Studio Basics: Using a Softbox for Portraiture

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

My post and vlog, Welcome to My Studio, mentioned the different kinds of light modifiers used with my Paul C. Buff Alien Bee and DigiBee monolights. Today, lets talk about two of these devices—the softboxes. A softbox is a type of light modifier that creates even, soft lighting by passing light from a source through diffusion material or by reflecting light off a second surface before passing it through a front, diffusion panel.

Back in the day people liked to say that softboxes produced the kind of light quality  you get from window light and that’s still valid today. You’ll occasionally hear these devices called “lightbanks” because that particular term refers to the many shapes and sizes in which softboxes are available, not just window-like rectangular.

There are lots of reasons for using a softbox to diffuse the raw light produced by a monolight, flash head or even a speedlight. One is the clean unobstructed highlights reflected off the subject no matter whether it’s a product or a portrait subject. The other is the ability to work within a short distance of the subject maximizing the quality of a softbox’s broad light source. One of the most important rules of portrait lighting is that the larger the light source is, the softer it is and the closer a light source is to a subject the softer it becomes.

Another advantage of softboxes (especially over umbrellas) is you have more control of the light because a softbox’s flat diffuser and opaque shell keeps light from spilling onto surrounding objects or creating flare. But one of the few downsides of using softboxes is as the front surface get bigger, the box itself also gets bigger and deeper.

 

Lighting innovator Gary Regester created a softbox with a thinner-than-normal profile that he called the Plume Wafer. The narrow profile, silver and white interior with graduated inner baffles are efficient and offer a choice of contrast across the front diffuser. Its narrow profile comes from using aluminum tubes and fiberglass rods with reinforced pockets in the corners. The inner baffles, rear closures and speed rings are interchangeable.

How I made this shot: I photographed Pamela Simpson wearing white in my 11×15-foot home studio. A Paul C. Buff DigiBee DB800 with 37×27-inch Plume Wafer Hexoval 100 Softbox softbox mounted was at camera left. A Purple Haze Alien Bee was placed at camera right. Camera was a Nikon D5100 with 15-55mm kit lens (at 55mm) with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/9 and ISO 200. Background is the (formerly) white wall in my  home studio.


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My title for Posing for Portrait and Glamour Photography was originally The ABC’s of Portrait Posing. On this blog there are lots of posts about posing. Use the Search box on the upper right-hand corner and type “posing” to find some. If you want something more lasting, take a look at my book with new copies available from Amazon for $17.94 as I write this. The Kindle version is $17.04 for those preferring a digital format.