Lighting is an important aspect of taking photographs of products. Getting just the right type of lighting to make the color and imagery of your products really pop can be tricky. This is where artificial lighting comes in as a great tool. An umbrella and a softbox are both great tools for any product photographer, whether that be an amateur photographer or an experienced photographer.
What is better for product photography—an umbrella or a softbox? The type of light you choose will depend on your particular needs. An umbrella may be best for photographing in rooms that have white walls and ceilings. A softbox is more appropriate for photographing more vibrant scenes and outdoors.
We’re going to take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a softbox and an umbrella for product photography. This article should help you make the right choice when trying to decide whether you should use a softbox or an umbrella for your product photography.
Advantages of Using an Umbrella
Umbrellas are very easy to use, incredibly portable, and also relatively cheap. If you have ever used an actual umbrella on a rainy day, you are already well on your way to knowing how to use an umbrella for lighting.
Umbrella lighting for photography provides a nice soft glow on your products, and the type of lighting is broad, which creates a mimic of natural outdoor lighting. An umbrella allows you to direct the lighting right at the product so that you can focus on just the right amount of light needed on the product to get your perfect pictures.
Below is a list of the advantages of using an umbrella for photography:
- Very easily portable
- Relatively cheap to buy
- Very easy to use
- Provides a nice soft glow
- Lighting mimics natural outdoor lighting
- Allows you to direct the lighting
Advantages of Using a Softbox
A softbox is a form of directional lighting that similarly mimics the type of light that may come through a window during the day. The softbox will soften the lighting that comes from a source attached to it. The lighting is diffused to make it appear softer than the harsh lighting that comes directly from the bulb.
Your camera is placed in the center of the light source so that you don’t need to worry about any glare or shadows bouncing off the products. This also means that you don’t need as strong of a flash as you would with an umbrella.
Below is a list of the advantages of using a softbox for photography:
- Offers directional lighting
- Mimics natural outdoor lighting
- Softens lighting
- Lighting surrounds the camera
- Limited glare
- Limited shadows
Choosing the Right Option
The option you choose will ultimately be determined by your own personal preferences.
The lighting support of an umbrella is incredibly vast and therefore works well when photographing larger items. A combination of a few umbrellas targeted at a large product can provide the perfect uncompromised lighting you’re looking for when it comes to larger product photography.
An umbrella with a shoot-through option is perfect for providing wrap-around lighting that’s very soft. The lighting will bounce off the surrounding room to provide an all-round glow. This option is perfect for rooms that have white walls and ceilings so that the lighting can bounce off in the best way. If you are on a budget, this kind of bounce umbrella is perfect for getting good product shots.
A softbox can easily be placed very close to the object in question and so work extremely well when photographing smaller products. The natural style of lighting from the softbox can really make the edges and colors of smaller products pop as the lighting can be focused directly onto your given product.
If you are looking for the most control possible when it comes to your lighting, you should choose a softbox. Also, if you are shooting outside, we would recommend a softbox as an umbrella could easily blow over in the wind.
Both of these types of lighting equipment will help to make the lighting in your photos softer and more even, so they are both great tools. When it comes to photographing products, lighting is important as you really want to product to pop against the background. Using multiple umbrellas or softboxes can help you to achieve this.
How to Use an Umbrella
To begin with, you will need to mount your umbrella to the strobe or flash. The majority of photography lights such as strobes will have a small hole in them where you can insert the handle of the umbrella and tighten it in place.
If you are using an off-camera flash, you will need to attach a flash bracket by screwing it into the top of the light stand. The flash or off-camera receiver will then slot into the receptacle at the top.
Your umbrella should come with a set of instructions that will help you when it comes to setting up your specific model.
You should make sure you don’t place the light too close to the umbrella because if you do place it too close, the light won’t have the ability to fill the entire umbrella. This will result in the light being too harsh on the subject.
You then need to place the umbrella light facing the product you are photographing. Face the lighting umbrella directly at the product for the best lighting results. Adjust the angle accordingly to get the best kind of lighting pattern that you are looking for.
For even more dynamic lighting, you can even try using multiple umbrella lights.
If you would like some more detailed information and instructions on how to use an umbrella for photography, check out this video!
How to Use a Softbox
Using a softbox is quite easy, and this is one of the reasons why so many photographers take advantage of them. All you need to do, to begin with, is set it up. The set-up process is very similar to an umbrella where the stand screws onto the box itself.
Your softbox should come with a set of instructions that will help you when it comes to setting up your specific model.
Once your softbox is set up, you need to point it in the direction of the product in which you are photographing. You can experiment with angles similar to when using an umbrella to find the right kind of lighting pattern that best suits your product photography.
Start by setting your softbox at a 45-degree angle from the product you are photographing. Raise the softbox up so that the middle of it is just above the middle of the product, and the point is falling downwards on it. This should create a great lighting look for product photography. If you find that that particular angle isn’t working for you, adjust the softbox slightly and try again until you reach your desired result.
If you would like some more detailed information and instructions on how to use a softbox for photography, check out this video!
Umbrella vs. Softbox – Final Thoughts
If you are currently on the lookout for the best possible light modifier for your product photography, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer when it comes to comparing umbrellas with softboxes. You simply need to weigh up the options and choose which works best for the particular project that you have at hand.
If you are an ongoing product photographer, you may find that an umbrella works best when photographing larger products whereas a softbox may work best for smaller products.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with enough information so that you can make an educated choice when it comes to deciding whether to opt for an umbrella or a softbox for your product photography project.