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Softbox vs. Umbrella for Product Photography. Which Is Better?

When it comes to softbox vs. umbrella for product photography, there are pros and cons to both. 

In this article, we will discuss the differences between softboxes and umbrellas and recommend which one to get for your product photography needs.

Softbox or Umbrella, Which Is Better for Product Photography?

Studio with Godox Softboxes
Photo by Harry Cunningham

In product photography, softboxes are generally the better option because they provide more precise control of the light in comparison to umbrellas. One situation where an umbrella light may be a better choice than a softbox is when you are shooting a very large product, such as a car. In this case, you may want the light to spread out more evenly over the surface of the product.

When it comes to softboxes vs. umbrellas, the best option for you will depend on your specific needs. If you need to be able to control the light very precisely, then a softbox is the better choice. If you are shooting a large product and need the light to spread out more evenly, then an umbrella may be a better choice. Ultimately, the choice between a softbox or an umbrella for product photography depends on the situation and specific requirements of the project.

Now, let’s get into more details about each of these two light modifiers and make it easier for you to decide which one is better suited to your needs.

Softboxes for Product Photography

Softboxes are one of the most popular light modifiers used in product photography. They provide a soft, diffused light that is perfect for highlighting the details of products. Softboxes also allow you to control the direction of the light, which is perfect for when you want to create specific lighting effects in your product photos.

Most softboxes come with a honeycomb grid that attaches to the bevel of the softbox with velcro. Honeycomb grid directs the light from the softbox in a tight beam for much more precise control of the light.

Types of Softboxes for Product Photography

There are two main types of softboxes that are used in product photography:

  • Rectangular softboxes
  • Strip softboxes (stripboxes)

Both of these types have their own set of features and applications.

Rectangular Softbox

Godox rectangular softbox for product photography

A rectangular softbox is the most popular type of softbox used in product photography. This is because of its simple shape which gives a natural-looking light that looks like it’s coming from a window.

Rectangular softboxes provide a soft, diffused light that is perfect for highlighting the details of products.

Rectangular softboxes come in different sizes, from small to large. The size of the softbox you need will depend on the size of the product you are photographing.

If you are just starting out in product photography, we recommend a 2×3′ (60x90cm) rectangular softbox. It is the most versatile size of the softbox that is suitable for the majority of product photography scenarios.

Strip Softbox (Stripbox)

Strip softbox (stripbox) from Godox for product photography

A strip softbox, also known as a stripbox, is a rectangular softbox but it has a much narrower width than a regular rectangular softbox. This type of softbox is often used to create product photos with light streaks or for product photos with light coming from behind the product. Stripboxes are also frequently used when photographing bottles.

Product photography shot of a bottle of wine using stripbox softbox
Photo by Dustin Dolby

Strip softboxes also come in different sizes, from small to large. The size of the strip softbox you require will be determined by the size of the object you are photographing.

If you are considering buying a strip softbox, we recommend you get Godox 9″x 35″ 22x90cm Honeycomb Grid Strip Softbox.

What Softbox Size is Best for Product Photography?

The size of the softbox you need will depend on the product you are photographing and the effect you want to create.

For small products, such as jewelry, a standard softbox 24×36 inches (60×90 cm) or smaller is perfect. For larger products, such as furniture, a large softbox 31×47 inches (80×120 cm) will be a better choice.

Are All Softboxes Compitable With All Studio Lights?

The short answer is no. This is because some higher-end flash photography brands, such as Profoto and Broncolor have their unique mount adapters which are located on the tapered end of the softbox that connects to the light source. This means, that if you have a Profoto studio light, you won’t be able to directly mount a softbox from other brands to your studio light. However, there are special adapters that convert these unique softbox mounts to the standard Bowens mount that is used by the majority of softbox and studio light brands on the market.

