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Softbox vs Umbrella Lighting: Experts Perfect Lighting Guide[2022]

With the several lighting options available, it can be overwhelming for a photographer to decide what to use.

While some feel softboxes offer control and directionality, umbrellas can help enhance an environment by providing artificial light.

However, if you are contemplating what option might suit your need between a softbox vs umbrella lighting, it would depend on what you intend to create.

This article will enable you to decide on the best option as we look at each lighting option.

What is Umbrella lighting?

For someone without any photography knowledge, hearing the word “umbrella” denotes something you use during a downpour or when the weather is scorching.

Well, umbrellas are light modifiers used in photography studios. Besides this, they are also used for outdoor shoots to spread lighting throughout an area.

Umbrellas are quite different from sandboxes (we will discuss this later). They throw light to a broader area, whereas softboxes direct light to a particular area.

If you want a light to brighten a larger area when taking photographs, the best option is to use umbrellas.

An important factor distinguishing softbox vs umbrella lighting is that you can use additional tools such as grids with softboxes, whereas that is not possible with umbrellas.

Grids enable the light to be more concentrated towards a particular area. Grids are an essential tool that can work magic for any portrait photographer who wants a contrast lighting setup.

When to use Umbrellas?

Naturally, you need umbrellas when you want lights to cover a larger area. An umbrella is used for a large product or a group picture in most situations.

Furthermore, when shooting a couple’s wedding portrait, umbrellas come helpful.

However, it would not make sense to use a sandbox. Therefore, umbrellas are preferably used in product photography.

For instance, you want to take a photograph at a wedding.

In a single picture, you will need an umbrella instead of a softbox to capture the entire entourage, including the groomsmen, bridesmaids, the groom, and the bride.

The best option here is an umbrella because you need broader edgy lighting, and the coverage is small. When you find yourself in this situation, umbrellas are the perfect option.

What is Softbox lighting?

Softbox is another light modifier with a slight difference from umbrella lighting. Photographers use a sandbox to shape the amount of light used in a studio.

Alternatively, you can use softboxes in an outdoor environment, especially when mixed with natural light to create the preferred outlook.

Even in situations where softboxes are used in mixed lighting, they serve the purpose of filling lights. However, there are exceptions, like shooting using natural light as a backlight or at the blue hour.

You might have seen a softbox but did not know what it looks like. It is a box with one opening, with the remaining sides, sealed.

The softbox interior is covered with a reflective material. In certain situations, baffles are used to spread the light.

The light bounces from the inner reflective walls before being projected from the lightbox’s front side.

When to use Softboxes?

The use case for softbox vs umbrella lighting is different. You would need a softbox for umbrella lighting when you want to do portrait photography.

Here, you will mix portrait photography with other types of lights to generate different looks.

You will see softboxes lighting used in small products like personal items (jewelry and watches), electronic items, etc.

Furthermore, softboxes lighting is not used in an indoor environment only. If you have a power source to power the lights, you can use them outside.

When shooting outdoor, battery packs are attached to the lights in most cases. Alternatively, monolights are used, which houses the fan, light, and power pack.

When mixed with natural light in an outdoor situation, they generate different results.

Nevertheless, softboxes lighting comes in handy, especially in difficult lighting situations like in the afternoon, to remove shadows under the eyes, chin, and nose.

Softbox vs Umbrella Lighting: What is the Difference between an Umbrella and Softbox?

There are a few things to pick out in contrasting softbox vs umbrella lighting. While they are about the most popular light modifiers used to produce soft and diffused artificial light, they do have differences.

For instance, umbrellas generate a broader and diffused light that is uncontained and uncontrolled. However, softbox lighting is more direct and controlled.

It is like that of sunlight penetrating through a window. This video will help you identify the different effects you can get when using an umbrella and softbox lighting.

However, if you are contemplating which is best between softbox vs umbrella lighting, there are several factors to consider. These factors include:


For those starting new, you have several options available. Firstly, you can see a small softbox with a price equal to a good umbrella.

However, if you want quality softbox lighting for your product photography, the cost might triple the price of umbrella lighting.

Ease of setting up:

Umbrella lighting is easier to set up than softbox lighting. All that is required is to open the umbrella and set it through your lighting stand.


In this aspect, it would depend on the photographer’s choice. Umbrella lighting is suitable for those frequently traveling since it is highly portable.

On the other hand, softboxes are challenging to carry around because they are large. In addition, setting up a softbox for a product picture would be a hassle than using an umbrella.


An umbrella creates strong reflections, especially in places with artwork and glass windows. However, when you want a close-up portrait, you will see the softbox shape being reflected in the subject’s eyes.

Different Types of Softboxes

Softboxes are available in different sizes and shapes. In addition, they fit different types of external lights, including continuous and strobes lights.

Let us look at three common types of softboxes that are widely used in photography.

