Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

Started Apr 3, 2008 | Discussions
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steverhodes Regular Member • Posts: 238
Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

I've got a D300 and an SB800 which I've been using by bouncing off ceilings and walls. Although most of the time I do roaming photography stuff, sometimes I do do portraits at school and church functions. I went to my local big camera store and asked about umbrella(s) today for the portraits. They were happy to sell me what I asked for but suggested that I should think about getting softbox(es) instead.

Is a softbox better, worse or about the same? What should I buy first? I need to do a bunch of portraits in a few weeks.

And should I try to start with just one flash or go ahead and get a second flash and second softbox or umbrella?

Advice please! Thanks!

Beastman Regular Member • Posts: 150
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

steverhodes wrote:

I've got a D300 and an SB800 which I've been using by bouncing off
ceilings and walls. Although most of the time I do roaming
photography stuff, sometimes I do do portraits at school and church
functions. I went to my local big camera store and asked about
umbrella(s) today for the portraits. They were happy to sell me what
I asked for but suggested that I should think about getting
softbox(es) instead.

Is a softbox better, worse or about the same? What should I buy
first? I need to do a bunch of portraits in a few weeks.

And should I try to start with just one flash or go ahead and get a
second flash and second softbox or umbrella?

Advice please! Thanks!

let me guess.. the softboxes were more expensive?! lol, just kidding.

softboxes are good for outside, due to wind reasons. but if thats not an issue, I dont see why umbrellas wouldnt work. I think I heard that theyve worked for a couple photographers in the past!

if your upcoming portraits are in a static location, set yourself up with your softbox or umbrella and use a reflector to fill the far side, no?

gallax Regular Member • Posts: 125
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

It's not about which one is better and which one is worse. They are different tools for different tasks.

The umbrella is more flexible, but not as effective as a softbox in terms of light control. Also, it's harder to get a softbox to work with a wireless flash (IR/visible light type).

swu Regular Member • Posts: 468
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

it really depends on what you want to achieve.

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

gallax wrote:

It's not about which one is better and which one is worse. They are
different tools for different tasks.

The umbrella is more flexible, but not as effective as a softbox in
terms of light control. Also, it's harder to get a softbox to work
with a wireless flash (IR/visible light type).

I'll be using the CLS system of Nikon's, so I'm not sure why this wouldn't work, so long as it was in the arc of the on-camera flash. Right?

Re: " They are different tools for different tasks"

Which task then is each for?

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

swu wrote:

it really depends on what you want to achieve.

I want to achieve a nicely lit photo.

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

Beastman wrote:

steverhodes wrote:

I've got a D300 and an SB800 which I've been using by bouncing off
ceilings and walls. Although most of the time I do roaming
photography stuff, sometimes I do do portraits at school and church
functions. I went to my local big camera store and asked about
umbrella(s) today for the portraits. They were happy to sell me what
I asked for but suggested that I should think about getting
softbox(es) instead.

Is a softbox better, worse or about the same? What should I buy
first? I need to do a bunch of portraits in a few weeks.

And should I try to start with just one flash or go ahead and get a
second flash and second softbox or umbrella?

Advice please! Thanks!

let me guess.. the softboxes were more expensive?! lol, just kidding.
softboxes are good for outside, due to wind reasons. but if thats not
an issue, I dont see why umbrellas wouldnt work. I think I heard
that theyve worked for a couple photographers in the past!
if your upcoming portraits are in a static location, set yourself up
with your softbox or umbrella and use a reflector to fill the far
side, no?

The price is about the same. How do I decide which one to get?

gallax Regular Member • Posts: 125
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

The umbrella is cheap, is not too heavy, is easy to carry and to store. But the light coming through it is not perfectly even - you get a lot of scattering so the light 'spills' on the walls and on the background. If you use it as a projector (black back) keep in mind that some of the light goes through it (you get light in the back of the black umbrella), the shape is not perfectly spherical so the light bounces in a way which is harder to control. And the spokes can generate unwanted highlights.

The softbox is big, is heavy (needs a stronger light stand), YOU CAN NOT use an infrared-triggered flash head inside as 99% of the flash heads (I don't know about nikons, but the canon ones need to see the master in order to trigger, and being inside a black box doesn't help). But the light created with it is easy to control - you get no spills, you can add modifiers (grids, blinds) and you get an even specular highlight (eye reflection) instead of a spider-web-umbrella-like.

Beastman Regular Member • Posts: 150
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

gallax wrote:

The umbrella is cheap, is not too heavy, is easy to carry and to
store. But the light coming through it is not perfectly even - you
get a lot of scattering so the light 'spills' on the walls and on the
background. If you use it as a projector (black back) keep in mind
that some of the light goes through it (you get light in the back of
the black umbrella), the shape is not perfectly spherical so the
light bounces in a way which is harder to control. And the spokes can
generate unwanted highlights.

The softbox is big, is heavy (needs a stronger light stand), YOU CAN
NOT use an infrared-triggered flash head inside as 99% of the flash
heads (I don't know about nikons, but the canon ones need to see the
master in order to trigger, and being inside a black box doesn't
help). But the light created with it is easy to control - you get no
spills, you can add modifiers (grids, blinds) and you get an even
specular highlight (eye reflection) instead of a
spider-web-umbrella-like.

thats pretty much it in a nutshell. Im kinda thinking id favor the white umbrella and a silver bounce card on the other side. of course were assuming that you DONT buy that second flash... i bet that didnt help ya!

Jeff Maanum Senior Member • Posts: 1,185
Go to the strobist website

They have TONS of info about what you are trying to do.
--

Support our troops. Bring them home to their families.

