Umbrella Vs. Softbox For Portraits

by -212 views

When y’all start to employ bogus lighting, yous’ll need to make up one’s mind between using a softbox vs umbrella lighting.

And so which one is amend? And which one should you employ? Permit’s do some umbrella vs softbox comparisons and see which i wins.

Photograph past Alexander Dummer from Pexels

[Notation: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you utilize 1 of these and buy something, nosotros brand a fiddling bit of money. Need more info?
Encounter how it all works hither.

What Are Umbrellas and Softboxes Used For?

Umbrellas and softboxes are both types of light modifiers. Their purpose is to soften lite hitting the field of study.

They’re ideal for creating even lighting with soft, appealing shadows. They are best used for portraits and notwithstanding-life or product photography.

A softbox for photography lighting

Don’t remember about the softbox vs umbrella fence as a battle between lite modifiers. They are both excellent at softening calorie-free.

What yous should exist thinking about is which is ideal for the type of photography you exercise.

A photography umbrella

Even though the umbrella and softbox function similarly, their designs give them unique quirks. It’south crucial to know how they perform in various situations, so you know if one is ameliorate over the other.

Nosotros’ll examine how both the softbox and lighting umbrella works. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons between the softbox and umbrella so yous’ll know which one yous’d like to add to your equipment.

What Is a Softbox?

A softbox is a light modifier that funnels low-cal and spreads it wider to create soft lighting.

On the tapered end of the softbox, you’ll detect the mount where y’all tin can install your light source. In most cases, it uses a
Bowens mountain,
which is the default setup for most softboxes.

Closeup of a Bowens-type mount
Closeup of a Bowens-type mount

It’southward worth noting that some flash photography brands such as Profoto and Broncolor have their proprietary mounts. If that’due south the case, you’ll demand to buy a softbox that fits their lighting equipment.

Alternatively, you tin can too buy Bowens mount adaptors. Although, of course, it’s wiser to buy light modifiers that are already compatible with your lighting equipment.

On the broader cease of the softbox, you’ll find two pieces of white material that disperse the light. There’s a diffusion console inside the box itself and another outside. This double improvidence creates softer lighting that other options typically tin can’t offering.

Photo of the inner diffusion panel in a softbox
Photo of the inner improvidence panel in a softbox

Nigh softboxes come with a grid that farther narrows downward the light coming out of the modifier. They as well take a velcro lining that attaches to the bevel of the softbox.

A close up of a softbox

In many ways, you can compare setting up a softbox to a tent. You’ll need to insert sticks into the ribs of the softbox. The number of sticks varies from four to eight (or more than).

A close up of a softbox

When the sticks are in all the ribs of the softbox, you lot then insert them into the outer ring of the mount. It takes some piece of work to ready upward, but when you finish, it should look similar a rigid dome.

Types of Softboxes

There are several variations of softboxes, and they all accept different functions. Let’southward expect at some of the most common options for you and observe out how each one works.

Rectangular Softbox

This is the most mutual type of softbox you can discover. Because of its elementary shape, it can create natural-looking light that appears like information technology’s coming from a window.

It likewise has a relatively wide throw. In other words, it spreads light more other options.

Strip Box

This type of softbox is also rectangular but has a much narrower width than a regular version. Its primary purpose is to direct the light vertically, and so it doesn’t spread anywhere else.

Since it throws calorie-free in a particular orientation, people ofttimes use it to illuminate the hair and the back of a person’due south caput. That’s why some people also refer to it as a hair light.

It’southward too perfect for product photography, especially when photographing bottles.


This unique softbox works much like the rectangular version. But the reason why people prefer this is because of its shape. A lot of photographers use it as a catchlight that creates
specular highlights
on the optics. After all, having a round glint in the iris looks much more natural than a rectangular one.

There are likewise larger versions of octaboxes that work perfectly for grouping shots in the studio.

What Is an Umbrella?

A photography umbrella often looks much like a regular umbrella. If you’re not a lensman, you might even mistake information technology as such.

The main departure between a regular umbrella and a studio umbrella is that it lacks a handle. Furthermore, its fabric is from the aforementioned material that you see on the front of the softbox. It’s sparse and fragile, and so you definitely can’t look it to block the pelting.

Unlike a softbox, yous don’t have to insert sticks with an umbrella. All you have to practice is open it upwardly, and it’s ready to apply. That’due south why a lot of photographers love information technology. It’due south quite portable and user-friendly.

All you lot need is to insert it into your studio strobe’s bracket to install it. Since it doesn’t utilise a Bowen’southward mount, you tin apply information technology on virtually whatsoever lighting equipment that accepts an umbrella.

