Photography Cheat Sheet: How to Use a Softbox for Portrait Photography

We know lots of you would love a photography cheat sheet on how to use a softbox.

The softbox is arguably the most popular light modifier for photographers. It’s also a tool that lets you direct lighting to exactly where you want it with the most control. Softboxes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They’re useful for photography at any time of the day or night, but they’re most often used in studios. However, we’d recommend that you take it out on location and shoot with one by blending the natural light with the softbox’s output. And to help you, we’re releasing an original infographic that’s going to teach you about how to use a softbox.

“Softboxes take the fundamental values of light and find a way to shape and mold them. To understand this a bit better, think about how fairy lights, a desk lamp, and ceiling lights all affect a room differently. They’re all different shapes and sizes, and are placed in different ways.”

How to Use a Softbox: A Visual Guide for the Photographer New to Lighting
One softbox camera right, non-freeze action mode, I.E normal shooting mode, ISO 100, 1/160th at f5.6 with the light set to +0.7

Softboxes are defined by a few things:

  • The color of the interior. Silver adds punch to the light while white softens it. Use white to flatter someone’s skin
  • How big they are. The bigger they are in relation to your subject, the softer the light will be
  • Position: Want to flatter someone? Make the light come from above

In addition to all this, softboxes are tools that give photographers what’s called directional lighting. When light is directional, that means that it’s coming from a specific source and being very focused or controlled. It’s the difference between a bare light bulb on your ceiling (not directional) and a bulb with a lampshade on it (directional, since it narrows and focuses the beam of light). In this way, softboxes let photographers have the most control over the lighting in their photos. This is one of the reasons why they’re so popular unless you wish to get experimental. Unlike a lampshade though, softboxes work in a different way to soften the light. They also work to make it as even as possible without a hot spot being in the middle.

Flash or strobe at the back end (or sometimes from the bottom)

Flash fires into the softbox

Light bounces around and gets diffused by an interior diffuser

The light goes through the interior diffuser and bounces around more

Light hits exterior diffuser

Lighting Basics: How to Shoot Portraits with a Softbox

Got a small softbox? Then maybe you shouldn’t try to light an entire person with it. If your softbox is around 14 inches, then it’s large enough to photograph really just a person’s face while delivering soft light. If you’re looking for a hard light look, then you can use it to shoot the entire person. If your softbox is seven feet wide, then we’re sure that it’s going to be delivering and spreading the light across enough space to give off a soft look.

“…place the light camera right or camera left (everyone has a better side). Slightly angle the person towards the light source while also posing them accordingly. What this mostly does is make the light look natural and like window lighting. “

Three Tips for Beginners on Using a Softbox for Photography

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.