What Is a Briese and Why Do Pro Photographers Love It So Much?

What Is a Briese and Why Do Pro Photographers Love It So Much?

Probably, most of us have at some point encountered a behind-the-scenes photo where there is a parabolic reflector with the name Briese written on the side in yellow letters. Yet, very few photographers have actually worked with it or know what makes it so special. Recently, I got a chance to try out Briese reflectors and generators in Hamburg. Read on to find out why I fell in love from the first sight.

I've Seen It All, Yet Briese Was Something Else

It is rare that I am so impressed by a product, mostly because I have been a user of high-end equipment almost from the get-go and got used to everything working once I turn it on. Profoto spoiled me with their quality. Moreover, when I was 19, I got to shoot in the Profoto studio in Stockholm, so it is fair to say I was hard to impress afterward. The experience of being able to create virtually any light possible was a game-changer in how I approached photography. I went on to hone my skills, shoot with some of the most expensive kit in the world, and at some point thought to myself that I’ve tested most light shaping tools and I am comfortable with creating any light needed given the right tools.

Yet, having had access to pretty much any light shaping tool, I always had this thought in the back of my head: what the heck is Briese? Seriously, what is it? I kept on seeing the greats such as Rankin, Steven Klein, Testino, and so on, use it. Yet, when I went to check out them, I was slightly thrown off because it just seemed like another parabolic modifier. Sure, a very good one, but at its core a parabolic.

Not a Parabolic Reflector, In Fact

Boy, was I wrong about Briese. As it turned out, their modifiers are not even parabolic. They’re reflectors. Upon arriving in Hamburg and stepping into Briese studios, the rabbit hole went deeper. I was blown away.

Turns out, Briese reflectors are just that: reflectors. The founder is very fond of the term reflector, as opposed to modifier. His inventions don’t modify light; rather, they reflect it. The unique way Briese reflect light is exactly what makes them such a desired light shaping tool in high-end photo and video productions.

Hans Werner Briese, or Harvey Briese was the first to invent such a shape and patent the design of the reflector. Everything from the yellow lines to the material, to the way the flash tube sits in the reflector. Once they became increasingly popular for the incredibly soft yet crisp look, some lighting companies stole the design and sold it as their own. This went on to set a trend for “parabolic” modifiers. Everything from umbrellas to softboxes to direct rip-offs of Briese design. Briese reflectors are not a “scaled up” parabola. Each reflector has its own unique light curve. As such, the 180 is a harder light than a 50. Herr Briese broke the laws of lighting with his design.

What makes the light special? I had the pleasure of shooting with Briese reflectors in Hamburg. Everything from the tiny 50 to the huge 330, which is the largest one in the world. What I noticed was a light of truly unique quality, a 3D effect that you simply can't get from any other modifier. Circling back to my experience with almost every light shaping tool, I was blown away by how crisp yet soft the light coming from a Briese reflector was. What is more, the focusing was simply unparalleled. No other reflector of similar shape and size can go from practically hard Fresnel-like light to full soft flood light.

To be more specific, there are two types of Briese reflectors: the Focus.2 and the H-S, which is a totally new patent. The Focus.2 is a fairly classical well-known reflector shape. It creates a wonderful flood and a great spot light. However, the most recent development in Briese reflectors is the Hard-Soft series of reflectors. They have been designed to give two, and in some cases three, distinct light curves. This is achieved by making the reflector interior from a variety of materials, some more specular than others. As such, you can be sure to create a hard focused spot of light in the zoomed-in position, as the material the light is bouncing from is incredibly reflective, similar to that of a hard metal reflector. Zoom out a little, and you start reflecting light from a still metallic, but a slightly less reflective material. It is not as smooth as the innermost material; hence, the light becomes a little more diffused. Mind you, this is a sliding scale, and it’s quite hard to pinpoint what category of light it will be exactly. The closest I can bring it to is a sliding scale between a hard Fresnel to a diffused specular. Mind you, Briese light is Briese light.

Having used a number of different Briese reflectors, I made a few observations to help you pick.

Pick Your Briese

Briese Focus.2 330

The biggest one out there. Perfect for creating ultra-soft crisp light. It is probably too much for your home studio but will come in really handy with lighting large groups and objects. Think of the new Vogue UK cover with over 50 women.

Briese Harvey 180

A smaller reflector that is suited for large sets with up to five or so subjects. The light is harder when compared to the 330; but not the hardest. That said, a 50 will be softer compared to the 180 because of the unique 3D light curve of the 180. It wraps around the subject in the most spectacular way.