Because of the umbrella’s simple pattern, it’s also frequently more affordable than a regular softbox. However, beware that at that place are a few variations that tin be expensive.

Types of Umbrellas

Only like softboxes, there are also a few variations of umbrellas. The departure in design also makes them more ideal in certain situations than others. Now allow’s wait at several options and find out their ideal uses.

Shoot-Through Umbrella

This type of umbrella is the almost common in studio photography. It’s the one that looks similar a regular umbrella.

People refer to it as a shoot-through because it goes in front of the light source. Its material acts as the modifier that spreads and softens the light.

Because of its circular shape, information technology’due south platonic for creating cute catchlights for
studio portraits.

Shoot-Through Umbrella for photography lighting

Collapsible Umbrella Softbox

You lot can consider the collapsible umbrella softbox as a hybrid between a softbox and an umbrella. It folds and opens up like a regular umbrella. It bounces light, so it only goes to the front end panel.

One time you ready information technology upwards, it looks much like a regular octabox, so it’s perfect for studio portraits.

Collapsible Umbrella Softbox

How Does a Softbox Compare to an Umbrella?

Now it’s time to test out the difference between the softbox and the umbrella. For this exam, we adjusted the studio strobe’s power to 1/16th. Meanwhile, we set our camera to f/8 and ane/160th of a second with an ISO of 100. We retained all our adjustments for each light modifier.

Let’s first with the umbrella. As you can see in the photo below, information technology creates soft, fifty-fifty lighting with light shadows.

A vase of leaves against a yellow background

Now, allow’s look at the softbox paradigm. As you lot can run across, the shadows await more prominent. But similar the umbrella, it likewise works just likewise for softening the light.

A vase of leaves against a yellow background

Finally, let’s have a look at the collapsible umbrella softbox. It has stronger
highlights, merely it also has less prominent shadows as compared to the softbox.

A vase of leafs against a yellow background

As you can see, both the softbox and the ii types of umbrella did a peachy job diffusing the lite. But at the same time, each one creates a slightly different look.

Sometimes, those small variations brand all the departure in helping yous choose what y’all desire.

Which Is Better for You: Softbox or Umbrella?

Choosing betwixt a softbox vs umbrella should be all near how each controls the quality of the calorie-free.

Permit’south zoom out and see what’s going on in the background with the umbrella and the softbox.

When you expect at the umbrella shot, the light spreads everywhere and bounces on the walls.

A still life photoshoot of a vase of flowers in an enclosed structure

Just when you await at the softbox shots, the light mostly goes straight to the bailiwick because it has an enclosed construction.

A still life photoshoot of a vase of flowers in an enclosed structure

So why is that important? The ability to direct where your light goes matters. It’south crucial, especially if you only want to illuminate sure areas of your scene. For this reason, a lot of photographers adopt a softbox over the umbrella.

Dissimilar the umbrella, the softbox too has a lot more features. For one, it has double diffusion for softer lighting. Autonomously from that, y’all tin can likewise use a grid on it to further command your lighting.

Does that mean that the softbox wins over the umbrella? Not necessarily. The downside of using a softbox is that it’s cumbersome, and it takes a while to set upwardly.

Meanwhile, an umbrella takes up a small amount of space, which is perfect when travelling. It opens up and is ready to use in seconds.

Nosotros know that umbrella lighting tends to spread light everywhere. But that’due south not entirely a bad feature. If y’all need to create fifty-fifty illumination that envelopes your bailiwick, and then this is the obvious choice.

It’s platonic for result and interior photography because it spreads the low-cal source into a vast infinite and still creates soft, beautiful lighting.

Want the performance of the softbox and the portability of the umbrella? And then the collapsible umbrella softbox is for you. Information technology’s portable, and at the aforementioned time, information technology allows yous to control lite better.

Collapsible umbrella softboxes come in different sizes, too. Of form, the downside is since they accept an umbrella construction, they tin can’t take the shape of rectangular softboxes.

Photo past Anna Shvets from Pexels


Then what’south the best choice, then?

In my feel, I prefer using collapsible umbrella softboxes over regular versions. Just I however prepare aside a few traditional rectangular softboxes just in case I need them for specific shoots.

As a beginner, I propose yous go a collapsible umbrella softbox because information technology’s easy to employ. It’due south also platonic for all sorts of photography from portraiture to still life.

Yous can ever get a regular softbox later if you accept a shoot that specifically calls for it.

Although information technology’s ideal to start with an umbrella, you don’t accept to stick to it. If you think a softbox volition be better for what you lot do, then become for it.

Develop Your Photography Skills with Photography for Beginners!