Umbrellas vs. Softbox

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by BobF, Mar 13, 2003.

  1. BobF

    BobF Member

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    I use shoot through umbrellas frequently and have yet to find a reason to go the softbox route. I can see certain advantages to a softbox such as easier control of light and especially less problem with lens flare, but they are far less portable and much more expensive. Are there other positive qualities that I am missing?

    I am an amatuer that already has more lighting equipment than can be justified, but softboxes are recommended so frequentlty compared to umbrellas that I can't help thinking I am missing something in the quality of the light. That is besides square catchlights and controll.
     
  2. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (BobF @ Mar 13 2003, 04:54 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>I use shoot through umbrellas frequently and have yet to find a reason to go the softbox route.&nbsp; I can see certain advantages to a softbox such as easier control of light and especially less problem with lens flare, but they are far less portable and much more expensive.&nbsp; Are there other positive qualities that I am missing?

    I am&nbsp; an amatuer that already has more lighting equipment than can be justified,&nbsp; but softboxes are recommended so frequentlty compared to umbrellas that I can't help thinking I am missing something in the quality of the light.&nbsp; That is besides square catchlights and controll.</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    The light from a softbox is, generally, more even and "softer". Whether or not that is important enough to justify their price and, as you say, lack of portability, is a question only the photographer can answer.

    I use both ... most often I'll use the sotboxes in the studio, and umbrellas on location.

    One way to get an idea of their application is to study the fashion photographs in magazines like Vouge, Elle, Cosmo, etc. (I only have access to those when I get my haircut with my wife - we've had the same woman do our hair for one hell of a long time).

    It has been said that the most difficult thing to photograph is a plain spherical silvered Christmas tree ornament - due to the fact that *everything* will be reflected.
    The human eye has the same characteristic - and one can usually determine the type of lighting - softbox, umbrella, window light - and get some idea of the direction of the lighting from the reflection in the model's eyes (a.k.a. "catchlights).

    A very common setup there is a single *large* square softbox, with the camera directly in front of it. I've even seen "catchlights" that show the photographer AT the camera.

    Even in the most elaborate setups, the use of umbrellas is NOT uncommon.

    The only drawback to paying attention to these magazines is trying to avoid the stares of those around you ...
     
  3. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    This is a great question. And one I would hope Michael McBlane would jump in on.

    I have both, and use both, and honestly cannot tell the difference. I even studied magazines, looking at the catchlights in the eye to see which was used, and still couldn't really see too much of a difference.

    And is shooting directly in front of a large soft box really that simple? You don't cast a shadow of any kind on the subject?

    dgh
     
  4. Thilo Schmid

    Thilo Schmid Member

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    my two cents are:
    - Umbrellas are faster to set up on location and more convenient to transport
    - The reflections of umbrellas in the eyes of a portraitured are somewhat unlovely. Generally, a softbox is the better choice, if the light source is visible somehow.
     
  5. docholliday

    docholliday Member

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    Well,

    you can't exactly hook up grids, louvers, baffles, flags, gobos, etc on an umbrella. But, an umbrella is best for smaller spaces.

    I use 2 60" softboxes, left to right @ 45deg angles, and a large umbrella over my head/camera for fill sometimes. That provides a really soft light for massive fill. And, it doesn't make me have to bounce off of ceilings/walls.

    Of course, you could always shoot through an umbrella and get a softer light...

    But, the Westcott Halos are really cool. Kinda like a hybrid between a softbox and an umbrella, AND, they use less space than both!

    Plus, an umbrella doesn't work for a hairlight/rim light.

    My next purchase...a 7' Octabank softbox. Great because the monolight goes in it. So an Elinchrom Style 1200 is coming with it!
     
  6. docholliday

    docholliday Member

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    BTW, I use a circle mask on my large softboxes because I hate the octagontal catchlights from umbrellas and the square catchlights from softboxes. But, then again, I'm also severely anal about single catchlights...
     
  7. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Doc,

    The octobank...that's what Annie Liebowitz uses, right? Except with more power than a 1200 watt mono.

    dgh
     
  8. Robert Kennedy

    Robert Kennedy Member

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    I've always thought of softboxes as north facing windows that you can move around. They emit a nice diffuse light that covers a lot. Pretty handy. Umbrellas are similar but smaller and more portable. Each tool has a place....
     
  9. glbeas

    glbeas Member

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    Another thing I like about a softbox is it doesn't spill light all over the studio area so I can have a bit more control over the shadow depth when I want it. Plus its easier to keep the backdrop as dark as you want when you want it.
     
  10. docholliday

    docholliday Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (David Hall @ Mar 14 2003, 05:57 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> Doc,

    The octobank...that's what Annie Liebowitz uses, right? Except with more power than a 1200 watt mono.

    dgh </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    I'm not sure if that's what she uses, I've never really been much of a fan of hers...but, the Elinchrom 1200 is a really powerful light. Not like the "white lightning ultra-craps" or some cheap, overrated junk. Plus, the octabanks are very efficient when it comes to using every bit of power thrown at them.
     
  11. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    Can someone explain the differences between umbrellas and softboxes from a effect-on-subject standpoint? In other words, other than catchlights in eyes, what kind of light do you get from a softbox that you cannot get from an umbrella, etc?



    dgh
     
  12. BobF

    BobF Member

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    David, thanks for reasking the question. "Effect-on-subject" or quality of light is exactly what I am looking for and I think you previously stated that you have used both and can't tell the difference in that respect. What were you shooting, people or products? I don't often do product type shoots but I can see that a softbox might have more advantages on products than people, like the siliver ornament example that Ed used. But that really is a catchlight shape issue.

