Beautifully diffused lighting can make or break a portrait. Harsh undiffused flash often creates ugly shadows and unflattering contrast. That’s where softbox modifiers come in – they transform the quality of artificial light to make any subject look their very best.
Softboxes produce a soft, wraparound quality of light that sculpts and flatters the subject’s features. The diffusion eliminates hard shadows and creates bright, sparkling catchlights in the eyes. Compared to bare flash, it’s night and day.
But with so many softbox size and shape options available, how do you choose the right one for your needs?
In this article, we’ll break down the top 5 softbox modifiers for taking your flash photography to the next level. You’ll discover the best softboxes for portraits, fashion, and location shooting.
We’ll also discuss what to look for when selecting a softbox, features that make a difference, and techniques to use these light shapers like a pro.
Ready to step up your portrait lighting game? Let’s dive in!
Top 5 Softbox Modifiers for Flash Photography
1. 24″ x 24″ Square Softbox
The 24 inch square softbox is a workhorse modifier and ideal place to start your softbox collection.
This versatile mid-size softbox creates beautiful wraparound lighting perfect for headshots, half body, and short full length portraits.
The square shape produces soft, even light with gradual fall off. Catchlights reflect attractively in the subject’s eyes.
With a 24″ softbox, it’s easy to control the light quality and ratios. Move it closer to your subject for drama or farther back for a softer effect.
Position the box above and angled down 45 degrees as your key light. Place a reflector directly underneath to lift shadows.
Or, use a 24″ softbox up close as a beauty dish alternative. The softness smooths skin beautifully.
Recommended brands: Westcott, Profoto, Aqua Tech, Impact. Great 24″ models include the Westcott Rapid Box Octa, Profoto ProBox, Aqua Tech Box, and Impact Quikbox.
2. 48″ Octagonal Softbox
For full length portraits, the larger 48 inch octagonal softbox bathes subjects in beautiful soft light.
The octagonal shape distributes light more evenly than rectangular softboxes. Catchlights reflect naturally in the eyes.
The extra surface area wraps light around the subject for a flattering look. It adds a gorgeous softness to skin.
Try placing a 48″ octa box above and in front of the subject as your key light. Add a reflector below for fill.
You can also use a large octa as a giant diffused fill source. Pair it with a gridded key light for dimension.
Recommended brands: Westcott, Profoto, Broncolor, Aqua Tech. Good 48″ octa models include the Westcott Apollo Orb, Profoto ProBox, and Aqua Tech Monster.
3. Strip Softboxes
Strip softboxes produce a specialized effect. Their long, narrow shape generates directional light.
Position a horizontal strip box above your subject to accentuate contours. Place it alongside as a hair or rim light.
Or, set up a vertical strip softbox for subtle backlighting or fill. The light wraps around in one direction.
For more precision, use shorter strip boxes like the Westcott 12″ Rapid Box. For full body lighting, go larger such as the Westcott 47″ Rapid Box Strip.
Strip softboxes also pair well with umbrellas and larger softboxes. Use them together for dimension in your lighting.
4. Rectangular Softboxes
Rectangular softboxes offer versatile control over the shape and direction of light.
Medium sized rectangles like the 3 foot by 4 foot work beautifully for full length single-light portraits.
The rectangular catchlights add shape and direction to the eye. Subtly elongates the subject.
You can feather a rect box vertically or horizontally to make lighting more sculpted and dramatic.
Attach adjustable barn doors to precisely tailor the light spread. Grids intensify the directed effect.
For more specialized rectangular lighting, Westcott’s Rapid Box Intensity Pro line features adjustable diffusion and masks. Great for perfect gradients and highlights.
5. Collapsible Mini Softboxes
Collapsible mini softboxes offer impressive light quality in a portable package.
The Westcott Rapid Box series folds down quickly for location shooting. Other top models like the Profoto OCF and Glow HexaPop also pack down small.
Although mini softboxes don’t output as much light as studio versions, they still create beautiful catchlights and soften flash nicely.
Take mini softboxes on the go for events, environmental portraits, or as fill lighting anywhere. Around 24-48 inches is a very useful size range.
They make a perfect companions for portable flash kits like the Godox AD200 or Profoto B10. Convenient, quality light for travel and locations.
