How to Use Grids in Your Photography

Grids are a great tool for photographers who love light and control. You will fundamentally transform the way that you see and control light when you use grids in studio photography. When I began using photography grids, I noticed a remarkable improvement in my work’s quality and precision.

This article will explain the basics of grids, including how they work and what you can do with them. We will also use multiple grids together in one shot to create a three-dimensional fashion shoot.

What’s the purpose of grids in photography?

grids can be used to limit the spread of light within your scene. They can be attached to the light directly (as Profoto monolights), or added to modifiers. You can also add grids to soft boxes or silver dishes, beauty dishes and even scrims.

Grids can be very effective to create small pockets of light or block out the background from receiving it. The light is channeled to be more direct and has less spread/spill, which results in a smaller area of light.

Degrees Grids

There are many levels of concentration for grids. Remember this: The smaller the degree, the smaller the area light reflects. A smaller grid with fewer degrees will allow you to focus or restrict more.

Modifiers that allow for multiple degrees can be purchased to increase control variability. Other modifiers only offer one grid option. A silver reflector, also known as zoom reflector, usually has several degree grids (e.g., 10, 20, or 30-degree grid). However, most soft boxes only offer one grid option for the modifier.

This article explains more about soft boxes: SoftBoxes: Containing Light.

This is a grid that you can see attached to a Profoto D1. They are all at the same distance from the background, and only the grid has changed.

Grids give you control

Grids allow you to control how much light is spread in a scene. Grids are powerful tools, both creatively and practically. Let’s look at the main ways that grids provide control.

1. Grids Help Reduce Lens Flare

Grids can be used to reduce light spillage, as you know. This is especially important when grids are added to a rim lamp or small studio.

A rim light can create unwanted haze/flare in a small area. A grid, similar to one that is attached to a 1×4 ft. Soft box, can reduce or eliminate lens flare.

This is the exact same image with the 1x4f softbox as a rimlight, located on the back right-hand side of the frame. The first image shows a little bit of flare or haze. The haze was eliminated by adding a grid to the second image. This is because we reduced the light’s outward spillage.

Photos by Lindsay Adler

2. Grids Control the Light Spill

This topic has been discussed a few times, but let’s focus on it as an easily applicable and useful tool. How can grids reduce the light spillage? It can also prevent lens flare, as we already know. It could also prevent lens flare.

Let’s suppose that the light from your main source of illumination is too bright to reach the subject’s feet. The floor can become a distraction. Perhaps your main light is illuminating the background, creating shadows or highlights that are not desired. A grid can be added to your main light to limit light from the floor and background. Light restriction not only makes the light more concentrated, but also reduces the amount of light that hits the background.

The first image shows the subject lit up with a beauty plate. We have also added a grid to the second image. The background receives no light and her lower body is now darkened.

You may feel that the first shot has the better light — but that is not the point. It’s not about whether the light is better or worse. It’s all about control. You can now decide where you want to add light to your scene. You can decide if you want the lighting at the bottom to be less obvious. You can add a reflector to the frame or another light if you wish. You want to shine a light on the background? For this purpose, you can add a light. You can also add grids to control where the light hits.

In a small area, grids can be useful. Any surface can reflect light. It is almost like being surrounded with reflectors in a small studio. Grids prevent light from reaching as far by preventing it from spreading. You have greater control.

3. Grids create pockets of light

It can be extremely creative to use small pockets of light. For separation, you can use a glow to highlight the subject or just a little bit of light to give it some life. With a small area of light, you can create dramatic images.

Both images were created using grids directly on the subject as well as the background. These images are dramatic and sculpted. They also demonstrate control that is impossible without grids.

4. Grids create depth by layering light

Grids can be used to prevent your images looking flat. Instead of lighting all your images evenly, you can add layers of light to create depth.

It is perfectly acceptable to use one light to illuminate a scene. Sometimes people just throw light everywhere. One soft box is used to illuminate everything, from the subject to their dresses to the background. Although this can look great, it can make it difficult to create dimension or sculpt. Multiple grids can be used to control light spillage and layer light in a controlled manner.

Let’s combine all these ideas by looking at a fashion shoot that creates dimension. Grids allow for control over light and can be used to create depth, separation and definition. The scene featured four lights, each with its own grid.

The entire scene in this first image is lit using a single beauty dish. There is no grid to illuminate the scene. This is fine but not necessarily elegant. Let’s remove and then add light selectively to the scene.

Here’s how it happened:

To prevent light from reaching the floor or the background, a grid was placed on the main light (beauty dishes + grid). We can improve the background and dress by adding additional lights.

Photo by Lindsay Adler

To control the light, a grid was placed on a floor stand and beauty dish. It would be used to add more shimmer to the dress. This is how we can make sure that the model’s face shines brighter than the dress, and direct the eyes to the scene.

Photo by Lindsay Adler

To create separation, a grid was placed on the background light. The grid allowed the background light to shine through while ensuring that the subject did not blend in. This creates a controlled separation compared to the original shot.

Photo by Lindsay Adler

This low-key shot was created using a grid on a softbox 1×4 feet in size.

Photo by Lindsay Adler

Bringing It All Together With Grids

Lighting is only one aspect of the equation. To capture the perfect shot, we need to think about pose, expression, composition and many other factors. Here are two images I took from the sample shoot. These images are carefully sculpted using controlled light areas created with grids. This is the only way to get light. No! Notice how I was able make decisions about the scene’s shape, dimension, exposure, and lighting instead of letting them fall where they may.