Softbox Vs Umbrella Lighting – Photography Comparison

Heather Clouse
Written by
Last update:

Softbox Vs Umbrella …Which Is Best?

I get asked this question all the time by people wanting to learn how to take better pictures. Don’t get me wrong, both of these are great light sources that have many great qualities.

But before we can understand the difference between an umbrella light and a softbox light we need to understand why we need a light source in the first place. Let’s look at what happens to our subject in order to determine what these differences are.

When you take a photo with your camera and a standard built in flash, you get very harsh shadows that your camera automatically compensates for by making your subject look more washed out and overexposed.

What is the Difference Between an Umbrella and Softbox?

The umbrella and softbox offer two very different lighting solutions … and not just because umbrellas don’t have an actually box!

The softbox is essentially just a big rectangle. It is most commonly used when you need a more omnidirectional light from a lot of distance away from the subject.

This is because, up close, the softbox is incredibly soft, meaning that the light has a minimal fall-off to the edges of the light. So this softness comes at a cost as the light is very broad and not meant for more narrow lighting techniques.

A softbox also provides much more even light. This is better for evenly lit product shots and family snapshots.

The umbrella is usually smaller. They are best for up-close and personal, more flattering portraits. Umbrellas create a much more pointed light source. This is for photographers who want strobe-like lighting on their subject.

Umbrella lighting is a great option for both fashion modeling and portrait photography. And because the light is more concentrated, an umbrella is often preferred for additional lighting effects ‥ like wrapping the light around the outside of the subject.

They are also much easier to carry around than a softbox. Once you know which one you prefer, you can always purchase the size that suits your needs.

Umbrella Lights

I know a lot of people that are familiar with standing in front of the camera and striking a pose when they need professional looking photos, but they have no idea where that light is coming from.

That’s why I always take the time to explain the different kinds of lighting for the camera and how it can make a huge difference with or without even seeing the pictures.

Umbrella and softbox lighting are two very popular kinds of lights used by professionals and bloggers alike. Both have become so popular because they are affordable and portable.

So which one should you get?

The truth is, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

I have tried both in the past and have faced a lot of frustrations trying to shoot with an umbrella light. It’s completely fine for portrait shoots if you know photography well and you are in buffer of studio hours.

An umbrella light can easily create unwanted shadows, especially if you’re shooting another person. You will have to constantly adjust the umbrella to get everything to look right.

Softbox lights are preferred for studio applications because they are more versatile. If you don’t have an assistant, you may not be able to effectively shoot some product photos without the help of an umbrella.

What Are Speedlight Softbox Lights?

Speedlight softbox is the perfect lighting option for your speedlights. It is also often referred to as a beauty dish.

But how does it differ from a regular speedlight?

First and foremost, they are significantly larger. Speedlight softbox is meant to be positioned close to the subject and to produce a much wider light source than your regular speedlight.

They are also usually made from more durable material than your regular speedlight, often cloth or plastic. This is because it is designed to take a beating as models move in front of it.

More importantly, the shape of a softbox shields the light much like natural light. Have you ever noticed how, under direct sunlight, your face is well lit, but everything in the background is very dark? This is also referred to as a soft light.

That’s what a softbox does. It “softens” the light from your speedlight by giving it a spread. This makes it not only easy to light a subject from hard-to-reach angles. It also helps create a more natural and flattering effect.

How Do Speedlight Softbox Lights Differ?

Speedlight softboxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This is because diffusers and reflectors are meant to provide different results.

In Summary

Umbrella Softbox Ease of use Simpler to use Assembling parts required Yes, but the process is quite simple compared to softboxes. No, just unfold it. Fabric quality Good quality, but very little control over shapes and size. Excellent quality with more options for shape and size. Setting up a shoot very fast More learning curve needed, but still pretty easy. You will need to practice to master it. Payoff Not as much. Light is more diffused, so there may be light fall-off on either side of the subject. More diffusion Smaller, so you can use it with higher up light source.

No light fall-off Better for lighting motion subjects. Difficult to control light fall-off. If using a single speed light, you’re limited to a small aperture. Softbox Bigger and heavier. Harder to carry. Unlike umbrellas, softboxes have no metal parts, making them easier to transport. Shooting with only one light source Easy enough, but still a little more equipment to carry. Even easier because there are no extra parts to assemble.