shaping tools or accessories as they are often called as these are the instruments of the craft of photography.
Here I like to share some of my favorite light-shaping tools.
1. Strip Softboxes
A strip softbox is a long and thin softbox that provides unique control over the lighting of the subject. My favorite is the Broncolor softbox which comes in two versions, 30cm by 120cm or 30cm by 180cm or 11.8 x 70.9″, the latter being my first pick. What is nice about the Broncolor strip softbox is that it has two diffusions that can be used to soften the light to a great degree and if additional control is required there are two other accessories, one being the grid or eggshell crate and a strip mask that provides sharply defined control over the light spill.
This Broncolor softbox can be used as a hair light, background light, overhead light, side light, the applications are ubiquitous to provide a versatile tool for photographers from any style or specialty. It is great to know that the interior baffle along with the front diffuser panel softens the light to provide a beautiful soft light for product, food or beauty photography.
The best part of this Broncolor strip softbox is that it can be put up in a minute or two by simply attaching the four rods and it can be adapted to a variety of strobes from numerous manufacturers including Profoto via optional
2. Beauty Dish Reflectors
Most portrait, fashion and portrait photographers swear by beauty dishes because they provide perhaps the most versatile tool for photographing human face. But not all beauty dishes are created equal, for one the coating used on the interior surface of the reflector is the key where cheap knockoffs tend to just coat paint it with car paint.
I really love Broncolor and Profoto beauty dishes. Broncolor Beauty Dish is again the one I choose because I like working with Broncolor strobes. The difference between the Profoto and Broncolor flash heads is that Broncolor ones have exposed lamps allowing the light to be spread more evenly without hotspots.
There are plenty of videos that show what happens when the lightbulbs are recessed much like the on-camera flashes resulting in less than an ideal spread of even light. Besides this basic difference, the build quality on both beauty dishes is superb.
Another important consideration when purchasing a beauty dish is the inner coatings of the light modifier. To achieve a truly unique look of a beauty dish the interior surface needs to treated with the matt paint that diffuses the light to bring out the softness in the highlight to shadow transitions. Unfortunately, beginners in photography think that any beauty dish can do that, no, great many beauty dishes in the market are no better than pots and pans painted with spray paint. This is why beginners never attain the beautiful character that comes from the use of high-quality beauty dish. Invest in a high-quality beauty dish and you will have a great light shaping tool that will last you decades.
My recommendation is Broncolor beauty dish for decades of use with absolutely stellar performance.
There are a few reputable companies like Elinchrom and Profoto that produce ring flashes for professional use but again the one that has the best modifiers for ring flash is Broncolor hence my first choice.
Broncolor Ringflash C is a very specialized accessory that goes on the camera hence the name ring flash due to its circular design. At first glance, novice photographers will discount this type of flash as a one-trick pony but its magic is its special light characteristic that can’t be duplicated with other lighting accessories. This versatile flash provides half-shadow contours depending on the illumination distance these contours can be dark and broad from a shorter distance or have a bright and narrow quality at a longer distance.
This Broncolor Ringflash C can be used to create unique fashion or editorial work or be used to do food or macro photography making it one of the most useful instruments for photography. Again, what will stir the novice away is the lack of understanding of how this flash can be used for a variety of applications.
Understanding of the many accessories that can be used with Broncolor Ringflash C makes using this versatile flash a pleasure. It is an investment that returns in its initial cost many times over while setting the photographs captured with it apart from others by its unique light shaping character.
4. Parabolic Reflectors
Parabolic reflectors are different from parabolic softboxes in that one is indirect other being direct which means the flash head faces towards the interior or the exterior of the reflector or softbox. For obvious reasons, parabolic reflectors are more expensive because they come with adjustment rods that can be used to adjust the distance of the flash head from the reflector.
This adjustment of the flash head allows the light spread to narrow or expand allowing a variety of looks to be created by a simple pull-push adjustment. If you are serious about getting something that makes a big impact in the quality of images then parabolic reflectors are the answer.
Both Profoto and Broncolor make incredible high-quality parabolic reflectors. Broncolor Para reflectors are better known in the industry as they are the first choice of most of the best photographers in the world. In other words, Broncolor makes the best parabolic reflectors in the photography equipment business.
Broncolor Para reflector line ranges from 88cm up to 330 cm which allows photographers to pick and choose their ideal size for different photography applications. Personally, I like the Broncolor Para 177 because it is an ideal size for transport to locations and in-studio use for almost all photography projects that I accept.
When open the Broncolor Para 177 opens to 177 cm or 67 inches with a depth of 37 inches that means it can be used for full body shots as well as be used to light larger subjects like cars.
For obvious reasons this hand-built Parabolic reflector carries a high price tag but not as high as the less popular Profoto versions. The result is a look and character that wraps the light around the subject which makes this parabolic reflector the ideal choice for fashion photography because of the specular highlight that brings out details like no other light shaper.
