Shoot Through Umbrella vs. Softbox
A great question was raised today on OSP about choosing a modifier. Lauren (Top 100 WPJA photographer! Congrats!) was asking about the difference between brolly box modifiers and softboxes. I thought I would take a minute to show the difference between the two and why one might be chosen over another in certain shooting situations.
I will talk about them with the idea that you would be shooting with one of these modifiers indoors because that is where you really see the difference between modifiers. You can’t feather light off the sky! Also note that my “science” is Myth Busters science. It’s pretty close and has been based on “pretty good” observations from real world shooting. If someone wants to chime in with math equations knock yourself out!
Let’s look at the brolly box first. This type of modifier is basically a shoot through umbrella with a cover on the back to keep light from reflecting out of it.
A brolly box or shoot through umbrella produces very soft light and spreads it throughout the environment you are shooting in. They are great for producing soft light on your subjects. They are also a better option for shooting groups of 4 or more people since they deliver light over a lager area. If your shoot through umbrella or brolly box is in between you and your subject you have to watch out for flare coming into your lens. It’s a large bright light source that can shoot right back into your lens.
The next image is a medium sized softbox. About 2×3 feet. It is the discontinued Westcott Apollo RL3.
This medium sized softbox is a great modifier for shooting 1 to 2 people. It will cover about 3/4’s of the body and you’ll see a bit of light falling off around the thigh to shin area if you are shooting a full length portrait. Shooting more than 2 people next to each other with this modifier isn’t a good idea. You would have to back it off so far that you lose the quality of light you are looking to achieve by using a softbox in the first place.
A softbox produces a beautiful diffused light but is more directional in nature. It is the modifier I choose if I am wanting to keep light on the subject but control the amount of light falling into the environment I’m shooting in. A softbox is much easier to feather light onto or off of a subject or area of environment.
Remember that the differences between these two modifers does not make one better than the other. They are just different and you use one over the other based on which one is going to modify light for the specific purpose of the photography you are trying to create. If I wanted to add a large soft light on a subject as well as use that light source to fill the room I’m shooting in, I would choose the shoot through / brollly box option. If I need to keep light falling on the subject more than the environment I would choose the softbox. If I am shooting a large group of people and need that light to cover a large area so everyone is evenly lit, I go to the brolly. The softbox above is not the size you need to shoot 4 or more people.
It is very difficult to pick one over the other. If I had to pick just one, I would start with a softbox because they require more of an investment to purchase one. A 60″ shoot through umbrella like the one pictured above can be had for $40 or so bucks so it is easy to add that to your bag of tricks later.
If you have any other questions about these two modifiers, just drop ’em in the comment box!
PS – Should go without saying… Brollys give you round catch lights in the eyes. Softboxes give you square catch lights. Always watch the catch lights in photos and it will give you a hint as to what type of modifier was used.