Understanding Softboxes and How to Choose the Right One

Softboxes in studio useOver the past several years, the photography industry has come to appreciate the value of light modifiers. A softbox is one of the most popular and reliable light modifiers. If you are wondering, what is a softbox? Then you are on the right platform. We have covered it all for you, what a softbox is, its importance, what to look for in the best softbox, and how it differs from an umbrella.

What Is a Softbox?

big photographic softbox isolated on a white backg

A softbox is a cloth that typically fits around an artificial source of light, such as a halogen lamp, and is mounted on a light stand. The front is enclosed with a piece of translucent fabric and silver or white on the inside walls while the exterior is black. A softbox diffuses the artificial light into a uniform, soft light. It works to reduce hard shadows, and it is no wonder that this tool is a favorite among portrait, commercial, food and product photographers, and in video shoots.

How Does a Softbox Work?

A softbox works with speed lights, flashlight, or continuous light. The enclosed artificial source of light fires through single or double internal diffusers first then onto another diffuser that covers the front of the softbox. The light reflects off the silver/white interior walls then travels through the translucent cloth, creating a soft, even light. The outer black fabric reflects light to the subject and prevents the light from spilling out.

Benefits of Using a Softbox

Softbox lights are popular because of the quality of diffused light they produce and their versatility in photography. Even if you focus on natural light photography, a softbox will come in handy on a cloudy day and help you work longer hours. Here are some of the distinct benefits of a best softbox for portraits.

Adaptability to soft light

This is the primary reason why most professional photographers invest in the best softbox lighting for videos. There is no doubt that a softbox is the best tool for producing soft light for all kinds of shoots. From food, fashion, portrait to product photography, a softbox will help you handle whatever challenge comes up. Soft light plays a significant role in concealing skin blemishes, reducing contrast, and creating a seamless look by softening shadows.


Softboxes vary in size, shape, and the distances at which they are most effective. Different softboxes give different image results. They are versatile that even when they are not the primary source of light, they still assist with fill lighting, edge lighting, background lighting, and separation, making them a crucial part of photography.

How to Choose the Right Softbox

Now that we know the benefits of a softbox, the next critical thing is choosing the right one. Below are four essential features you should keep in mind when choosing the right one.


Different softbox sizes produce different results. When placed at equidistant from the subject, the larger the softbox, the softer the light. Large softboxes often cover a larger surface area of the item or model compared to small softboxes. Therefore, the best softbox for wedding photography is a large one to achieve full-length coverage. Always keep in mind that the nearer the softbox is to the subject, the softer the light.

If you only deal with portrait and headshots photography, save your money and buy a small to medium softbox.


photography studio flashlight with softbox

Softboxes come in various shapes, with the rectangular shape being the most traditional. Two-sided softboxes are known as strips, while eight-sided ones are known as an octagonal box. Other less common shapes of softboxes are round, hexagonal, and parabolic. The form of a softbox affects how the light covers the subject, the reflections, and catchlights.

Catchlight is the reflection of the critical origin of light in the image. When using natural light, the central origin of light is the sun, and the catchlight in the subject's view (eye in case of a human) imitates that. The shape of the softbox is critical, especially with portrait photography, and you need to choose a softbox whose catchlight looks like the sun, i.e., round. Therefore, the best softbox for portrait photography is an octagonal box, which, although not round, gives the same catchlight as the sun.

On the other hand, the best softbox for product photography is a strip box because of its shapes, which aid in lighting backgrounds from below or above, thus creating the perfect slope background critical in product photography.


If you are only to buy one softbox accessory, it should be a fabric grid. It is one of the most useful accessories in supplementing the effectiveness of a softbox. It is placed in front of a softbox. A fabric grid narrows the light and reduces light spillage, thus limiting the amount of light in the shoot. This is crucial when working with light modifiers that reflect light in broad patterns or when shooting high contrast or low-key images.

Mounting system

Some softboxes come with their unique mounting systems, while others are compatible with alternative mounting systems. The latter gives room for flexibility. It is important to note that a mounting system for a strobe is different from that of speed light, and these two are not interchangeable. Therefore, you must be specific about the one you need.

Umbrella vs. Softbox

studio strobe light flash with umbrella

Both umbrellas and softboxes are a good choice of light modifiers. When choosing between these two, you should consider portability, effectiveness, and light quality.

Umbrellas are more comfortable to carry as they can be dismantled/broken down to a small size compared to softboxes. However, a softbox is more effective in producing window-like light. Furthermore, softboxes create a flatter, broader, and more uniform light that reduces the extent of shadow edges and lessens directionality than umbrellas. On the other hand, because an umbrella is curved, it creates light that has pronounced edges on the shadows and has clear directionality. Generally, umbrellas are cheaper than softboxes. Needless to say, umbrellas are more fragile.


Whether you are a budding or a professional photographer, a softbox is a worthy addition to your photography tools. It is adaptable and versatile to give you the best images when shooting in a studio or location.

We do hope that this guide will help you choose the best soft boxes for outdoor portraits, videos, speed light, etc.


Posted in: Camera basics