A garbage can full of modifiers, that’s perfectly normal right?

Let’s pretend for a moment I am sitting inside a reality show confession booth. Instead of disparaging the other characters on the show, I’m going to disparage myself (not really, actually. In my garage I have a garbage can full of modifiers. It looks like an episode of Hoarders in miniature, only instead of holding on to teddy bears and half-full beer cans, I collect things that make hard light look soft and in turn, make me look good.

I can’t really remember where this obsession began, but I think the oldest modifier I own may be an Elinchrom umbrella, which I need to give away. The next oldest is a Plume Wafer 75 Softbox, which I acquired when my first boxes were stolen in a car break-in around 2003. Ironically, the responding officer was someone I had seen previously on Cops.

Like many photographers, my career has been a journey of trying new things, acquiring other people’s old things and upgrading to what I thought at the time were better things. So, here’s an inventory of what’s in my trash can (from time to time, everything won’t fit at once), approximately when I bought it, why I bought it, whether or not I should own it, and perhaps a declaration from a psychiatrist who specializes in compulsive hoarding (don’t hold your breath on that last part).


1. Plume Wafer 75cm Softbox

Purchased 2003

I bought this with a 100cm version I late sold to finance the purchase of something else. I have a grid for it too so its kind of my go to when I need to evenly light a background from the side or case soft directional light in a small space.

#TBT to this #portrait of @DuPontPioneer President #PaulSchickler taken by me in Chicago, February 22, 2013. I lit this image with a #ProfotoD1 and a single 50x75cm Plume Wafer #Softbox with a grid, which was place just out of the frame on the right, creating the dark gradient on that side. The dark gradient on the left side was caused by the fact that I placed the chair on a wall that was curving away from the camera. Im sure the photo was also filled by the white floor and ceiling. #DuPontPioneer #executiveportrait #environmentalportrait #onelight #canon1dsmarkiii #portraitmood #portraitphotography #portraits_ig #canonusa #pursuitofportraits #photostudio #profoto #studiophotography #strobist #igportrait #ig_portrait #chicagophotographer #portrait_ig #ig_portraits #igportraits #flashphotography #profotoglobal #studioportrait #profotousa #johngressmedia

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2. Chimera Strip Lightbank Medium Purchased 2008 I decided to buy this modifier after talking with a photographer who worked for Playboy after he told me they used strip boxes to create edge lights for full length portraits. I also have a grid for it so depending on what I am doing I will use it as a hair light, an edge light or a main light.

1/2 #behindthescenes and final image with @daish_dope! ?by @nicolerogersbeauty. ? by @sastylestudio @stefuknee_. ⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️ to see a lighting diagram. Lit with #Profoto lights, a @mola_softlights Setti a @chimeralighting striplight over one shoulder, filled with an #Elinchrom octa and edged with some @molerichardson hot lights from behind. #portraitmood #portraitphotography #softbox #iso1200 #pursuitofportraits #photostudio #studiophotography #johngressmedia #strobist #kdpeoplegallery #portraitfestival #portraits_vision #chicagophotographer #portraitfeed #endlessfaces #chicagomodel #flashphotography #chicagomodels #johngressmedia #profotoglobal #portraitsvision #portraitspage #beautydish #profotousa #portrait_mf #blackmodel #studioportrait #blackmodels   A post shared by John Gress (@johngressmedia) on


3-4. Chimera Softbox, Large – 54x72in.

Purchased in 2009

I moved in next door to a photostudio and learned that that were moving and having  rummage sale. I walked on over and picked up these two beauties, some plexy glass and foam core for $100. Ive used them for backgrounds and I have used them in tandom to create a 6×9′ main light. I will also use one of them as a fill. My next largest modifier has 38 square feet of surface area…. which is 70% the side of this combo, so maybe I should sell them…. i don’t know what do you think. Profoto RFi 36-Inch Octabox

  5. Profoto RFi 5′ Octabox Purchased 2010 When I switched from Alien Bees to Profoto I bought this as my flag ship modifier and it was for around four years…. I still use it just less often. I have a grid for it so I will use it when I need to illuminate a group portrait with only one light but I want to keep the exposure even. I also have used it as my main light while shooting athletes but that may change as I purchased an upgraded version in 2017, but it doesn’t have a grid.

6-7. Chimera Strip Lightbank Small 9×36″

Purchased in 2013

When a local retailer and rental house bit the dust I snatched up a bunch of stuff including these modifiers which are perfect for adding accent lights to headshots and I have also used them for under the camera fill, fill and even as a fill once when I was out of town and didn’t like my other options.

  8. Profoto RFi 36-Inch Octabox Purchased in 2015 I heard this was a great Octa and having realized that 1200WS in the 5′ outdoors isn’t enough power to light a group, I decided to give this one a try. Today I mostly use it to as a hair light, but if I am running multiple sets I might use it as a key. However, when I went to instagram to find a behind the scenes photo with this light as my key…. I couldn’t find one because I am always using my Elinchrom 39″ Deepocta. See #13. Gievn that I could probably sell this one and use one of the Photek. See #9-11.