Rectangular Softbox:

These softbox types come in a rectangular or four-sided shape and are the best option for product photography.

Because of their bigger size, they help generate natural lighting conditions like the lights projecting from a window.

Strip Softbox:

Because of its distinctive shape, strip softboxes do not scatter lights to an area like other softboxes. However, it provides direct lighting to a product.

If you want to do product photography with incoming lights coming from a particular side, the best option is to use a strip softbox.

OctaBox Softbox:

Although not as common as the two types mentioned. It is used in situations where a portrait is in a frame. It generates light towards where you want it, creating perfect soft lighting.

Different Types of Umbrellas

Like softboxes, umbrellas are available in two types. The Shoot-through umbrellas are translucent without any reflective inner layer.

The lights are directly fired through them. Shoot-through umbrellas are the basic lighting for product photography and come at an affordable price.

They work best in a closed environment with the lights spread. In most studios, you will find the shoot-through umbrella.

On the other hand, the reflective or bounce umbrella comes with an inner reflective layer that fires the light backward.

Here, the light is fired towards the umbrella back, reflecting from the walls. It is the best tool to spread light in a particular area.

Furthermore, the light gets slightly softer since it is reflected from the shining inner layer. For the inner layering, you can use different colors.

You can use silver or gold lining to control the light temperature. Although a reflective umbrella does not have many options, when compared with shoot-through umbrellas, it is the best option.

How to set up Softboxes and umbrellas?

Despite the similarities between softbox vs umbrella lighting, they are set up in different ways. This section will explore how you set both softboxes and umbrellas differently.

How to Set Up Softboxes?

While several combinations are available to set up a softbox, it will depend on the photographer’s skill, the number of softboxes, and if you will use artificial or natural lights.

For instance, artificial lights are used to illuminate the subject in a studio setup. In this case, the softboxes will control the whole of the light in the environment.

However, the main light will lighten up the subject’s face.

Another second light will be required to fill the shadows the main light created.

The third light will serve as a background light that illuminates the background or send lights from the subject back to create rim lighting.

The essence of the rim light is to create a perimeter of light around the subject’s upper body and head to help separate the individual from the background.

You will need this rim lighting if you want to photograph large products or portrait photography. However, it is hard to set up rim lighting for smaller products.

Here is a comprehensive video on how you can set up your softbox lighting with any shape.

How to set up umbrellas?

Unlike a softbox, umbrella lighting uses a different approach that is easy to set up. Let us look at how you can set up a shoot-through umbrella.

Remember, shoot-through umbrellas are manufactured using translucent material, which makes the light softer and spreads light wider.

Because of this, you will find photographers placing a shoot-through umbrella close to the subject. In most cases, you will find that shoot-through umbrellas are used for shooting portraits. It is as if you are using a bare flash without any harsh light effect.

Nevertheless, you should not forget when setting up shoot-through lighting because most of the light is spread onto the scene, unlike the softbox.

Therefore, compared to a softbox vs umbrella lighting setup, the light is spread in the latter, whereas in the former, the light is focused.

For instance, if your softbox exposure is ISO 100 with 1/160 sec at f/8. You will not get the same exposure if you decide to use a reflective umbrella under the same softbox lighting without changing anything.

To keep the shutter speed the same, you need to push the ISO or open the aperture.

With this, you can see that you will generate different photography if you decide to use the same setup for one another.

Therefore, it is preferable to stick to a particular lighting setting for your photography.

If you want the lighting to spread throughout an area, the umbrella lighting will serve that purpose.

However, if you want a more focused light toward an object, you should opt for softbox lighting.

[Related FAQs]: Softbox Lighting vs Umbrella Lighting

What is the benefit of using softbox lighting for portrait photography?

Softbox lighting offers a softer and gentler light quality and spreads throughout the frame.

In addition, it can reduce any harsh shadows as the light that emulates from the softbox looks like that of an open window that is natural and beautiful.

What is the best way to connect a camera to umbrella lighting?

During photography lighting, when using a shoot-through umbrella, you must keep the umbrella at the strobe while pointing the strobe directly at the subject.

However, if you were to use reflective umbrellas, the umbrella will point to the subject while the strobe points to the umbrella.

Which is better, softbox vs umbrella lighting?

The bounce umbrella is the best option in terms of quality eye reflection and budget. However, if you want a more control option during photography, the softbox is preferable.

The softbox allows you to conserve the flash power, allowing you to take more shots before recharging the battery.


Softbox vs umbrella lighting is two unique light modifiers widely used for portrait and product photography.

Both light modifiers serve two different purposes. It is hard to determine which is preferable because their use case is different.

If you want controlled lighting, then softbox is your best option as it will save you flash power to get more shots.

However, if you are on a tight budget and want quality reflection, the bounce umbrella works well here.

In addition, it is less controlled as it can generate light contamination. Whatever the option is, the end product is all that matters.

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