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Yes, but ... Re: Go to the strobist website

Jeff Maanum wrote:

They have TONS of info about what you are trying to do.
--
Support our troops. Bring them home to their families.

They do indeed. But I felt like a guy trying to write an essay on a subject by going to the dictionary for advice.

I gave up in frustration, hoping that I could get an answer here to what appeared to me to be a simple question -- umbrella or softbox for someone starting off with a little simple off camera lighting.

My camera shop said that they were about the same and that both could be used with my Nikon CLS to trigger them. They left the decision to me.

jmaditto Regular Member • Posts: 474
Re: Yes, but ... Re: Go to the strobist website

I feel your pain. Lots of info out there. I couldn't decide so I went with both. And to add another variable into mix, there is a shoot thru and bounce umbrellas. Now even more to learn.

Good luck

ExNihilo Contributing Member • Posts: 543
softbox all the way

No questions asked.

Softboxes eat up light, but I'd shoot with one (or a shoot through brolly) over a reflector umbrella any day...

http://www.Strobist.com even came to this conclusion just recently!

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Re: softbox all the way

ExNihilo wrote:

No questions asked.

Softboxes eat up light, but I'd shoot with one (or a shoot through
brolly) over a reflector umbrella any day...

http://www.Strobist.com even came to this conclusion just recently!

Do you know WHERE on their vast site they came to this conclusion? I'd like to read the article now? Thanks!

P.S. I looked now and found them concluding that shoot through umbrellas were better than reflectors but I did not see any reference to softboxes. Also, I've been told (by some, not all) that softboxes will not work if I'm using Nikon's CLS to fire the flashes.

swu Regular Member • Posts: 468
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

You are asking a subjective question - I can use my cheap equipments to achieve nice lit photos than many, but it doesn't mean other people can do the same with them. It all boils down to how much experience and knowledge you have. Look around for many C&C photos with nice equipments that turn out not so nicely.

If you can't decide, try softbox first. That way you know your fault isn't with cheap umbrella.

steverhodes wrote:

swu wrote:

it really depends on what you want to achieve.

I want to achieve a nicely lit photo.

LeonelMaluf
LeonelMaluf Regular Member • Posts: 435
Re: Softbox(es) vs. umbrella(s) -- advice please!

Umbrellas and softboxes are very different approaches to the final result.While the umbrellas are more directional and "hard" , softboxes gives you softer and diffuse light for pleasent effect portraits.They are like "window light".

You also can mix them playing with the good old "Key light - fill light" equation.

Personally i prefer continuous light: Fresnell, KinoFlo, softboxes..All mixed up! But that's another talk...
Hope i've been of some help to you!
http://www.dropbox.com/LeoMaluf

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Re: Go to the strobist website

Jeff Maanum wrote:

They have TONS of info about what you are trying to do.
--
Support our troops. Bring them home to their families.

Based on the strobist website, I decided that firing through an umbrella was the best thing to start with, so I ordered a setup with 2 translucent umbrellas plus two white on black umbrellas for reflector work later and I ordered a 2nd SB-800 flash for getting started.

Erick123 Junior Member • Posts: 39
Try this...

There was a discussion on this topic a couple of weeks ago...

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1025&message=27124143

plus there are lots of websites out there, one of the better ones is from Photoflex.

http://www.photoflexlightingschool.com/Lighting_Lessons/index.html

There is a wealth of info out there, check it out.

Bottom line, the total area of the light source and its relative distance to your subject will play the largest role in soft/hard your light is. So from that perspective they won't differ much assuming they are the same size. However, the umbrella is going to scatter much more light and depending on what you're trying to do, it might contaminate the background. Softboxes are less likely to do so.

I have both and have had very few problems with Nikon CLS working in either of them. Just be mindful of where your sensor is.

FredJamesPhotography Veteran Member • Posts: 3,972
The softer the better - My suggestion and some samples

When doing portraits you want a softer light. At least I like it that way. When using an umbrella you can have a harsher shadow in my opinion. I always like something that allows me to bounce the light off the back and then let it come back through the front.

I haven't used flash for many years and enjoy using natural light or even lamps i n the house. I would suggest getting practice with out flash so you can get an understanding of light and if you buy anything make it a softbox for starters.

Then you can buy other devices as you get better with your understanding of light.

Here's a few with out flash but with a lamp or video light or daylight. You already have all you need to practice portrait lighting. The softbox or umbrella is only gonna help you to duplicate what you do with natural light at a time when that light is not available.

good luck , Fred

steverhodes OP Regular Member • Posts: 238
Summary of my purchase and my worries

steverhodes wrote:

I've got a D300 and an SB800 which I've been using by bouncing off
ceilings and walls. Although most of the time I do roaming
photography stuff, sometimes I do do portraits at school and church
functions. I went to my local big camera store and asked about
umbrella(s) today for the portraits. They were happy to sell me what
I asked for but suggested that I should think about getting
softbox(es) instead.

Is a softbox better, worse or about the same? What should I buy
first? I need to do a bunch of portraits in a few weeks.

And should I try to start with just one flash or go ahead and get a
second flash and second softbox or umbrella?

much later steverhodes wrote:

Based on the strobist website, I decided that firing through an
umbrella was the best thing to start with, so I ordered a setup with
2 translucent umbrellas plus two white on black umbrellas for
reflector work later and I ordered a 2nd SB-800 flash for getting
started.

Thanks to everyone for their help. I have been frozen in my decison process for a long time (several years) since there are so many option and opinions when it comes to lighting.

Using no lighing or simple bouced lighting is so much easier. But I've always know I wanted to try more.

That said, I worry that I'll soon be getting buyer's remorse wondering if whatever I got, I should have gotten something else. I've never regreted a camera or a lens purchase but this lighting is something else entirely.

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