Softbox mounts. Bowens mount and Profoto mount for softboxes
Two different softbox mounts

Advantages of Using a Softbox for Product Photography

  • Less Glare – One of the major advantages of using a softbox instead of umbrella lighting is that it produces less glare in shiny or reflective objects.
  • Greater Light Control – Another advantage of softboxes is that they give you greater control over the light and shadows. This is because softboxes allow you to control the direction of the light, whereas umbrella lighting spreads the light all over the place, as a result, shadows may fall from products erratically. A honeycomb grid may also be attached to a softbox to restrict the spread of light even further, resulting in even more light control.
  • Requires Less Power to Generate The Same Brightness – Because you’re shooting through the softbox, rather than relying on reflected light from an umbrella, your flash requires less power output than when using an umbrella to obtain the same level of brightness.
  • Softer Shadows – Softboxes also produce softer shadows than umbrellas. This is because the light from a softbox is diffused more evenly than the light from an umbrella, which creates shadows that are not as harsh.
  • A Better Choice for Outdoor Use – Due to the physical shape of a photography umbrella, it can be very unreliable during windy conditions. Softbox is a much more stable and reliable light modifier for outdoor use.

Disadvantages of Using a Softbox for Product Photography

  • More Expensive – One of the main disadvantages of softboxes is that they are usually more expensive than umbrellas. This is because softboxes are made with higher-quality materials and they have more parts and features than photography umbrellas.
  • Takes More Time to Set Up – Another disadvantage of softboxes is that they take longer to set up than umbrellas. This is an important factor for product photographers who frequently travel to clients’ locations. Also, some softboxes especially larger ones are pretty hard to assemble. On the other hand, it only takes a minute to unfold and set up an umbrella.

Umbrellas For Product Photography

umbrella for product photography with speedlight

An alternative to softboxes is using umbrellas for product photography. A photography umbrella is one of the most common light modifiers among photographers, especially for portrait photography.

A studio umbrella looks very similar to a regular umbrella and many people might even mistake it as such. An easy way to tell the difference between a regular umbrella and a studio umbrella is by looking at the handle – studio umbrellas don’t have a handle.

Studio umbrellas produce a very soft, diffused light that is directed through a wide area around the light source. The light coming from a photography umbrella is softer and more uncontrolled, mimicking natural light. However, it splashes light in all directions, so it may be more useful as a fill light rather than the main light for product photography.

Just like softboxes, studio umbrellas come in a variety of options and you need to understand the difference in order to choose the right one for your needs.

Types of Umbrellas for Product Photography

There are two main types of umbrellas for product photography:

  • Shoot through umbrellas
  • Reflective umbrellas (white or silver reflective umbrellas)

Both of these photography umbrella types have their own set of characteristics and applications.

Shoot Through Umbrellas for Product Photography

Shoot through umbrella for product photography

A shoot-through umbrella is a type of studio umbrella that is made with a translucent material (the same material that you see on the front of the softbox). This allows you to shoot through the umbrella, which diffuses and softens the light that hits your product.

Shoot-through umbrellas are ideal for use as the fill light because they provide soft, and diffused light.

Shoot-through umbrellas come in different sizes, from small to large. A larger shoot-through umbrella is ideal for bigger products, such as furniture, or big house plants.

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Reflective Umbrellas for Product Photography

Reflective umbrella for product photography

A reflective umbrella is the second type of umbrella and it works differently than a shoot-through umbrella. With a reflective umbrella, you need to direct the light source away from the subject into the umbrella to reflect light back onto the subject.

In general, reflective umbrellas come either with a white or a silver reflective surface on the inside.

A silver reflecting umbrella lets you maximize light reflectance while also giving your image a sharp and edgy tone. Product photographers who want to capture as much of their light’s power as possible should use silver umbrellas.

A white reflective umbrella is efficient at maximizing light output creating a softer look. White umbrellas are popular among photographers who want to create a light that is less dramatic and natural.

Diffusor for photo umbrella for product photography

Also, reflective umbrellas frequently come with a diffuser cover that is attached to the umbrella to create soft and flattering light. Essentially, the umbrella diffuser transforms a studio umbrella into a softbox. Umbrella diffusers minimize light by about 1 stop, but the modest cost is well worth it for a soft and enhanced quality of light.

What Umbrella Size is Best for Product Photography?