A word of caution, there are cheap knockoffs of these type parabolic reflectors that sell at a fraction of the price of what Broncolor or Profoto sells it for. Is there a difference you might ask, yes, would you buy a knockoff Mercedes or Rolls Royce?
Whenever I am deciding on a purchase of a softbox or a reflector the first thing I look at is the accessories, namely grids that come with that light modifier. They often cost as much as the softbox or the reflector but they are the nuts and bolts of the machinery that shapes the light. In other words, the grids are the required tools in any serious photographers instruments.
Why are they so important is one of the questions I get asked a lot in many of my photography workshops around the world. The reason is very simple the grids often have a degree which if smaller the light is more directional. If you want to create contrast or bring out details one of the best ways to achieve it is through the use of grids because they give direction to the light that is coming from the light source.
If you look up the meaning of the word photography you will see that the meaning is painting with light, that means controlling the way the light is shaped and what better way can the light be shaped if not through grids. They are an absolutely essential tool, invest in them.
A good choice of grids is Broncolor P70 reflector grids. For this Broncolor P70 reflector must be purchased with the right grid combination which thanks to engineers at Broncolor they have placed three different grids in one kit making it easy to choose the right one for the photography application.
6. Travel Size Reflectors
When it comes to traveling to locations for photoshoots there is one reflector that always comes with me, Broncolor P-Travel Reflector. It is a very compact reflector that provides a 55 degree of light spread which can be used in a multitude of ways.
When time is of the essence Broncolor P-Travel is wonderful to use in combination with an umbrella to control the spread of light and focus the direction of light. It can also be used with HMI lamps for continuous light applications.
7. Beauty Softboxes
This is perhaps the most important tool in my arsenal when I am traveling or on the move from location to location. Broncolor’s Beautybox 65 is a beauty dish in a softbox format delivering a soft even light thanks to its white interior which eliminates double shadows. Those who are not familiar with double shadows that is what you get when your beauty dish or softbox is of inferior quality.
8. Satellite Reflectors
Broncolor Mini Satellite is the smaller brother of Satellite Staro which I have used on occasion but when it comes to mimicking the sun there is nothing that comes close to using a Broncolor Satellite. For the convenience of transportation and set up as an outdoor set, I relay on Broncolor Mini Satellite. This is the light that will give you incredible highlight especially if you are doing a fashion or editorial type work.
Some photographers will say that Broncolor Mini Satellite is expensive and it is a considerable investment but from a build quality and rate of return on investment is concerned I call it a bargain. My Broncolor Mini Satellite has paid itself off within three photo shoots. More importantly, the quality of light is so unique that the images that I am able to create with it set my work apart from the competition.
9. Large Reflectors
Profoto is the other name brand that professionals choose for the high quality of light that is achieved from their light shapers. Their Profoto Magnum reflector is one of the most popular accessories for professionals who work in fashion or action photography. Personally, this is one item I have used extensively over the year before switching to more expensive Broncolor P50 reflector.
There are two important distinctions that need to be taken into consideration. One is Profoto makes two types of Magnum reflectors, one is the Profoto OCF, the other is the Profoto 50 degree one. The latter cost more but still half the price of Broncolor’s superb P50. If you are going to choose one I would go with the 50 degree one although the more popular version is the Profoto OCF due to its lower price tag.
The second important reason why Profoto Magnum reflectors are the choice for anyone working with Profoto gear is the fact that the beam can be adjusted by moving the locking Profoto mount back and forth on the lamp head. This is particularly useful for those applications where the light needs to have a very smooth transition from highlights to shadows.
I like to manipulate the light through many grids and accessories besides the reflector which Broncolor P50 have many of; the result is a look that is distinct like a signature that comes with the use of this very specific reflector.
10. Softlight Reflectors
Both Profoto and Broncolor make silver interior beauty dishes referred to as softlight reflectors by the company. Broncolor P-Soft or Broncolor Softlight Reflector as it is listed is a unique beauty dish that delivers an incredible look that surpasses the standard look attained with white interior beauty dishes. While the fashion industry is obsessed with the look that often comes with standard beauty dishes, there is an element of highlights that can only be attained with silver interior beauty dishes.
In this respect, Broncolor delivers on a level that is unsurpassed by any other light shaper in the industry. For me, the light that comes out of the Broncolor Softlight Reflector is one that is softer than normal smaller reflectors with silver interiors but have the beautiful highlight to shadow transition with the larger size.
Obviously, the light output with the Broncolor Softlight Reflector is higher than the normal beauty dish output. The best way to shape this is to use a grid for controlling the beam of light that comes out of it. Broncolor offers three different types as a kit but I love the extremely narrow one that is sold separately to create a look that stands out from all other photos.
What you will begin to appreciate the most about Broncolor Softlight Reflector is the fact that it can be easily controlled by adding a diffuser to create a look that resembles the look of a softbox but with a much better-defined character that lends to a beauty look. Ideal for portraits or beauty or fashion style of photography.
Where to Buy Them?
I hope you have found these tips to be useful in your next purchase. Here are some of the links for the best prices for these light modifiers.