Using A Soft Box
Soft Box is undoubtedly one of the essential lighting modifiers in most every professional photographer’s toolkit. But why is it so vital? The answer lies in its adaptability for any style of shooting. Soft Box emits soft, even light appealing for fashion, product, portraiture, video, you name it. Let’s explore and learn more about what makes the Soft Box the most popular light modifier in the world.
WHAT IS A SOFT BOX AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
A soft box is a term that describes an enclosure or “a box” that confines a light source from all sides and diffuses the emitted light from the front side.
Soft boxes are built of lightweight materials, come in all sizes, and are very portable. The lightweight box is made of translucent cloth, wrapped around a wire frame and attached to a light source, whether it is a studio strobe or speed light.
Early soft boxes were large plywood boxes with an open front and tracks along the top and bottom where various diffusion flats could be slid into place. These cumbersome fixtures were used by motion picture lighting directors to achieve soft lighting effects since 1915. Yet the first photographers to design the modern soft box based on tent technology in 1979 were Gary Regester and Tom Frost. Early photographers loved to use a soft box to imitate the beauty of north light, since the square soft box had close to exact soft light qualities that old photo studios would get from having a large north-facing window.
The photo on the left shows a studio with a huge North facing window. At the end of the 19th century and until 1930s almost every photo studio had such a window for shooting portraits. The photo of the boy on the right was taken exactly by such window. Notice how soft and smooth the light is.
There are many sizes of soft boxes available on the market. Our Studio is equipped with just the right variety of soft box modifiers to fulfill a large spectrum of lighting setups. Adding up the various distances at which they can be effective, we end up with a lot of possible combinations and choices. In the series of photos below, we see how different sizes of soft boxes affect the same subject. Note that the soft box is very close to the subject in all the shots. This helps us to see the differences in performance between the various sizes. All of the displayed soft boxes and grids are available at FD Photo Studio!
Did you notice the difference in the light coverage area as well as its intensity? The rule of thumb is the larger the light source, in relation to the subject, the softer the light becomes. Soft light reduces contrast, conceals skin blemishes, and softens the edges of the shadows. Feel free to experiment with the position of soft box — move it to the side or center, up or down, closer or further — to see how the shadows, hardness of light change. If your images look flat, you can try placing the light at an angle. If you’re getting uneven or harsh lighting, try moving the box in front of the subject.
Choosing lighting styles is largely a matter of personal preference, so any size soft box can be used for product and still life photography.
Examples of common lighting setups with Soft Boxes:
ONE LIGHT SETUP
1. PROFILE LIGHT (SOFTBOX AS A RIM LIGHT )
Profile shots are great for fashion photography, traditional portraiture, photographing children or brides—pretty much any model shoot.
Place the light at an angle behind or in front of the model to create a rim light, just lighting the model’s profile slightly (See diagram).
2. SOFT BOX + REFLECTOR (CONTEMPORARY BEAUTY LOOK)
You only need one light and just a small white reflector to get this look.
Place the main light up high, directly in line with the model’s nose so as not to produce any shadows to the left or right of the nose. Place a reflector down below to catch the light and fill in the areas under the chin, nose, and eyes, bringing out more detail in the shadows (See diagram).
3. SILHOUETTE (SOFT BOX AS A BACKGROUND)
Use the softbox as your background to get a nice, high-impact silhouette of your model. Place your model in front of the soft box. Try different poses to see which one looks best later on. You need to make sure your exposure is rich enough and deep enough to get complete black in the silhouette and ensure you don’t lose detail in the hair and neckline (see diagram).
TWO LIGHT SETUP
1. PORTRAIT SHOOT WITH HIGHLIGHTED BACKGROUND
Use one soft box to light up the backdrop from down bellow. Place another Soft box right above the model’ slightly to camera’s right. You might want to use a reflector to highlight the other side of model’s face (see diagram).
This setup is very popular since it creates a smoothing beauty effect that hides skins imperfection and age related marks. It is called the “clamshell” due to a 2 light setup in front of the model’s face that angled towards each other and resembling the actual clamshell. It would be a good idea to use a reflector to highlight the shoulders and the back of the model’s head (see diagram).
3. “TWO AS ONE” SETUP
This setup is quite simple. All you need is to place two soft boxes very closer together facing the model and turn the corners of each soft box vertically so the fixtures would touch each other at its corner and create a 90 degrees angle. Place your camera right below the in-between the boxes to take a shot. You can play with the intensity of the lights to create more depth and have one side as Key light and another one as Fill light (see diagram).
THREE LIGHT SETUP
1. “CLASSIC” SETUP
This 3 light setup is among the most commonly used in both photo and video production. 2 lights are placed on both sides of the camera facing model at 45 degree angle. You can narrow or widen the distance between the strobes to play with the light. The third strobe is above the model highlighting shoulders and the back of the head. (see diagram).
2. “HIGHLIGHTED BACKGROUND” SETUP
This setup is somewhat the opposite of the “classic” 3 light setup. Point both side strobes to highlight white background and the top strobe in front of the model above (see diagram).
3. “FILM NOIR” SETUP
This style is easily recognized – deep dark shadows with hard edges, bright highlights, high contrast, – all that creates dramatic lighting. In this setup one light was highlighting the background from below. The key light, on a camera right was facing the model from a side, and the fill light, from camera’s left was on side above the model highlighting the back of his neck and the edge of his contour (see diagram).
These are just few examples out of infinite variety of light setups with the soft boxes only. As you can notice one can achieve very distinct character of the picture without using enormous amount of equipment. The best thing is, all of these soft boxes are available for your use for free at our studio as these modifiers are already included in the hourly rate. The creativity lies in your trial and error with precious moments of blissful epiphany. So get creative, inspire!
* I want to thank my friends for participating in this educational project and being the most awesomest models I could get to the studio at 12 am without prior notice. Denis Sharov and Diana Kotova you are the real MVPs!
** NONE of the pictures were color corrected or photoshopped (except film noir, for obvious reasons). What you see is what you get off the camera.