Greensboro Newborn Photographer – Studio Lighting: Which PLM system is right for me?

Last February I made the big switch over from natural light to studio lighting. It was a tough choice for me because I was so in love with natural light. It was easy (and free), and I didn’t have to try and figure out all that complicated studio lighting equipment.

I eventually started to feel frustrated with my work and really wanted more consistency in regards to my lighting. With natural light, it’s up to the day. Sure, I can set up in the same spot, but if its cloudy, sunny, time of day, time of year, the light will always look a little bit different. I just knew that for me, personally, this move would help me move to the next level.

I took to the great and mighty google (ok, and  Facebook Photography Groups) to figure out what I would need to move over to studio light and what would give me the lighting “look” I thought I was going for. After months of research (about 6 months worth) and going back and forth, I decided on a Paul C Buff Alien Bee 400 and a 64″ soft silver PLM umbrella with a white diffuser.

Here is an example one of my last newborn sessions with natural light (left), and one of my first with studio (right) using a 64″ Soft Silver PLM bounced with white diffuser cover:

Another Example of a natural light session (left) and a recent studio session using my 86″ white PLM bounced.

Moving to Studio Light was also a movement of figuring out my “style”. I would play with my light, angle it different ways, turn it up and down, etc. I figured out that I wasnt going to get the look I wanted with the modifier I had (64″ soft silver).  The shadows were too strong for my liking and the light was very directed. So, after more research, I chose to go with the 64″ white PLM with the white diffuser.
At this time, I had a smaller shooting area that had to be set up and taken down at the time of my shoots. I had considered getting the BIG ONE (86″ white) but went with the 64″ for the quick take down and convenient size.

It was ALMOST perfect. Since I really loved the look of soft natural light, I was really trying to re-create that with my studio light, and the 64″ PLM shadows were just a little too strong for the Look I wanted, although not as strong as the Soft Silver. So I went back online and ordered the 86″ white PLM with the white diffuser cover.

Here is an example from using a 64″ soft silver for a family shot (left) and using my 86″ white bounced with a white cover (right).

When I pulled it out of the box and opened it up, it was HUGE!  It took a few uses to get used to the size of it and to decide if I wanted to shoot through or bounce, but I eventually got the hang of it! 🙂

Now it’s all I use and I swear by it! I cant imagine moving back to natural light now after the amazing consistency and convenience of studio lights.

So, what exactly is the point of this post? Well, when I was researching and trying to decide what kind of modifier I wanted to use, I could not find any comparisons with examples. So now one exists!

My husband was kind enough to play along with me today and took some of photos of me with the different modifiers and a pullback shot so you can SEE the difference for yourselves!

GEAR: Nikon D610 with Sigma 50 1.4 Art Lens


Impact Light Stand

Neewer Transmitter & Receiver

PLM umbrellas

A quick side by side comparison first:

All of these images are straight out of Raw, with only the clarity slider adjusted to 18.


50MM (sigma 50 1.4 art lens)
f stop 3.2
ISO 160
SS 1/160
AB 1/8th power

I stood on the piece of tape for each shot and the light did not move.





  • Unknown - Thank you so much for doing this comparison!! its just what i needed!!ReplyCancel

  • Triad Baby Photographer - Jenifer Howard Studios - […] love having a large enough studio space to accommodate families of 5 with ease and with the move to studio light last year, I can now offer studio sessions in the evening when natural light is not […]ReplyCancel

  • Allie Geiger - I really appreciate this comparison!! I just ordered my first alienbees b400. Paul C buff was out of the 86″ PLM’s so I ordered a 72″ white with white cover from another site. I have been looking everywhere online for comparison shots and was shocked that there wasnt really anything online to visually compare! This is exactly what I needed!ReplyCancel

    • jeniferhowardphotography - I’m so glad it was helpful! Good luck with your new lighting set up! YOu are going to love it!ReplyCancel

  • Enas - This is the best article ever. So helpful! Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • jeniferhowardphotography - You’re welcome! <3ReplyCancel

  • Lina - Thank you so much for your blog!!!! It has been so helpful.
    I just bought my Alien Bee B400 and I previewsly had the neewer transmiter and receivers but I need help!!!! when I take the picture, the Alien Bee work and the receiver and transmitter too but in the picture the light cuts the image and one side is almost black and the other side is white because of the light?
    In all the images.
    Is because of any setting I am missing on camera regarding to the light system?
    I shot manual and use canon off camera flashes for events but I use a canon speed light. I don’t have experience with transmiter and receiver.

    Website http://www.linapics.comReplyCancel

    • jeniferhowardphotography - It sounds like your sync speed is off! I have to have mine set to 1/160. It could also be your PLM position and a mix of the settings. Fee free to email a pic of your settings/set up and I’ll see if I spot anything that’s off! [email protected]ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - Hey there! Thanks for your post about the PLM! I have the 86″ – my question is, where do you place your light for your family sessions? Do you shoot in RAW so you have more control over the shadow? I’m feathering my light and getting such harsh shadows!!! Thank you again! Love your post. AmandaReplyCancel

    • jeniferhowardphotography - HI Amanda!

      I place my light about 45 degrees to the subject, but sometimes its a little closer to 35 if its a larger family! You will definitely get harsher shadows while feathering, especially in group shots! I like feathering best for beanbag, and some props, but really, each set up is unique! I do shoot in RAW, which can be helpful if you need to lighten/darken shadows! <3 -JeniferReplyCancel

  • Geraldine - Oh my!! Thanks a lot for all your tips and tests!
    I was hesitating for a while, and now I know that I want to go for the 86″ white PLM!
    Thank you 🙂
    Your photos are beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - As someone who is moving to studio lighting to eliminate the same consistency frustrations, thank you for this post. I don’t think I can fit the 86″ umbrella in my small space, but I’m buying the 64″.ReplyCancel

  • Kristi - Thank you! This is exactly what I needed. Do you shoot boudoir too?ReplyCancel

  • Studio Lighting: Einstein vs Alien Bee – Greensboro Newborn Photographer » Greensboro Newborn Photographer – Jenifer Howard Studios - […] back, I wrote a post about the difference between PLM lighting systems . Today, I am so excited to share the next part of the series, Studio Lighting: Einstein vs Alien […]ReplyCancel

  • steph - Hi Jennifer! Thanks for the post. I am trying to figure out which PLM to get between the 64 and 86…so you recommend the 86? the light look softer and less harsh shadows right?ReplyCancel