Monday, December 28, 2009
Choosing The Perfect Light Modifier—12/28/09
Umbrella or Softbox: Which one reigns supreme?
It turns out that both umbrellas and softboxes each reign supreme when it comes to softening light. Each achieves a similar effect, and it’s done in a similar way. But the subtle differences are what makes each of them fit a particular need. Here's a breakdown of the pros and cons of umbrellas and softboxes, useful whether you work with portable flash, studio strobes or hot lights.
- Highly portable, easily collapsible and quick to set up.
- Easily convertible from reflectance to transmission (i.e. from bounce to shoot-through), silver to white to gold, etc.
- Inexpensive, particularly when compared to many softboxes.
- Provides more control of light with less spill, so light can be soft but directional.
- Can make very soft, pleasing light, due to multiple baffles inside.
- Available in very large sizes beyond common umbrella availability.
- Catchlights (the reflections in eyes) are more natural looking.
- Light goes everywhere, sometimes causing flare or background spill. (Less directionality can be a pro if you want a broader light source.)
- Not as inherently soft as a well-baffled softbox.
- Catchlights are uniquely shaped, which some find distracting.
- Generally more expensive, especially compared to many umbrellas.
- Less quick and portable, they generally require more setup.
- Adding gels to the light source requires a large sheet of gel to cover the face of the softbox, or taking it apart to access the light inside.
WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON:
Umbrellas and softboxes can all be modified, making them harder or softer, warmer or color, more efficient or lower in power. They each diffuse light sources, creating a larger source, lower contrast and often a more flattering light than a bare bulb.