How a Softbox Works

A softbox is a tool used in photography to help light a scene or a subject more evenly. It creates a diffused lighting effect, producing a softer yet more natural lighting condition compared to using flash or any direct source of light alone. This device is commonly found in studios, to replicate the type of light found outdoors that can be controlled. Using the device allows photographers to control the effect of light on the subject or scene and be creative. The size of the device and the distance from the subject can affect amount and type of light being produced to illuminate the scene. A balance between the two will help photographers create a more balanced lighting effect.

How It Works

The softbox was invented to meet the needs of photographers for a tool which could produce diffused light on demand. It was noticed that diffused light was more flattering. This effect was achieved when taking photographs on a cloudy day or using a filtered or indirect light source, such as light coming from a window. The device looks like a simple box on a stand. A flash device is stored in an enclosure containing reflective walls, an Internal Baffle and a Front Diffusion Face.

Once the button is pressed to activate the flash, the light reflects off the silver interior lining and passing through the baffle and diffuser. The silver lining acts as a reflector while the baffle and diffuser help create a smoother and more even level of lighting. It is the baffle and the diffuser that create a more diffused lighting effect, reducing the contrast, the amount of hotspots being produced and softening the shadows as well. These factors become more important, especially when taking photographs of reflective surfaces.

Large vs Small Lighting

Understanding how light works is important in order to be able to use this device more effectively.  When it comes to size, the theory is that larger boxes produce a more diffused effect. Comparing two different sizes used from the same distance from the subject, results show that smaller boxes produce a harsher level of light and stronger shadows.

Distance from the Subject

It is wrong to believe that placing the device farther back will produce a more a diffused effect. What happens in reality is that the amount of light being produced becomes smaller yet more concentrated. This is similar to using smaller boxes, producing images that are higher in contrast with stronger shadows.

The Wrap-around Effect

This refers to the type of light produced by the boxes. Because the amount of light is diffused, it appears to “wrap around the subject,” reducing the extreme contrast between the lighted and shaded areas. The light from the sun also produces the same effect. Although the sun is an immense light source, the distance from the Earth makes it act like a smaller light source. Using the previously discussed theories, large light sources that are placed a great distance away produce hard light and shadows. With taking photographs on a cloudy day, the clouds act as a diffuser. The light from the sun are sent in different directions, creating a softer light effect.