Right with Light, Part 9: Softboxes

Part three of this discussion will cover creating soft, broad light sources. There are two basic tools that will accomplish this task. In this posting we will talk about the softbox. There are a ton of choices available, varying in size, style, cost and quality. The basic goal of all of these is to attach efficiently to your light and create a soft, even light on your subject. Each manufacture claims that the science they apply make theirs the best, and while this may be true to some extent, you will always get what you pay for.

Let’s go back to the ultimate goals of a softbox (to create a soft light) and the science behind how they work. The shape of the box affects how it works. Those that apply a parabolic shape tend to be a bit more efficient. This shape is designed to bounce as much light as possible from the sources in the box out to the face of the box.  Deeper softboxes better spread and evenly distribute light: The light intensity at the center of the box is very similar to the light at the corners. A shallower design can achieve this but generally requires a secondary level of diffusion placed between the light source and the face of the box. While this produces the soft light it also reduces the efficiency of the box.

As I mentioned previously, softboxes come in a variety of sizes. I have sizes ranging from 1×1 ft. to a 7-ft. octagon that I use regularly in the studio. Back when I was shooting car photography in the studio, we rented 15×40-ft. softboxes (and there are even bigger ones available). Remember the rules we talked about in the last posting: 1. Big sources = softer effects. 2. The farther the light is from the subject, the harder the light will become.

There are also many materials used in softbox construction. If you’re using a softbox primarily with a strobe system, a lighter weight material will work well as long as it can stand up to the heat the modeling light produces. If you use “hot lights,” you need to use products designed to handle heat. I have opted for these in our studio as we use both strobes for our still work and tungsten light when we shoot video. We can use the products we have for both—the only difference is the connector we install on the softbox.

The quality is an important consideration when you shop for softboxes. Consider the uses you will apply, and get the best you can afford. I have several that have been a part of my kit for more than 10 years, and I have taken them all over the world. Time for the shameless plug: I feel that Photoflex products are the best out there. They offer a product line that covers just about anything you may own and have a connector to attach a softbox to anything from your camera flash to a 10K movie light.

So, do your research, consider your needs and get the best you can afford.

Our next discussion will cover diffusion panels and how we can apply any of the modifiers we have talked about in the past few postings.

As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Best,
Ric

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