7 Tips on How to Use a Softbox for Portraits

Quite a few elements come into play when creating a great portrait. But an argument can be made that lighting is the most important. Shadow and lack of it can transform the entire feel of a picture.

A softbox is among the more popular options when one needs to carefully control lighting. In the following article we’ll examine how to how to use a softbox for portraits. These seven tips will give photographers a perfect skillset to build upon.

1. Intensity and Scaling

how to use a softbox for portraits

When people learn how to use a softbox for portraits they’ll typically face some sizing issues. A softbox functions through a continual rebound effect. The softbox’s enclosed area creates a light source which operates somewhat differently than normal. As such, one should relearn some basic techniques to get the most out of a softbox.

One important tip to keep in mind is that size and proximity work inversely to normal expectations. If one wants to create softer light than the softbox needs to scale up rather than down. A larger softbox can create softer light. Likewise, a softbox produces softer emphasis on a subject as they move together.

2. Create Movie Poster Lighting

middle aged man photographed using monster lighting

Movie posters often utilize a particular lighting trick. It’s used so often in movie posters that people often refer to it as movie poster lighting. It’s a fantastic way of pushing light upward to capture the nuance of a beautiful face.

Movie poster lighting is easy to create with a softbox. Positioning comes up fairly often when learning how to use a softbox for portraits. The other main point which tends to come up quite often is communication. A photographer needs to communicate positioning details to the models. Learning how to use a softbox for portraits usually involves learning how to give directions as well.

In this case one needs to position the lightbox underneath a model. The photographer will then need to have the model move around to test lighting conditions. The most important part of this is her head position. The softbox will bring different facial features into prominence as the model moves her head. A subtle shift in posture will often bring out some amazing effects when paired with a softbox.

3. Using Light Itself as the Background

fashion photography

Backgrounds are a vital part of a great portrait shot. Learning how to use a softbox for portraits should maintain this significance. Use of a softbox presents some exciting new background options. The softlight itself can create the portrait’s background. The main tip relates to changing the normal softbox position.

The photographer should place a softbox behind the subject. This is counterintuitive given that softboxes are usually meant to remove shadows. Instead, this will create shadow. But it’s more in the sense of a silhouette.

From here the photographer can position the model. It’s often best to test a variety of different poses to get the best effect. The silhouette can perfectly highlight areas of particular note. It simply takes a little experimentation to find the best position.

4. The Bay Window Effect

Neewer 6x1.5m Nylon Silk

Bay windows are a popular decorating choice for good reason. Bay windows can present beautiful lighting for both rooms and the people within them. However, simulating a bay window effect with softboxes can produce superior results.

The technique involves draping translucent silk over the softbox. It’s important to position the silk some distance from the actual softbox though. There shouldn’t be direct contact between softbox and silk. A distance of around five or six feet will usually work best.

The end effect is a brighter and crisper shot. The extent of this can be further controlled by moving the subject and box further apart.

5. Create a Beautiful Glow

shooting with softboxes in small spaces

When learning how to use a softbox for portraits, people often need to unlearn some habits. One very important tip to keep in mind involves space. A portrait done with softbox lighting can be shot in very different environments. Those environments can also produce unique effects.

Photographers can use this principle to create a subtle glow in their subjects. The easiest way to do so is by using smaller enclosed areas. The photographer will move a softbox into very close proximity to his subject.

He should position himself within that sphere of light as well. The photographer can judge the distance by this feeling of envelopment. When one feels enveloped by the light, the shot should produce the needed glow.

6. Secondary Reflections

secondary reflection

A softbox functions by bouncing light around within an enclosed environment. When learning how to use a softbox for portraits, one can build upon that principle. The light will first bounce around inside the softbox. The reflected light inside a softbox is a primary source.

When framing the portrait layout one should consider additional reflective elements. Obviously nothing should take too much emphasis off of the primary subject. But highlighting elements near a portion which deserves more attention is a fantastic way to draw an eye.

White surfaces will usually provide some extra reflective ability. One can combine these white surfaces with items that have a more refractive ability. Glass objects or gemstones are the perfect example. They’ll pick up some beautiful traits when used with secondary light from softboxes.

7. Group Compositing with a Softbox

business people photographed in the office

Shooting a group of people poses some unique challenges. A group shot can easily make connections with different demographics. For example, a picture with people of different ages should connect with a similar audience.

Every person in the shot is an important connection to the audience. Placing extra emphasis on one over another will decrease the technique’s effectiveness. But traditional lighting is almost certain to do so thanks to shadows and diffusion. A softbox is usually the answer when photographers find problematic shadows.

Shadows on groups of people can be harder to handle though. Even a softbox will sometimes end up overwhelmed by group pictures. Photographers can get around this problem through less conventional use of softboxes.

The softbox is first set up to shine in a horizontal orientation. One will then orient the light to perfectly highlight a specific person. Finally, the photographer can take the softbox lit shot. The trick is to do this individually for every person in the group in quick succession.

The photographer can then composite the pictures into a singular whole. This trick gives perfect softbox lighting to everyone in the group. In doing so it maintains emphasis on every individual who’s a part of the shot.

Summing Up

These tips show just how much a softbox can do. It’s a fairly simple tool when compared to most photography equipment. But the simplicity hides some amazing versatility.

Just changing the position of a softbox can create dramatically different results. The tips showcase just how much one can gain through experimentation. It’s easy to build upon these tips to create innovative new techniques.

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About Amanda Jones

Professional photographer and freelance writer, Amanda is specialized in wedding and travel photography. Every day she enjoys taking long walks around the city, from where she takes inspiration for her day-to-day work. She always hunts magical locations to astonish her subjects.