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Softboxes vs. Umbrellas

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Feb 07

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Which lights produce which effects

Softboxes produce a different effect than the umbrellas, here we show you the difference and how you can use it to your advantage.

The bigger the softbox the softer your shadows. Different types can produce different effects, and it’s not only the size that can change the final image but also the shape and distance from the camera. Timeline

  • 0:20 Our new studio
  • 1:00- Lighting effects of umbrellas and how they effect your image
  • 2:30- Example of light from umbrella
  • 2:45- Softbox lighting
  • 3:20- Anatomy of a softbox
  • 4:15- OCTOBOX
  • 5:44- Moving the light source farther away
  • 6:15- Why I prefer softboxes
  • 6:30- Adam Elmakias version
  • 6:48-Using a grid

Which do you prefer and why? Let us know!

Click on image to see it larger

  • Hasan Jensen

    Nice video. I’d like to learn more about using softboxes/umbrellas for sure and you’ve put it quite simply. 
    I would however have liked to have seen more side-by-side comparisons of the images that you took to demonstrate the difference visually. 

  • Christopher Odd

    Great video Aaron!

    In regards to preference over the other, I really feel taht you need to have images side by side to a see a major difference…that being said, I prefer the softbox for a different reason than just the light it casts.

    The main reason I choose a softbox is for the catch light in the eye.  Over the past 6 months or so, I’m always looking at catch lights in photos and I love the way a softbox creates the square in the eye.  Maybe, as Aaron alluded to, it’s because it resembles window lighting to some extent.

    Thanks for the vids man! Love the Phlearn team.  And this community…baller. ;)

  • Eli

    Thanks!! I use an umbrella-box… what do you think about it?

  • B Jenks

    Which lights did you use in these photos and what was the modifier?

  • Bryan Dockett

    I like softboxes also but I since I use the smaller speed lights like the sb600 I also the soft lighter II by photek. They are basically a umbrella-softbox hybrid.  For those who don’t know about them check them out here: and and here  
    They come in 3 sizes and also work also with small strobes likes alien bee units. Cons: No grids, you also lose the feathering of a softbox around the edgeAnother and maybe better choice would be westcott apollo softboxes

  • Bryan Dockett

    I kinda prefer the square catch light also but it seems the masses prefer the rounder looks which makes perfect sense 

  • Jenna Petrone

    That octobox is beast, I’ve never seen one like that before.
    P.S. I love your facial expressions : )

  • Epiphany_media

    Umbrellas and octoboxes make better catchlights so I never use softbox in front of the subject.

  • Nick Bedford

    There’s also one thing to note about the distance of your light. If your light is further away, by the time it reaches the subject, the attenuation (1/r² for a point source) is approaching a more linear falloff which means the background will be brighter in relation to the subject.

    Having a light right next to the subject will afford a darker background because the light is falling off quicker at closer distances.

  • Jeremy Cupp

    I’ve never tried a softbox. I just have softlighters and some umbrellas. 

  • Stevie Keen

    Definitely would be useful to see side by side images for comparison :)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Aaron for the great video and look forward to seeing more stunning videos from the Phlearn Studio.  My question is, is there a big difference in using Paul C. Buff’s softboxes vs the Elinchrom’s softboxes?

  • Eugenio Ojeda

    I use both and works great if you put them in a right way, and sometimes only the flash without anything works great for highlights (:

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Eugenio,

    I am looking to purchase some new softboxes.

  • Bryan Dockett


  • Eugenio Ojeda

    like right here (:

  • Anonymous

    Thanks man.  My budget for new lighting gear is a little tight and I wanted to get the most bang for my bucks.  I would love, love to have elinchrom gear, but if Mr. Buff’s gear can do the same thing, well I am going for the Buff gear.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Stunning photograph, Paul C. Buff?

  • Greg Smith

    This is about the Contest that is ending today!
    Do we really want to see Aaron edit the same kind of running through fields, with a large sky shot in the background photo that is repeated in a lot of his work? We want some change! Introduce some really gory horror imagery, add some disturbing element to a new theme of photography. If you want something different in the next Phlearn Pro please follow this link and like my photo 
    Thank you, Have a good day

  • Nguyen Tien Thanh

    Best Video. I like softbox lighting because it smooth, not bitter :-)

  • Sebastian Ortiz

    Great episode, altho’ you should’ve showed an example of using the “Adam Elmakias Strip Box” … to see what it looked like for those that don’t have one. …. HAHAHAAA!!!.

  • haha


  • mike

    i saw a behind the scenes vid for the pic on the left.  he used a large softbox. idk what he used for the right, I’m guessing a beauty dish. 

  • Brandi Sheree Eszlinger

    Thanks! This is so helpful! I’m venturing into the world of artificial lighting and im kinda scared! :O

  • Canon300mm


  • Ryan Prentiss

    Only difference is the durability. I own items from both companies, but only Elinchrom items would I dare to build and take apart continuously. The PCB items I build once, and lay them in the corner.

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