Softbox or Umbrella?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by mattyb240, Dec 4, 2011.

  1. mattyb240 macrumors 6502a

    May 11, 2008
    Hello all,

    I would love to experiment with some portrait photography. I have a couple of manual flashes and as much fun as it is to "bounce" off of low ceilings. I would like something that allows me to control the light a bit more rathe than being at the mercy of the space.

    With this in mind, would you prefer a soft box or umbrella? The only issues I have is working in small spaces so controlling spill would be an issue. I should mention I have a couple of large reflectors.

    Many thanks!
  2. flosseR macrumors 6502a


    Jan 1, 2009
    the cold dark north
    I was in the same situation, especially the small space actually. I went with a couple of home made soft boxes to be honest but I guess umbrellas would work too. I just prefer the managing of soft boxes and with a couple of reflectors on the floor pointing towards the person, the spill is a great additional light from the bottom.

    If you want to avoid the spill, get a long and large black backdrop and roll it so that it is also under the model. the black "paper" backdrops on rolls capture light very well and bounce almost nothing back.
  3. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    If I'm doing just a quick heads & shoulder shot for somebody, I almost always go with a small soft box (Soff Box, is supposedly the correct term - I've been told). It's 2ft x 3ft - maybe a bit smaller - and I place it as close to the subject's face as possible. It's literally just outside the camera's view, and I've sometimes had to crop a corner of the image afterwards because the soft box intruded. Power on the light is set very low, obviously.

    In my case it's a commercial unit, attached to the light. No reason it couldn't be home-made. The trick is, the box should be easily moveable, so you can spin it, rotate it, move it, whatever it takes to get the light on the face in a pleasing way. When you are this close it's easy to feather the light. My light stand is on wheels to help me make these adjustments. This makes for a very soft light.

    Usually I have a reflector on the other side - but I like the shadows here to be dark. Don't forget a touch of light on the background to help separate the subject from the background.

    The thing about working this close is that light fall-off is quite dramatic, so you don't need to control the light spillage. I developed this technique when I had a small space, but still use it in my bigger shooting area now. I just like how it looks. Sometimes I leave the light at the same height as the face, sometimes I raise it higher (no need for a hair light). Sometimes I rotate the light (i.e. box vs diamond). You can swing the light back so that less light is hitting the front of the face (feathering it). You an bring the light around more to the front or push closer to the back. Lots of permutations.

    However ... you will absolutely need a really good lense shade on the lense, and often a small gobo (black card) suspended between the light and the camera to keep the light from sneaking into the front of the lense.

  4. The Mad Kiwi macrumors 6502

    Mar 15, 2006
    In Hell
    I do quite a bit of on site and outdoor shooting, corporate portraits etc. I usually use umbrellas, they're just smaller and easier to transport, they just fit in the side pockets of the light stand bags. if I want a bigger light source I use a Paul C Buff 64" PLM with a diffuser, they fit in the bags as well. The only time I really use boxes is for product shots where you need the square lights to control the reflections.

    Attached Files:

  5. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    Shoot-through umbrellas are much easier to transport and faster to set up, so these days I tend to use them rather than dealing with a softbox.

  6. Randy McKown macrumors member

    Jun 24, 2011
    Kansas City
    I have a few shoot through umbrellas that I grab off the shelf real quick if I'm seriously needing to rush things and control isn't a huge issue. For the most part they collect dust up there though because they're just not as good. Softboxes produce much softer light and can be controlled with grids .. I prefer having control.

Share This Page