Just like softboxes, the size of your umbrella matters. The bigger the umbrella, the softer and more diffused light it will produce. If you are using small products, such as electronic devices, then you might want to use a smaller umbrella. On the other hand, if you are photographing a larger product, such as a table, then you will want to use a bigger umbrella. We recommend getting at least a 41″ (105cm) umbrella for a better quality of light.

Advantages of Using an Umbrella for Product Photography

  • Portable and Easy to Set Up – One of the main advantages of using an umbrella for product photography is that they are portable and easy to set up. Unlike softboxes, which can be a bit more difficult to assemble, umbrellas can be easily opened and closed, making them ideal for on-location shoots and for storage too (especially if you are just starting out and doing all of your product photoshoots at home).
  • Affordable – In general, umbrellas are more affordable than softboxes. You can find a decent-quality shoot-through umbrella for around $30-$50. Of course, if you want to spend a bit more money, you can get a larger umbrella or one with a diffuser.
  • Replicates Natural, Outdoor Light – The light from an umbrella is soft and diffused and it has a similar look to outdoor light on a cloudy day. This allows you to replicate natural light in a shot that was actually taken indoors.
  • Can be Transformed Into A Softbox – Many photography umbrellas come with an umbrella diffuser that is made from the same material that you see on the front of the softbox. By adding a diffuser to an umbrella, you can essentially transform it into a softbox (octa softbox to be more precise).

Disadvantages of Using an Umbrella for Product Photography

  • The Light is Not as Controllable as with a Softbox – One of the main disadvantages of using an umbrella for product photography is that the light is not as controllable as it is with a softbox. This is especially problematic if you are shooting in a small space with colored walls or a colored ceiling. The light will travel from an umbrella in different directions if the room is small, the light will bounce off the walls back onto the subject. If the walls or the ceiling in the room are colored, the light that will be reflected from the walls will also absorb some of the colors from the wall or the ceiling. Thus the quality of the light can be affected. This problem applies to both shoot-through and reflective umbrellas.
  • Can Cause Harsh Reflections – When photographing shiny or reflective objects, umbrellas can cause harsh reflections that can distract the viewer and make the photo look unprofessional.
  • Problematic Shadows – Umbrella lights provide diffused, pleasant light, but they may also produce unexpected and inconvenient shadows that need to be managed. This is especially true when photographing an object from a greater distance than normal.
  • Uneven Brightness – Due to the physical shape of an umbrella, the light coming out of it tends to be uneven. When shooting a product up close, the middle part of the product will most likely be brighter and more intensely lit than the product’s outer edges.
  • Prone to Wind – If you are shooting outside and there is wind, it will be very difficult if not impossible to use umbrella lighting. Even if you will secure your flash and umbrella on a stand, the wind will still make it challenging for you to proceed with your outdoor product photoshoot.

So, which is better for product photography: softbox or umbrella?

In general, a softbox is a better choice than an umbrella for product photography. Softbox gives better control of the light and produces an even brightness which is essential for product photography. For this reason, the majority of professional product photographers prefer a softbox over an umbrella.

Another huge advantage of a softbox over an umbrella is that it produces less glare on shiny or reflective objects. This is extremely important in product photography as it takes a lot of time and effort to remove glare from the objects in post-production.

On the other hand, if you need a compact solution to store at your home studio or maybe you tend to do a lot of photoshoots at your client’s location, then a studio umbrella could be a perfectly good choice for you.

In addition, photography umbrellas are great for use as a fill light since they offer gentle and diffused illumination.

If you have the budget, we recommend getting both a softbox and an umbrella and playing with them to see which one you prefer best. You may find that in some instances an umbrella will work better for you.

To Sum Up

In this article, we discussed softbox vs umbrella lighting for product photography. We discussed in detail the different types of softboxes and umbrellas, their sizes, and other characteristics.

We hope that you found this article useful and that it helped you answer most of your questions about softbox vs umbrella for product photography.

If you have any further questions about softbox vs umbrella, please feel free to get in touch with us via the Contact page.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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Disclosure: OHMYCAMERA.com is a participant in several affiliate programs and may be compensated for referring traffic and business to companies from affiliate programs at no additional cost to you.