Softbox vs. Umbrella

What's the Difference?

Softboxes and umbrellas are both popular lighting modifiers used in photography and videography. Softboxes are typically square or rectangular in shape and have a reflective interior lining that helps to diffuse and soften the light. They provide more directional and controlled lighting, making them ideal for portrait photography or product shots. On the other hand, umbrellas are round or octagonal in shape and have a translucent fabric that spreads the light evenly. They create a broader and softer light source, making them great for group shots or creating a more natural-looking light. Both softboxes and umbrellas have their own advantages and are commonly used by professionals depending on the desired lighting effect and the specific requirements of the shoot.


Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash
ShapeRectangular or squareCircular or octagonal
Light ControlProvides directional and controlled lightingOffers softer and more diffused lighting
PortabilityRelatively bulkier and less portableCompact and highly portable
Setup TimeRequires more time for assemblyQuick and easy to set up
Light SpillMinimizes light spill and provides more controlMay have more light spill and less control
Light IntensityCan be adjusted with additional modifiersLess adjustable, but can be used with reflectors
Price RangeGenerally more expensiveUsually more affordable
Photo by Saffu on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to lighting equipment in photography, two popular options are softboxes and umbrellas. Both of these tools are used to modify and control the light, but they have distinct attributes that make them suitable for different situations. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of softboxes and umbrellas, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, to help you make an informed decision about which one to choose for your photography needs.


A softbox is a light modifier that consists of a fabric-covered frame with a reflective interior. It is designed to produce soft, diffused light by spreading the light evenly across the subject. Softboxes come in various shapes and sizes, including square, rectangular, and octagonal, allowing photographers to achieve different lighting effects.

One of the key advantages of using a softbox is its ability to create a more controlled and directional light compared to umbrellas. The fabric diffusion panel in a softbox helps to eliminate harsh shadows and reduce specular highlights, resulting in a more flattering and even illumination. This makes softboxes particularly suitable for portrait photography, where a soft and flattering light is often desired.

Additionally, softboxes offer better control over the light spill, allowing photographers to direct the light precisely where they want it. This control is especially useful in studio settings where the photographer needs to isolate the subject from the background or create specific lighting patterns. The ability to attach grids, diffusers, and other accessories to a softbox further enhances its versatility and control over the light.

However, it's important to note that softboxes can be bulkier and more cumbersome to set up compared to umbrellas. They require assembling the frame, attaching the diffusion panel, and mounting them onto a light stand. This setup process can be time-consuming, especially for photographers who frequently work on location or need to quickly adjust their lighting setup.

Softboxes also tend to be more expensive than umbrellas, especially when considering high-quality options. The complexity of their design and the materials used contribute to their higher price point. Therefore, photographers on a tight budget might find umbrellas to be a more cost-effective alternative.


An umbrella, as the name suggests, resembles a traditional rain umbrella. It is made of a reflective material, such as silver or white fabric, and is used to bounce and scatter the light. Umbrellas are available in different sizes and shapes, including shoot-through and reflective umbrellas.

One of the primary advantages of using an umbrella is its ease of use and quick setup. Unlike softboxes, umbrellas can be opened and mounted onto a light stand within seconds, making them ideal for photographers who need to work efficiently or frequently change their lighting setup. This convenience makes umbrellas a popular choice for event photography or outdoor shoots where time is of the essence.

Another benefit of umbrellas is their ability to produce a wide and soft light spread. The reflective surface of the umbrella scatters the light in multiple directions, resulting in a more diffused and less directional light compared to softboxes. This characteristic makes umbrellas well-suited for group shots or situations where a broader coverage of light is desired.

Furthermore, umbrellas are generally more affordable than softboxes, making them an attractive option for photographers on a budget. They are available in a wide range of price points, from inexpensive entry-level options to high-quality professional-grade umbrellas. This affordability allows photographers to experiment with different sizes and types of umbrellas without breaking the bank.

However, umbrellas have some limitations. Due to their design, they tend to have less control over the light compared to softboxes. The scattered light can result in less defined shadows and less precise control over the direction and intensity of the light. This can be a disadvantage in certain situations where more control and precision are required, such as product photography or creating specific lighting effects.


In conclusion, both softboxes and umbrellas have their own unique attributes that make them valuable tools in a photographer's arsenal. Softboxes offer better control, directionality, and a more flattering light, making them ideal for portrait photography and studio setups. On the other hand, umbrellas provide quick setup, affordability, and a broader light spread, making them suitable for event photography and situations where convenience and budget are important factors.

Ultimately, the choice between softboxes and umbrellas depends on the specific requirements of your photography projects and your personal preferences. It can be beneficial to have both options available in your toolkit, allowing you to adapt to different lighting scenarios and achieve the desired results. Whether you choose a softbox or an umbrella, understanding their attributes and knowing how to best utilize them will undoubtedly enhance your photography skills and help you capture stunning images.

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