How to choose the right softbox

There’s so many softboxes out there that it can be hard to find the right one. This blog post breaks down all the information you need to know about softboxes.

1.  Size

There are a lot of different sized softboxes available, so it can be hard to know whether you’re getting the right one or not. However, the variety of sizes and distances from your subject can mean endless opportunities. In general, the smaller the light source, the more concentrated and harsher the light will be, and the larger the light source the softer the light is.

Larger softboxes work well for portraiture photography or large areas as they produce softer lighting with more gradual transitions between light and shadow. Large soft light sources also make skin blemishes less apparent, making them an ideal modifier for general portraiture as they produce a quality of light that will flatter pretty much anyone. Larger softboxes are also great for photographing full-length body shots, as well as for photographing larger groups, as larger softboxes will spread light over a wider area.

The most common use size of softbox is 90cm Easy Open Softbox (1-2 peoples) and the largest size is 170cm (which is suitable for larger group).  

Smaller softboxes work well for product photography or macro shots as they produce more contrasty lighting, whilst still reducing specular highlights. Smaller softboxes, also work well for more dramatic and low-key portraiture as you will get more contrast on your subject compared to a larger softbox. We sell a range of smaller and medium sized softboxes such as our 65cm Softbox and our 60x90cm Easy open softbox.

In conclusion, it’s generally useful to have a selection of softboxes to enable you to achieve a variety of different looks. In addition to the physical size of your softbox, distance of the softbox from your subject will affect how your lighting looks. The closer your softbox is to your subject, the quicker the light falls off, and the further your light is from your subject, the less dramatic the light fall off is.

 

2.  Shape

There are three main types of softbox; Rectangular/Square Softboxes, Strip softboxes (also referred to as Stripboxes) and Octagonal softboxes (also referred to as Octoboxes), and it can often be difficult to know which type to go for, so here is a breakdown of the three main types:

Octagonal Softboxes:

Octagonal softboxes produce pleasing, natural looking lighting, with pleasing round catch lights in the eyes of your subjects. Rectangular Softbox will often be more obvious especially when shooting highly-reflective surfaces as rectangular softboxes will leave a tell-tale rectangular specular highlight or catchlight, which doesn’t look as natural as the organic curves and circles you will receive with an octagonal softbox.

Rectangular / Square softboxes:

Rectangular or square softboxes can be used to emulate window light. In addition, the rectangular softbox are a lot easier to mask and use gobos with due to the straight edges as a result it is easier for you to manipulate the light as well a mirror it on an opposite light. This usually comes with standard lighting kit such as LUMI200 Twin softbox kit etc

Strip Softboxes:

Strip softbox produce a narrow band of light and are most commonly used for rim-lighting your subject, to separate them from the background.  Multiple stripboxes can be arranged in a square or in a triangular formation, to create sort of ring light effect. They are useful for creating side lighting for full length fashion photos or portraits.

30x90cm Easy Open softbox is great for lighting head shots, or half-body shots, and the larger 30x120cm and 35x160cm standard softboxes or the 30x140cm Easy-Open softboxes are great for full body shots. Strip boxes are also really well suited to product photography, allowing you to create strips of light on your product, or can be used to make pleasing gradients when used in conjunction with a scrim/diffuser.

 

3.  Set Up

At PIXAPRO we have two different types softboxes. Standard Softboxes and Easy Open Softboxes.

Standard softboxes are the traditional styled softboxes that you have to assemble by inserting four or eight rods (depending on the shape of softbox you have) into the softbox’s outer shell, and then insert the other end of the rods into the speed ring located at the centre of the softbox. Standard softboxes are good for use in permanent studios, where they can be set up once, and then left fully assembled as they’re not the easiest to continually assemble and disassemble. Here is a video to show how to assemble a standard strip softbox.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOBOsGg6T48

If you would like to use your softbox on the go and keep putting up and taking it down, then an Easy Open Softbox is the best option for you. They feature an opening mechanism like that of an umbrella. Simply rest the softbox on the floor (speedring-down) and then push the runner down along the shaft, until the runner locks into place. Once the main body of the umbrella has been set up, then simply attach the diffusers (and also grid if required) using the Velcro tabs located around the inner perimeter of the softbox.

Here is a video to show how to assemble an easy open softbox

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVTNpQw46Kg

So, if you’re a photographer who is continually on the go, then the Easy Open softbox would be better for you. If you have a permanent studio and you have the room the leave your softboxes assembled, then a standard softbox would be fine, as it will save you a bit of money.

 

4.  Diffusion

All our softboxes comes with two layers of diffusion, which is designed to produce very even illumination over the entire area of the softbox. The diffusers help to convert the harsh point light source of your flash, into a larger, softer light-source which produces an even and diffused quality of light that is more flattering for your subject.  The Diffusion also reduces specular highlights and deep shadows.

Softboxes are commonly used in portraiture and commercial photography as they replicate the light from a north facing window that was commonly used in the early days of photography to get the best lighting.

 

5.  Honeycomb Grid

Honeycomb Grids (also known as an Egg-Crates) are used to restrict the spread of light, preventing light from spilling onto areas that you don’t want light to fall, such as on the background when you are shooting a low-key image. Here ate PIXAPRO, we measure our Honeycomb grids in centimetres. The smaller the grid, the more restricted the spread of light will be.

With honeycomb grids, there is a slight loss of light compared to the softbox without a honeycomb fitted. There is also a slight loss of softness since the spread of light is being restricted. However, both issues can be rectified by moving your softbox slightly closer to your subject if possible, this will compensate for the light loss, and make the apparent size of your light bigger which makes your light softer.

Honeycomb grids are especially useful for reducing the chance of getting lens flare when you are backlighting or rim-lighting your subject.