What Is A Softbox? How Does It Work In Photography?

| Published On:
Orah.co is supported by its audience. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More
what is a fill light in photography

Getting well-exposed footage is one of the most important parts of any photography job, be it an outdoor or an indoor shoot. As a photographer, how often have you come across the problem of harsh or uneven lighting?

Adjusting light can be a difficult task, but there is plenty of equipment that can be used to help you as a photographer. The best way to get the desired lighting is by using external lights (softbox).

However, lighting isn’t a simple task to understand. In fact, I believe that you discover a new thing about manipulating lights in your media every time you shoot somewhere.

As a newbie, I used to struggle with finding the right angle and intensity, so this blog is going to be about everything I have learned about diffusers. Hopefully, a full read will help you clear out all the confusions.

What Is A Softbox? How Does It Work?

No lies, when I first heard the word Softbox, I didn’t know anything about it. So your question is justifiable. A softbox is a piece of cloth that fits around an artificial light source and is mounted on a stand.

The front of the softbox is a translucent cloth, whereas the inside of the softbox has silver inner walls to reflect light with a black exterior. This softbox is highly popular among portrait, commercial, food, and product photographers.

a portrait of a dog using the softbox

A softbox works with an artificial source of light that can be a flash or a continuous light. This light is reflected from the internal silver walls of the softbox.

Then this light goes through a few layers of diffusers before it passes through the translucent cloth and creates a soft, even light.

So, if you are done with harsh lights affecting your shots, you might want to add a softbox to your gear collection!

How Long Ago Were Softboxes Invented?

Although there aren’t any particular documents that tell us about the exact date of the invention of a softbox, there are certain patents that date back to the 1930s.

Although these patents are not much similar to today’s modern softboxes, they sure did set the foundation for the future development.

The documented evidence of modern day softboxes dates back to the 1950s. These were homemade units. Whereas the commercial production of softboxes was started at the end of the 1970s and the start of the early 1980s.

A similar read: A brief history of photography (complete timeline)

What Exactly Is A Softbox Diffuser?

If you know about how cameras work, you must also know the term shutter speed . Usually, people use DSLRs for personal use or for capturing pictures that could be taken on a phone but with superior pixel quality.

Softbox lighting setup in studio

However, if you talk about professional level photography, you often have to work with slower shutter speeds to ensure that the light passing through the lens is enough to properly light up the picture.

In such times, working without a diffuser could be pretty hard. So, what a softbox diffuser does is distribute the light emitted from the flash evenly on the object.

So, save time and let your hands free of the pain of keeping the camera stable for long minutes.

What Is The Difference Between A Softbox And An Umbrella?

Whenever the topic of artificial light is discussed, the two most popular light modifiers that come up are softbox and umbrella.

The primary distinction, in my opinion, would be that umbrellas create wider, diffused light that is uncontrollable and uncontained (more like natural light).

Image of softbox and studio umbrella

Softboxes, on the other hand, provide direct, regulated lighting that is similar to sunshine pouring in through the windows.

So, again it is your preference. If you are focusing on product photography, softboxes might help you more in creating those filmy footages.

However, if you are capturing portraits or giving your pictures a (let’s assume) beachy vibe, an umbrella could help you out!

Types And Sizes Of Softboxes Available For Photographers

Softboxes come in different shapes and sizes, and each of them has its own importance. It depends on the need of light at the place you are shooting, along with additional equipment and settings involved for the job.

If you are focusing on a smaller subject, less light would be required, hence a smaller softbox can evenly distribute the light on your subject.

Similarly, if you have external flashes working with the softbox, the light distribution job is divided between both modifiers.

A general rule suggests that softboxes should be the size of your subject. This means that full-body pictures may involve additional softboxes that are 48″ or larger, while portraits or half shots may only need one softbox that is about 18 to 24″.

Common types of softboxes are;

  • Rectangular
  • Octagonal
  • Long/thin strips
  • Square

Why Are Softboxes So Good For Photography?

Softboxes can easily imitate the natural light’s look owing to their rectangular shape and perfect distribution through the box. For a softbox’s inside surface, there are various alternatives.

A white lining is the best for retaining neutral colors, while a silver lining can produce a more specular look with higher contrast and light transmission.

Along with varying softbox sizes, one may also change the light’s quality with different softbox forms, so there are no obvious reflections on subjects if pictures are taken up close. This particular reason is the one thing that I love softbox the most for.

What Shape Is Best For Softboxes?

If I were to cover a wedding event, take some product photos, or capture a model’s portfolio/do a fashion shoot, all with the same light modifier, it would be my “rectangular softbox.”

This shape of the softbox is the most versatile and hence helps you with nearly every subject and all weather/existing light conditions. However, I would still press you to find your own favorite based on your working habits.

Square softboxes perform pretty well too, and you could easily find hundreds of its fans around the globe. So, do give it a try!

Where And When Will The Softbox Be Most Appropriate?

I get it. You are worried about making an investment because you’re unsure if this will be worth it. I hear you, and I also have good news for you!

Different types of softboxes

A softbox is the safest investment since it can be used just anywhere and anytime. Are you shooting at night and can’t find a reflective surface for the flash? Softbox can help. Are you shooting in sunlight, and the sun’s harsh lighting is affecting the quality? Softbox can help!

Name anything, and I will tell you how softbox is the most appropriate light modifier you could employ for flawless images. Moreover, they are lightweight and hence, easier to carry/assemble if you are usually on the go.


We have read about the countless benefits of using softbox for photography till now. From being an easy-to-carry object to a life-saver at all times, the softbox could really be the one integral element missing from your photos right now.

So, pick a size, choose the right shape and buy a softbox because you are surely not going to regret it when people compliment you for exceptionally good photos at all times.

From influencers to professional photographers, softboxes are the elements that can single-handedly help everyone achieve superior image quality.

Your Author

  • Celebrating childhood in photographs and emotions through photos. My aim is to transfer all my photography experience by sharing useful camera-related guides and individual reviews so you can get an idea about everything before buying.

Leave a Comment