Fashion Photography Lighting: Soft Boxes

Soft Boxes can be a photographer's best friend, especially in the glamorous world of fashion photography where soft light is preferred over hard light.

Step One: Understanding Soft and Hard Light

Soft light is diffused light. To understand the concept, think about the weather. On sunny days, when there's almost no clouds in the sky, sunlight beams down on planet earth unobstructed, causing harsh shadows outdoors. That's because the light rays travel in the same direction.

Cloudy days are radically different. On an overcast day, clouds cover the entire sky and the sun's rays get diffused. They end up bouncing around in all directions making shadows minimal. The light will appear to be coming from every direction.

Fashion photography loves soft light because it wraps a subject in light and makes them appear more flattering.

Step Two: Turning Your Lamps Into Soft Light

It's very simple to make your lights soft. You just need to shine them through a material that will diffuse them. It could be cloth muslin, silk, shower curtains, or other similar materials. The heavier the material the more diffused it becomes, but keep in mind that this will sacrifice the intensity of the light.

There are roughly three ways to add diffusion to your lights. You can physically attach the diffusion onto the light, but this could become a fire hazard. You can build a frame and attach the diffusion to it, then position the frame a few feet away from the light. Or you can use a soft box.

Step Three: Understanding the Advantages of a Soft Box

A soft box is designed to give you a wide spread of soft light. Also known as Chimeras, they attach directly to your light. They're comprised of four parts and are actually not boxes. There is the ring which attaches to the light, four sticks that connect the black box, which is flexible like a bag, to the ring giving the soft box it's shape, and the diffusion material which attaches to the front of the box.

Soft boxes are black on the outside so that light does not bounce off of it creating unwanted problems. The insides are reflective to maximize the light coming from the bulb and out of the box. They are also wider at the diffusion end to maximize the soft spread of light.

Soft box sizes are determined by the ring. Some rings can be adjusted to fit different size lights. The diffusion in a soft box can be changed to accommodate heavy and light material. 

Step Four: How to Build a Poor Man's Soft Box

Sometimes a chimera may be missing on a shoot's equipment order. It's very easy to build your own to get by for the day. All you need is a large piece of black and white foam core, black tape, diffusion material, and a light stand.

Cut the foam core into four equal size pieces that will cover the light. Keep the white on the inside and join the pieces together with black tape. Tape your coice of diffusion to the front of the box. Mount the box on a stand and place it in front of the light you want to diffuse.

It's not as good as a chimera, but it will do.

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