Briese Harvey 50

Super portable beauty and portrait light. This will give you quite a hard light, but the hardness will be compensated by the crispness of it. The shadows will be very prominent.

Briese Focus.2 H-S 115

This has to be my favorite reflector. Part of the new generation, this reflector can go from ultra-hard to incredibly soft - almost breaking the laws of physics. In the flood position, it creates a beautiful, even light with barely any difference from center to edge; however, in the focused position, it makes a truly hard Fresnel-like light perfect for lighting people.

Briese Downlight

I had to try the hard reflectors Briese makes. Their shape is quite unique and somehow retro. The downlight gives a really cool hard shadow, which I haven’t really seen any other hard reflector do. It is zoomable, of course, but the difference between zooms is not as dramatic as with the soft reflectors.

The Power

Let’s talk about something that deserves even more attention than Briese reflectors. Briese Neos. The Briese Neos is in a category of its own, to be frank. This is not just a flash generator; it is undoubtedly the best, the ultimate, the one and only generator. The Neos is a studio generator, of course. It is very retro in size and shape, but probably the most modern generator on the inside. To be frank, I did love that I had a white cabinet with tons of power I could wheel around. It almost felt like one of those old generators. On the inside, the NEOS is truly magnificent, if not magical. First of all, two flash outputs. These can be used symmetrically or asymmetrically. The Briese heads are either single heads or twin heads. The single head is 2,400W, the Twin is double that. If you are lighting a huge space and you want to keep ISO 100, f/11, and want to use a Focus.2 330, trust me, you will need all the power you can get, with some left at the top.

The freezing ability of the NEOS is unmatched by any other generator on the market. To test this out, I took two images of a studio fan spinning at a notoriously high RPM. To the right is an image of the fan stationary, and to the left is the fan spinning at full power. Or is it the other way around? I can’t tell, because the fan looks still in both of the shots.

Alright, it’s a powerful flash generator, what else? Well. Now in many productions, there is a need for stills and video. Briese Neos can do both. It can give flash power, at the same time as giving you HMI (or daylight). Simply take your camera for video and film away with the same setup you had for flash. The accuracy is similar to that of Arri lights.

Another cool tool for your creativity is the E-focus. Sure, if you are shooting with Briese you are likely to have an assistant on set who will go climb any height to adjust your focusing by half an interval. But, why spend all that time? E-focus allows you to control tilt, focus, and swing of the modifier from a distance. It’s an assistant that does not need to be paid or talked to. E-focus is a very convenient and easy-to-use invention, especially if your lights are far up in the sky.

There is a lot more I can say about the Briese Neos, as a full review will be coming soon. For now, I leave off with a taste and introduction into the Briese system.

So, Why Use Briese Over Other Light Modifiers?

Briese reflectors are a unique light-shaping tool that allows you to capture unparalleled levels of detail, with control never seen before. With portrait photography, they are perfect for lighting people with dimensions. Such a dimension is only possible with Briese. Trust me, I tried getting it with a softbox. It’s impossible. The closest one can get to Briese is by using a softbox with a zoom reflector in the middle, but that will still be really really far.

The other benefit of Briese is the versatility that you can get from such a light. Being able to use it as a spot and as a flood, with everything in between as an option means that you are never left wanting for more reflectors. The reflectors ship with a set of diffusers, but you can also add a grid to increase the versatility of your reflector.

If you are an e-commerce studio, getting a Briese is the cheapest and most effective way of stepping up your production value. The unique quality of Briese light means that every texture, every color, and every little detail is visible. Also, having a Briese means that you only need one light, which saves cost. Investing in the NEOS means that you can streamline photo and video production, and earn a lot more by spending a lot less on equipment, training, and staff.

Perfectly even lighting suited perfectly for e-commerce 

Current me, standing next to my future lighting system.

If I had to use a single light for the rest of my career, it would be a Briese 115 with a Neos pack. However, you might be wondering, what about Profoto? Well, I am a huge fan, and I will be investing in a Briese reflector that runs off a Profoto pack. At some point, maybe a decade down the road, I will probably be using Briese reflectors with a Briese Neos pack. Fortunately, Briese reflectors are available with an adapter for Profoto, Broncolor, and Hensel, so you’re never limited in terms of the system you use.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.
LIGHTING COURSE: https://illyaovchar.com/lighting-course-1

Log in or register to post comments

I’m “curious”. What does this kit cost? What type of warranty is offered, is this kit a location kit OR just for studio only?

Take a guess what you think it should cost - and then add a 0 to that. They make Profoto pricing look like Godox.

Why no info on cost and where to buy?

Come on, you can google "Briese" and "light".

Always happy to see a new article from Illya