How to Choose the Right Softbox Size and Shape
So how do you determine the best softbox style for your needs? Here are some key considerations:
Match softbox size to the framing of your subject for optimal softness. Use larger boxes like the 48 inch octa for full body length. Medium 24-36 inch boxes work best for headshots and half body portraits.
Larger softboxes naturally produce softer, more gradual light falloff and edges around your subject. Smaller boxes create more defined shadows and drama.
Square and octagonal catchlights look extremely natural in the eyes. Rectangular softboxes offer more control over the light shaping and direction.
Strip boxes excel at accentuating contours and features when positioned correctly. The focused beam highlights specific areas.
Portability factors in if you’ll be traveling or moving between locations frequently. Collapsible boxes strike a good balance of light quality and transportability.
In general, it’s smart to have an assortment of softbox sizes and shapes to handle different scenarios. Start with one or two of your most needed sizes, then build up your collection over time.
Important Softbox Features and Considerations
Beyond just size and shape, here are some key features to evaluate when choosing softboxes:
- Sturdy durable construction – metal ribs with quality ripstop nylon. This ensures the box holds its shape and lasts.
- Removable inner diffuser – allows extra diffusion when needed or direct undiffused light.
- Removable outer cover – for further light softening or subtle color effects.
- Adjustable speed ring – mounts softbox securely to various flash heads.
- Lightweight but steady light stand mount – makes positioning easy on location.
- Even light spread – quality boxes maintain consistent light across the entire surface.
- Easy assemble/collapse – quick to set up and tear down on the go.
- Accessories like grids, filters, barn doors – modify and enhance the light beam.
- Brand compatibility – some integrate best with their own lighting system.
- Budget – prices vary widely, invest more for heavy professional use.
Tips for Using Softboxes
Here are some key techniques for positioning your softbox and modifying the light quality:
- Feather the softbox at 45 degree angles to the subject rather than straight on for the most flattering lighting.
- Higher angles produce more shadows and more dramatic look. Lower angles flatten features.
- Distance from subject impacts light ratio – move closer for more contrast or farther for ultra soft effect.
- Use barndoors, grids, flags to precisely shape the beam and control spill.
- Combine softboxes with reflectors, beauty dishes, or snoots for added dimension.
- Take test shots while adjusting to observe the lighting characteristics on your subject’s face and body.
- The pros shoot tethered so they can instantly preview lighting on a large screen and make refinements.
FAQs About Using Softbox Modifiers
What size softbox is best for portraits?
For headshots and half body shots, the 24″ x 24″ square is ideal. It’s large enough to wrap the subject in soft light. For full length shots, go larger like 4′ x 6′ or the 48″ octagonal softbox.
How do I choose between rectangular, square, octagonal boxes?
Octagonal and square softboxes create the softest, most even omni-directional lighting. Rectangular boxes allow you to control the light direction and gradient more.
Where should I position my softbox?
Feather the softbox at a 45 degree angle to your subject rather than straight on for the most flattering direction. Position it above eye level and pointed down for pleasing shadows under the chin and cheeks.
What accessories do I need for a softbox?
At minimum, get a speed ring to mount the softbox to your flash head securely. Removable inner and outer diffusers also allow you to modify the light quality. Barndoors and grids offer more beam shaping control.
How do I get those amazing catchlights in the eyes?
Position medium to large softboxes close to your subject and aim it towards their face for defined rectangular or octagonal catchlights. Square and octagonal shapes reflect most attractively in eyes.
Is a softbox better than a shoot-through umbrella?
Softboxes allow more control over spill and precise beam shaping. But umbrellas also produce nice soft light with bright catchlights. Try both to see what effect you prefer.
Do I need a modeling light?
While not required, modeling lamps help you preview how the light falls on your subject before shooting. LED modeling lamps use less power and run cooler than traditional halogen modeling bulbs.
Start Sculpting the Perfect Lighting
There’s an art to sculpting flattering portrait light. The right modifiers like softboxes make all the difference.
Hopefully this guide gave you a solid foundation for choosing the best softboxes for your needs.
The key is to experiment and practice. See what effect each size and shape produces. Pay attention to the catchlights and shadows.
With experience, you’ll learn techniques to craft beautiful light simply by feathering and positioning a softbox. Your portraits will shine with that flattering softbox quality.
Now grab your flash, softbox, and camera – it’s time to create magic!