9. Photek Softlighter II 46-Inch Umbrella

Purchased in 2015

One day on Instagram I came across a behind the scenes photo by one of my favorite photographers Art Streiber. He was using a small 10 sided umbrella to shoot Placado Domingo. Convinced that because everything else in is arsenal was top notch, I started scouring the websites of every high-end manufacturer I could think of, until I gave up and googled ten sided umbrella or something and then I discovered the Photek. I think asked for one for Christmas and dipped my toe in the water.

  10-11. Photek Softlighter II 60-Inch Umbrella Purchased in 2016 Once I got my first taste, I jumped in with both feet and bought two more of these miracle umbrellas for $115 each. I use the smaller one for a hair light or as a key when I have limited space. Otherwise I use the larger ones as my key.

12. Westcott 7-Feet White with Black Cover Parabolic Umbrella

Purchased in 2016

After the success of the Photek I bought this one and a matching diffusion to act as sort of their big brother. It is in fact my largest modifer but I rarely use it. I’ve deployed it for a few group shots, but thats about it and I can’t even fid a behind the scenes photo to share, so maybe it should go..


13. Elinchrom 39″ Rotalux Deep OctaBox

Purchased in 2015

I really wanted something that would function like a portable beauty dish, while this didn’t exactly fit the bill it did turn out to be a damn good octabox. To this day its still one of my go to mods.

14. CheetahStand 48″ RiceBowl RB-120 Deep Para with a CheetahStand Chopstick Purchased in 2015 I thought I was going to be slick and buy a Para 133 knock off, I can’t say that I have ever used a Para 133, but I do like this modifiers indirect feature, however I hate that when you don’t use any of the baffles it casts multiple shadows on the background, which I don’t remember happening with the Para 88 I had on loan for a while. However I like the deep shadows, flexibility and almost free nature of this $400 combo which comes with a grid. For all I know this is better than an Elinchrom Litemotive 120cm. or it may be a hot mess in comparison. However, what I do know is that I did some business headshots for a firm with it twice and now I have to keep it to delve the same look next time. I also probably need to use it more anyway….

15-16. Profoto RFi 1 x 6′ Strip Softbox

Purchased 2016

When ever I needed two full body edge lights I would rent large Chimera strips, but I wanted to have the same capability all of the time. So partly inspired by UK photographer Paul Cooper, I took two ebay and found two of these behemoths. I also found that they make a great over the backdrop hair light when I am shooting large groups. I would like it to be crisper so I am on the lookout for a similar sized Elinchrom indirect… maybe they’ll sponsor me! HINT HINT!

  17. Elinchrom Rotalux 74-Inch Octabox Purchased 2017 Once I started shooting athletes in motion I felt like I needed an bigger octa so I kept my eyes peeled and after 6 months I spotted this beauty on craigslist for only $450. Its perfect as a super soft octa key or fill and because its indirect you can use it without a baffle for a large crisp light.


18. Westcott 6′ x 6′ Scrim Jim Cine Kit (1895-N)

Purchased 2017

Is this a modifier? I guess so! I  bought it from the 74″ octa guy for whatever I had in my wallet, maybe $30.. .who knows some day I might use it.


19. Aputure Light Dome

Purchased 2018

When I decided to try out one of their LED lights for video, I found a used one that came with this gem, I only used it twice and liked it and I think it came off the same assembly line as the Cheeta Stands Ricebowl. Maybe Ill put it on the indirect ring and give it a go and turn it into a knockoff Para 88…. or maybe I will just let it sit in the can.

  20 . Plume Wafer 75cm Softbox Purchased 2018 I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself! I searched Craigslist for “Elinchrom,” looking for those strips, and found this little guy, in like new condition, for $70. My old one was starting to fall apart so maybe this will be a replacement or maybe it will team up with its brother to be my new video lighting keys when doing a two person interview…..

1/2 #Behindthescenes and final image from my photoshoot with @raejohnson__ ! ⬅️⬅️⬅️⬅️ swipe to see a lighting diagram. Lit with #Profoto lights a @mola_softlights Setti, there is an #Elinchrom Octa overhead providing fill, a gold reflector for more fill a Profoto strip light over the backdrop and #molerichardson 2K over one shoulder ….. phew. More importantly, ?? and?by the irreplaceable @nicolerogersbeauty and ? by the sensational @sastylestudio. #iso1200 #makeportraits #portraitmood #portraitphotography #setlife #portrait_vision #johngressmedia #portraitvision #profotoglobal #blackmodels #pursuitofportraits #photostudio #beautydish #studiophotography #strobist #portrait_mf #kdpeoplegallery #johngressmedia #portraitfestival #portraits_vision #chicagophotographer #portraitfeed #chicagomodels #endlessfaces #chicagomodel #blackmodel #profotousa A post shared by John Gress (@johngressmedia) on


21. Elinchrom Indirect Litemotiv Strip Softbox 33x175cm (EL28003)

Purchased 2018

Sigh…. Oops I did it again… I wanted to create harder edge lighting so I bought one of these used on ebay for $350…. initial tests showed it was harder than my Profoto strips…. so maybe I will buy another one… and sell the Profoto ones…. #sad 😉

Ok I have a problem…. So what is not in the can? My new reflectors! The Mola Setti 28″ Softlight and the Mola Rayo. The second harder than the first, but both are big upgrades over the Profoto softlight I used to own.

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