Advantages Of Photographic Umbrellas & Soft Boxes

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Studio Equipment

man on white photo background with umbrella

Photographers use soft box or an umbrella to manipulate the lighting that is used to focus on the subject or object being photographed. Both umbrellas and soft boxes decrease the harshness of direct lighting and can reduce the risk of unwanted shadows appearing in a photo. If you take a look at an image taken with an on-board flash, you’ll understand the problems that occur when relying only on that type of light source.

What Are They?

A photographic umbrella is a small umbrella that is made with an inner lining that reflects light. The light from the strobe inside an umbrella will reflect off of the lining. In contrast, a soft box is a box that is either the shape of a square or a rectangle and contains your light source. A thin piece of material at the front of the soft box softens or diffuses the light it covers.

photo umbrella

Which Should You Use?

There are distinct differences between soft boxes and umbrellas. Typically, umbrellas are less expensive than soft boxes, which makes the umbrella a better choice for photographers who are just starting out and have a tight budget. Umbrellas are also a good way to learn to use your photographic equipment prior to adding new and more complicated equipment. Compared to a soft box, umbrellas are more portable and easier to transport for location shoots.


Using umbrellas is a good way to cast lighting on many different subjects with more flexibility as far as distance from the light source. Conversely, a soft box has light that is easier to focus closely within shorter distances. A soft box can be used to illuminate a subject with less light cast on the background. You have the ability to add components like filters and grids to soft boxes to make significant changes to the effect of the lighting. Umbrellas may not be quite as versatile, but they are adjustable in terms of using different reflective materials for different light effects. Both soft boxes and umbrella lights are beneficial tools for photographers.

Do you use an umbrella or soft box? 

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in learning more about studio lighting equipment? Check out Lighting Series: Split Lighting!

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