Softboxes: What to Look for and What to AVOID
Softboxes are one of the most popular, if not THE most popular type of lighting modifier, especially for portrait key lights. I’ve used many types of modifiers and many types of softboxes. Some come with pretty nice features, others, not so much. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on what to look for in a softbox, and what to avoid.
Get the right size for your needs
When it comes to softbox size, bigger is usually better. Of course, that depends on what you’re actually trying to achieve with your softbox lighting. Super large softboxes aren’t always very practical in terms of space, and budget. So, bigger LIGHT is better, usually, but you only need a softbox that has a large enough surface area on the front, to adequately cover your subject while achieving the type of light you want.
When we say, bigger light is better, remember that we’re talking about the size of light RELATIVE to the subject area. A 2’x2’ softbox is going to give you pretty decent results on a head and shoulders portrait or a small still life setup, as long as it’s within about 2’ from your subject. Take that same softbox and move it about 5-6’ back, and the quality of light will change, from low contrast (soft light) to higher contrast (slightly harsher light).
A 36” octabox, like the one in this video branded as “Glow” will give you excellent soft light coverage up to about 3’ away. If you’re using a softbox with rectangular dimensions, you can get creative by using more light coverage in one direction and more light dropoff in another.
So, if you’re looking for a softbox for head-and-shoulders portraits, I’d suggest to go with something in the medium range, at least 36” in diameter, or 36” in at least one dimension.
Avoid a softbox that is TOO large or TOO small for the intended purpose. Too small, and your light might not cover your subject adequately. If your softbox is too large, you might not have enough room to work with above the subject. If you place your light to fit in a room with average ceiling height much of the surface of the softbox front panel will be BELOW the subject’s face, meaning more light will come from below the subject than from where it should be coming from, creating an underlighting scenario.
In the video, I talk about a few other things to look for and avoid when selecting a softbox.