Sunday, October 24, 2010

Umbrella Vs Softbox

In an effort to update the lighting tutorials, I wanted to show the advantage of using a softbox vs a shoot through umbrella. An umbrella is usually the first modifier most people get when they are starting out. They are cheap, fold down easy, set up quick and always give a round catch light in the eye. Real gorgeous light to boot. I really like the shoot through version vs the reflective type because of how close you can use them. Remember, the closer the light source, the larger it appears. The larger it appears in relation to you subject, the softer it is.

So why go with a softbox that is slower to set up, cost 5 times as much and breaks just as easily?

Spill control.

Heres an example.

Softbox on the left, umbrella on the right. Light going through an umbrella can come back into the lens and cause flare. You have be aware of your shooting angles and flash to subject distance.

Heres another example of light spill. That flair can rob contrast and sap color.

So why not use a softbox all the time and skip the umbrella? Well 28" vs 42" for starters. Yes, they make softboxes in all sizes, but not for 20 bucks! Umbrellas work great for lighting large groups of people as well as environments. Maybe you want more of the foreground lit. That's where umbrellas excel. They are like any other piece of kit, when used correctly they give a great result!

(side note-the light should have been placed lower in the image above. That would have given us a bit more light in the eyes. You can tell the position of the light from the shadow under her chin)

Now get out there and shoot! Just dont spill any light on ya!


  1. If "spill" is the illuminated umbrella directly "spilling" light onto the camera lens, thereby causing flair, why isn't the general solution either a tightly controlled lens hood or a black baffle between the umbrella and the lens?

    Indeed, the baffle could be a second, opaque umbrella on the camera side of the lit umbrella. This would be less convenient than a light box, since the umbrellas would need to be set up and adjusted separately, but it would have most of the advantages of lighting umbrellas: cheap, easy to transport and easy to set up.

  2. You could add a flag or scrim in between the umbrella and camera as you suggested, but for me, thats just one more thing to carry, set up and worry about blowing over.

    Lens hood can only do so much. I use a hood 99% of the time, but use my lights in close so this tends to be an issue at times.