When I’m considering investing in a new piece of lighting equipment I have two requirements, it to be able to do one of two things really well. It either has to do something none of the other tools in my studio can do on their own, or to be able to do the job of several tools at once. Essentially replacing the need for multiple tools with one tool that can do it all.

I recently decided to take the plunge and invest in the Broncolor Para 133, a tool that actually manages to meet both these requirements and then some. No easy task! This is a really exciting light modifier and I wanted to share the results of my first shoot using it. Along the way I’ll explain what it allows me to do, how I used it, and I’ll take you behind the scenes with lighting diagrams and a BTS image. Consider it a field report of sorts.

First, let’s get this out of the way, this is a costly tool, on a par with what you’d likely pay for a professional quality DSLR. However if beautiful lighting is as important to you as it is to me, the expense may be justified depending on your circumstances and needs. It also needs to be said that any studio/rental house worth their salt is likely to have one or more Para sizes that you can rent relatively inexpensively to try out and create with. So if you love the quality of light you see here don’t let the price tag stop you from seeking one out to work with. Where there’s a will theres a way.

If you’re like me you’re probably a skeptic and that’s good! I’m sure the first question you’re asking is whats the difference? It’s an umbrella right, whats all the fuss? Do these droll worthy modifiers really live up to all the hype, are they really worth the added expense? Well in my experience the difference is similar to driving a Kia vs a Porsche, or drinking a $10 bottle of wine vs those costing over $100. With both you need to try them before you truly appreciate the differences and understand that yes there is absolutely a difference and in its a big difference. The same is true with specialty lighting gear. In the case of the Para its becomes immediately evident when using it that its a very different animal.

Legion of fashion, portrait, commercial photographers and the rental studios who invest in Para’s of every size must be onto something. So what is it exactly that makes the Broncolor Para’s so desirable for so many? Simply stated it’s the variety and quality of light they allow you to create with just one tool. From super soft to specular and everything in-between this one tool has all the bases covered, which is why I found them so compelling. The upshot is you need less tools to get the job done. So how does the Para achieve these lighting gymnastics? The magic happens via its sliding “focusing tube” in the center. This allows the strobe to be positioned anywhere from the widest to narrowest part of the Para’s parabola shape, taking the light from gorgeous and soft at the front all the way to hard and specular light at the back.

Along with build quality you’d expect from a tool in this class the Para also has another unique attribute, its signature catchlight. You’ve probably seen this catchlight in countless fashion and commercial images and wondered what it was. Now you know! This is the result of its one of a kind 24 facet silver interior. I’ve included a detail image of this catchlight as well. This particular catchlight is another element I can only get using this tool. Lets dig in and look at each of the finals and how I created them.

For the first image I decided to start with a beauty set up using over and under clamshell style lighting. I placed the Para above my model and positioned the strobe as far back as I could, at the narrowest part of its opening. This guaranteed me the hardest light possible. I placed a silvered faced reflector by my models waist to fill in the shadows cast from above and match the contrast created by the key light. As you can see the effect created is very dramatic, it captures the Para’s signature catchlight and screams fashion! Now that my hard light look was nailed  down it was time to move on to a softer fashion/beauty look.

For the second softer look maintained the over and under Para and fill reflector arrangement but this time moved the both camera right, giving the light direction and introducing shadow, and I positioned the strobe at the widest part of the Para’s opening. This guaranteed me the softest un-diffused light possible. It amazes me that I’m able to create both the first and second lighting effects with the same modifier! And I’m not even finished. Positioning the strobe at the widest part of the Para created a soft, silky, luxurious quality of light.

Last but not least for the third look I want to see how soft I could take things with an editorial portrait. This modifier has a silver interior so I was curious how it would behave with a diffusion panel in place. There are three diffusion panels available, each more opaque than the other. I wanted softer light but I also didn’t want to undermine the Para’s unique characteristics and turn it into an everyday Octabank. Baring this in the mind I struck a middle ground and choose the number 2 diffusion fabric. This softened the light, cutting its output by about half a stop while still maintaining some of the crispness and the catchlight. To give the image a more polished effect and add more dimension to the model I first added a reflector camera left to act as a kicker. Later  for the final image I replaced this with a large strip box.

This post was adapted from my original “Working with Specialty Lights and Modifiers: Is There a Difference?” column in the June edition of Shutter Magazine. Please visit the Behind The Shutter Youtube channel to watch the companion video: https://youtu.be/wWK2X7B08fo

Look 1 Lighting Diagram: Suing a classic over and under clamshell lighting arrangement provides a clean fashion/beauty look with no side-to-side directional shadows. Below the key light, at approximately chest height a silver faced Tri-Flector is providing fill light to open up downward shadows cast form the key light. For this first fashion look, I’ve opted for hard light. I achieved this by sliding the Para’s focusing tube and strobe to the rear of the parabola creating a very focused crisp, hard light.

Look 1 Lighting Diagram

Look 2 Lighting Diagram: To create this soft editorial fashion portrait I first moved the Para and fill reflector to the camera right side of my model. This immediately changed the quality of light by introducing shadows. This is because the key light was now directional vs the flat light effect used for the first look. I further changed the quality of light from hard to very soft by extending the Para’s focusing tube so that the strobe was postponed at widest part of the parabola. So you can can see this resulted in a soft “defocused” light.

Look 2 Lighting Diagram

Look 2 catch light detail. The shape of a modifier, its interior finish and where the light is positioned inside it all play a key role in the characteristics of the light created. Here can you see the signature catch light created from the Para’s 24 facet silver interior.

Look 3 Lighting Diagram: Here I’ve maintained the light position and direction used for used for Look 2. I’ve also kept the strobe at the widest part of the Para to assure the softest light possible, except here I’ve added number 2 diffusion fabric to further accentuate this effect. Additionally I’m using a Sunbounce Micro Mini reflector with white fabric to fill in the shadows on the left side of the models face. A large strip box with a 30º degree soft egg crate grid is being used camera left behind the model as a kicker light to add dimension.

Look 3 Lighting Diagram

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Behind The Scenes! Here you can see the beginnings of what became the final setup for look 3. I ended up replacing the Sunbounce reflector camera left behind the model with a large strip box and 30º degree soft egg crate grid.