On Location PhotographySubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2013-09-19 07:13

When I prefer a softbox over an umbrella

Today I’d like to take a moment and discuss the differences between using a shoot-through umbrella and a softbox. I’d like to share the pro’s and con’s from my point of view. Both of these are useful tools of the trade, but knowing which one to use on your shoot keeps you out of trouble. In the vast majority of my videos you see me using umbrella. But today I am showing an example for when it's appropriate to utilize a softbox.

A word of caution
When using a soft box you need to be more exact with your lighting positions. Whereas, an umbrella will naturally spread charming soft light everywhere, a soft box is going to cast a more defined light, making it critical that you have it set in the proper position. For instance, if you were to use an umbrella to light your subject’s upper body, you would receive a more or less even light over the subject’s entire body, head to toe. In contrast with the soft box you get a more concentrated light and potentially harder edges in your shots, especially if you come in close, which you have to do for soft light. In an instance where you may need to light the entire body with a softbox, then you may want to feather the light down the entire subject. This can be accomplished by raising the soft box and tilting the light down allowing light to be cast the full length of the individual. It’s not too hard; just have a look at the video:



Short summary

  • - Umbrella pro: Spreading nice soft light everywhere.
  • - Umbrella con: The first gentle breeze will make it collapse.
  • - Softbox pro: Sturdy. An easy up softbox even protects your speedlight from rain.
  • - Softbox con: Requires more precise positioning.



(1)  Model
(2)  60 x 90cm Softbox, Speedlight GN 58, 1/4 power (in the tunnel decreased to 1/8 power)
(3)  Reflector, used as gobo to block the sun from hitting the models where necessary
(4)  Full Frame DSLR, Manual at  f/2.8 (for one scene we used f/4), 1/200s, ISO100

Lighting gear

Special Thanks

Go to the awesome Models of the MSC Wisskirchen, to FotoTV as well as Sarah Pulvermüller for organizing this great event and to Jan-Marco Gessinger for the lighting.


I wish you good light!
-- Michael


The softbox in this video is the very same softbox that we used to shoot the cover of Good Light! Magazine Issue 06.
Check the quick 1-minute video of the covershoot at the bottom of this post:





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