Light-direction and diffusion tools are used with studio lights in photography to soften the light from a flash when it’s used as the primary light source on the subject. Normally, the light from a flash is very “hard” and direct, causing harsh shadows to be created with sharp edges that tend to be unflattering to the subject and final photographs. There are numerous light-direction and diffusion tools on the market to help with this issue. Two of the most popular are softboxes and octoboxes. While they are made based upon similar principles, they do have some distinct differences when it comes to your final photographic results. To start, as the name implies, an octobox is octagonal. Comparatively, a softbox is either square or rectangular in shape. They work with your other studio equipment in about the same way; however, they will yield distinct differences and advantages in your photographs.
Octaboxes for PortraitsWhile you could say that an octobox is a type of softbox, an octobox offers specific advantages in portrait photography scenarios. Octoboxes have a circular shape that gives portrait subjects a round-shaped shine in their eyes in your final result. This round reflection resembles the sparkle that you’d get from the sun. It feels much more natural than the eye sparkle given off by a softbox, which tends to be square or rectangular. You should be aware that regardless of the size of your octobox, it’s going to radiate about a 12 foot radius with a one foot fall-off. The difference, however, will be in the quality of light; smaller octoboxes create a more direct light, while larger octoboxes result in a softer, more subtle wrap-around light. Larger octoboxes result in almost no shadow around your subject, while smaller octoboxes are more directional and can start leaving a shadow with the smaller-sized octoboxes. You should also be aware that the larger the octobox you’re using, the stronger the flash that will be needed to radiate onto your subject for optimal results.
How Softboxes WorkSoftboxes help you to direct and soften your light. Light from a softbox is muted and subdued and has lots of depth; it molds and contours your subject without causing sharp or jarring transitions. Softboxes are often used with a flash, but they are sometimes with system flashes and daylight bulbs. While a flash photograph without a softbox can have sharp shadows and a flat two-dimensional look, a softbox-lit portrait tends to have deeper shadows that can be very dimensional, sculptural and compelling in your prints. Softbox lighting falls off much quicker than light from an octobox. It also produces a square or rectangular window-like reflection, which can be desirable for object or product photography, but not as desirable with human subjects.
A Matter of Personal ChoiceThat said, softboxes have a universality that many photographers love. While the octobox has a specific area of expertise (portrait work), softboxes tend to be the workhorse for general photography lighting. Their square or rectangular shapes may not lend themselves to the attractive round reflections that the octobox yields; however, they do quite well with subjects like products, pieces of art and other inanimate objects. The octobox is clearly more complex than the softbox in terms of construction; it is an eight-sided device, while the softbox has four sides. If you do a lot of location work and would like to use your lighting equipment outside of the studio setting, ease of setup and takedown is a consideration. In this way, some softboxes are easier to transport than octoboxes. The best way to determine which device is a fit for you is by trying them out. Consider borrowing a friend’s gear or renting one of each to see the results firsthand. When you’re ready to buy, consider a lighting kit to help save money while outfitting yourself with all the gear you’ll need.
Do you prefer the results of an octobox over a softbox for portraiture?
-Backdrop Express Photography Team
Interested in learning more about studio lighting tools? Check out: Improving Your Lighting with a Reflector!
Trackback from your site.