Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Umbrella and Softbox

umbrella_softbox_amUmbrella vs. Softbox

Umbrellas and softboxes are tools used in photography to manipulate the light that is hitting the subject, or subjects. They reduce the hardness of the lighting, and minimize or eliminate the appearance of shadows in an image. Look at a photo taken with a small built-in flash, and you will know what I mean. An umbrella is basically just an umbrella with a special light reflective lining inside. The light bounces off this reflective lining. On the other hand, a softbox consists of a square or rectangular box that contains the lighting element. The material or filter in the front of the softbox diffuses the light, making it look soft.

For starters, umbrellas are much cheaper and easier to set-up compared to softboxes, making them ideal for starting photographers who want to get a good feel for their equipment, before moving on to more complex and expensive equipment. Umbrellas are also extremely portable when compared to softboxes. This characteristic makes them desirable for outdoor photo shoots where you often need to move from one location to another.

As light is often bounced off an umbrella, it is better to illuminate multiple subjects at a greater distance, as the light it produces is more Omni-directional. The light emanating from a softbox is not as scattered as that of the umbrella, and it allows a photographer to position the light much closer, to illuminate the subject without splashing to much light on the background. Softboxes are generally better compared to umbrellas, as you can use a lot of things, like masks, grids, or filters to fine-tune the lighting according to your specific needs. Although not as flexible as softboxes, you still have options with umbrellas; mostly, different linings that reflect light in varying intensities.

In this respect, you can simply say that each has their own niche, and it’s just a matter of choosing the right equipment for the right shot. Most professional photographers have both types in their arsenal, and they often use a combination of both to bring their photos to life.


1. Umbrellas are cheaper than softboxes.

2. Umbrellas are much easier to set-up than softboxes.

3. Umbrellas are more portable than softboxes.

4. Umbrellas are better than softboxes for taking pictures of large groups.

5. Softboxes can be placed a lot closer to the subject, when compared to umbrellas.

6. Softboxes offer a lot more control than umbrellas.

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