    So back to the original question, are there advantages to softboxes over shoot-through-translucent-umbrellas other than the catchlight shape and more control of light? Ed says "more even and softer light" which so far is about the only difference mentioned other than light control issues. My impression from Ed's posting is that it isn't a dramatic difference and David says no difference.

    Any other opinions?
     
  13. David Hall

    David Hall Member

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    I use both when photographing people.

    dgh
     
  14. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (BobF @ Mar 14 2003, 07:31 PM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'> Ed says&nbsp; "more even and softer light" which so far is about the only difference mentioned other than light control issues.&nbsp; My impression from Ed's posting is that it isn't a dramatic difference ...</td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Yes, that is what I meant. Whether or not some "level of importance" has been reached is wholly up to the photographer ... the only one who can establish those levels.

    Umbrellas ARE useful - so are softboxes.

    For someone on a lmited budget, umbrellas are defitely the way to go ... and as far as I'm concerned, they will never outlast their usefulness.
     
  15. docholliday

    docholliday Member

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    There is a difference, especially when you add some modifier to the softbox. The umbrella, as I said in my previous post, is generally a soft, large light source. But, adding a grid, louver, mask etc can change the quality of the light. Plus, if you have a softbox that takes baffles, you can change the feathering effect (center brightness and gradial change outward).

    And, as a light source is softer the larger and closer it is to the subject, the softbox excels here. With an umbrella up close, you will have a lot of spill onto the background. With a softbox, you can barn door the edge, grid the face, and gobo the background, making the light source aim only at the subject.

    Plus, with some softboxes, you can put the light inside it, aiming at the front or back (towards or away from the subject) to change the quality of light on the subject. You can also gel a light source in a softbox to produce light which gradients from color to white where an umbrella would not be able to accurately reproduce this effect.
     
  16. BobF

    BobF Member

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    </span><table border='0' align='center' width='95%' cellpadding='3' cellspacing='1'><tr><td>QUOTE (docholliday @ Mar 15 2003, 02:34 AM)</td></tr><tr><td id='QUOTE'>There is a difference, especially when you add some modifier to the softbox.&nbsp; </td></tr></table><span class='postcolor'>
    Doc I agree, but all of what you mention are control-of-light issues and with the exception of the use of a grid or baffles and feathering I have been able to emulate all the effects you mention with what I have. For instance size, I have a 60" umbrella and if larger is needed I have put three translucent umbrellas together (of course it requires three heads) giving approximately 8' softbox effect. For barn dorns I can use foam core boards etc........Of course there are cheap homemade gobos and screens that I didn't even get in to.

    The point of the question was can I (with a lot of extra work and fussing around) get the same quality-of-light as someone using softboxes. It would seem the answer is yes you can, and I am missing mostly convenience and time savings.

    Thanks all.
     
  17. JohnArs

    JohnArs Subscriber

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    Hi

    I prefer the round catchlights effect in the eyes from a umbrella. I hate quaders in the eyes because also the sun is round i find it more natural for portraits.
    But if I have to lightening a chrome piece with mirror effects then I always prefer the softboxes and striplights.
    Just my point of view and also from my teacher in the past!
     
  18. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    I've always found big Umbrellas to be too self-filling , on the other hand, in the studios we used to casually refer to huge light boxes as "Idiot Boxes" because they could be placed just about anywhere, by anyone and still give an ok shot. I like lights that give me more control. Lights that cast noticable shadows and can be used to define the shape of the subject. My personal preference runs towards smaller light boxes, hard lights and spots. Of course, everybody has their own needs and preferences.

    -Neal
     
  19. steve

    steve Member

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    For architectural work, you get really different effects using an umbrella or a softbox. The umbrellas can be used as reflectors or you can shoot through them to soften the light further. I use the Calumet umbrellas with the black cover that can be removed so you can control the amount of ambient "bounce" from the umbrella. The umbrella will "wrap" things with light because of the ambient bounce lighting from them.

    Softboxes are much more directional and with care, you can make light look like its coming from windows, instead of just an overall illumination level gain like you get from umbrellas.
     
  20. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    It seems that everything here has been pretty well covered. I agree the main difference is between the two is a softbox is far easier to use to control where the light is going. As has been mentioned, you can light the subject, feather the light, scrim it to reduce light on certain areas, keep the light from hitting your background, and move it in closer, probably to the subject. However it is just a tool that was invented to upgrade the umbrella. All these things can be achieved with an umbrella with flags and scrims but it takes more time and space and I'd personally rather be working with my subject.

    Another thing to consider when photographing people. Portrait lighting is different from fashion lighting generally, in that in portraiture, you use little or no makeup on the subject. The contours or the face are enhanced by correct placement of the light. In fashion this is usually done with makeup. Therefore fashion people tend to use umbrellas more, set back farther, and allow the models to move around more, which shows the clothes they are modelling to have movement.

    When photographing groups, you tend to light more like fashion, with the lights back farther, and create a 3 to 1 ratio. When doing portraits you generally get the lights as close to the subject as you possibly can and then create any lighting ratio you want. You fine tune more, and softboxes are easier.

    As for the quality of light between umbrellas and softboxes, they can be about the same. Silver vs white umbrellas are different from each other, and softboxes also have removable baffles inside which will change the quality of the light they put out. Different size softboxes have different effects on the subject as well, besides softness. I have about 5 different softboxes, a mola and a halo light modifier. I like them all, but for different applications. Probably for head and shoulders I like a 24x36 softbox up real close better than anything. I use it with a reflector on the opposite side and a umbrella back behind the camera set about 2 stops lower.

    As I mentioned before, doing portraits is not about fiddling with equipment, and tripping over cords and light stands. It is about developing a relationship with the subject, and mucking around with too much equipment will negatively reflect on your photographs.

    Michael McBlane