If you are not limiting yourself to natural light photography, at some point you may start to consider flashes or strobes and various light modifiers for them. Umbrella and softbox are two of the most commonly used light modifiers for portrait photography. People are quick to notice that umbrellas are typically much cheaper than softboxes. Does it mean you get what you paid for?
Most likely not.
They are simply different and have their unique characteristics. I have seen both being used in professional studios and the results are all fantastic.
Umbrella is cheaper and easier to carry and setup than the softbox. You can get a decent one for less than $20. You only need a umbrella holder (Shoe Mount Multiclamp) and a light stand to complete the setup.
Umbrella is more versatile. You can use shoot through or bounce. Some people think it is a matter of choice , others think one way is better than the other. The end results aren’t that drastically different and some of the differences can be attributed to the differences in the umbrella or the ways they are used.
Umbrella spreads light across a larger volume and is suitable for group shots. The softbox on the contrary has a more defined light and is suitable for individual portrait unless you can get very expensive large softbox. If you want better light control, go with softbox. If you don’t mind the light spill, which sometimes creates more uniform lighting in confined spaces, go with umbrella that is more flexible. If you can afford it, get them both and use the best one for the task.
Here are some interesting links that may help you to decide.
- Video: Umbrella of softbox in studio
- Article: Softbox vs. umbrella
- Article: Umbrella vs. Softbox: a quick comparison
- Article: Another quick comparison: Shoot through umbrella vs. bounce w/ cover
- Article: How an umbrella works
Personally I have decided on umbrella long time ago and have gotten some good results. I do have a softbox coming just to get some hands-on experience on the differences between umbrella and softbox.
Keywords: Flash photography, Light Modifier, softbox, Strobe, Studio Lighting, Umbrella