Softbox vs Umbrella Lighting

Softbox vs Umbrella lighting, which one to choose? This is the first question that you will have to answer when you start working with artificial lights. First of all, remember that there is no right or wrong, the real answer lies in your needs and wants. Both of these are light modifiers and are essentially used for softening the light and producing light shadows. Your choice will depend on the type of photography that you are doing such as portraits or even products. However, there are certain advantages that one has over the other. Let us now discuss softbox vs umbrella lighting in detail and figure out which will work best for you. 

What is a Softbox?

Softbox and even umbrella lighting is used for softening the light. Both are good at what they do, but the only difference is in how they do it. In simple terms, you can say that a softbox works like natural light coming from a window. It produces soft light by funneling it and then dispersing it equally in all directions. There are two ends of a softbox, a tapered one where the light is mounted and a broader one that spreads the light. Mostly, the default mount is a Bowens Mount but you should make sure to get a softbox that is compatible with your lighting equipment. Softboxes come in many different shapes and sizes, let us now discuss a few of them so that you can get a clear idea of choosing between softbox vs umbrella lighting.

Rectangular Softbox

It is the most simple and common softbox because it perfectly emulates natural light coming from a window. Because of its size and shape, it throws the light more than others. It might be best in a scenario where you want to light up all of your setups evenly.

Strip Box

As the name suggests, this softbox is in the form of a vertical strip. Although, it is essentially a rectangular softbox it has lesser width. This means that its throw is also less than the rectangular softbox thus it scatters less light. Another thing that you should know is that we also refer it to as the hair light as it is commonly used for lighting the hair. 


As the name suggests, it is the octagonal shape of this softbox that makes it unique. It resembles a circle in the light that it throws which is why it is more commonly used for group shots as well as portraits. One advantage that it has over rectangular softbox is the circular glint and highlights produced on the eyes by this. 

Sofbox and Umbrella Lighting

What is Umbrella Lighting?

You can pretty much guess its shape from its name, the only difference that it has with a traditional umbrella is that it does not have any handle. Also, just so you know, it does not block the rain. A similarity in the debate of softbox vs umbrella lighting is that the interior of both of them is made from the same delicate white fabric. However, a softbox directs the light, whereas an umbrella disperses it. Some photographer prefer umbrella lighting  over softboxes because they are more portable, convenient, and easy to use. You simply open it up when needed and close it when not in use. Generally, umbrellas come in two types: shoot-through and reflective.

Shoot-Through Umbrella

As the name suggests, the light passes through this umbrella before hitting the subject. The light is present in the interior of the umbrella and the outer portion faces the subject. Since the fabric is semi-translucent, it spreads the light and makes it softer. This is more common than the reflective one because the light is easier to modify with this one.

Reflective Umbrella

The inner part of this umbrella is made from a metallic, reflective surface whereas the outer part is opaque so that no light passes through it. The light is present inside it facing the reflective surface. When it hits the surface, the harsh light is made softer and then reflected evenly in all directions.
Umbrella lighting vs softbox in studio

Photo edited in Lightroom.

Softbox vs Umbrella Lighting; Which One is Better?

Now that you understand how both of these light modifiers work, you will have a clear idea of which to choose. But to help you out, let us recap the main highlights. First of all, if you want something portable and easy to set up, then an umbrella is perfect for you. However, the other factor is the control over the light. As you now understand, umbrellas are best for dispersing the light in all directions, on the other hand, softboxes produce directional light. If you want your subject to be engulfed in light, then use an umbrella. But if you want the equipment to direct light to only at a specific part, then use a softbox. Using the most suitable lighting setup will surely help you while post-processing in different editing software such as Photoshop, gimp and many others.

Conclusion - Softbox vs Umbrella Lighting

To sum it up, softbox vs umbrella lighting is not a debate to prove that one is better than the other. It is simply a comparison to understand which one works best for you. For a beginner, we recommend using a umbrella is as it is easier to manage and portable. But you do not have to stick to it forever. If at any point you think that you would be better off with a softbox, just make the switch. 

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Have a nice photoshoot! 

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