Softbox Lighting & Theory

Learn all you need to know about the ever-popular softbox in this highly informative live photography workshop, where Karl takes a closer look at these versatile modifiers, explaining how they work and what sets them apart from other light shapers.

This show answers common questions such as “What is a softbox used for?”, “What size softbox should I buy?” and “What’s the difference between softbox and umbrella lighting?” Whether you’re relatively new to softboxes or have been using them for some time, this show covers both the fundamental and more advanced knowledge you need to get the most from your softbox.

In addition to looking at the theory and science behind them, Karl also goes into detail about the Inverse Square Law, how this can impact your photography and how you can use it to take complete control of your lighting. He also demonstrates multiple lighting setups, showing you how you can be incredibly creative with just a few lights.

In this photography workshop we cover the following:

  • Softbox lighting
  • How softboxes work
  • The difference between different softbox sizes
  • Softbox accessories
  • How to use softboxes
  • Understanding the Inverse Square Law
  • Softbox lighting setups

You can also read more about softboxes here.

If you have any questions about this show, please use the comment section below.


  1. Hi Karl,
    Thanks for all this videos, I am learning a lot from you, I am a landscape photographer mostly, and this field is very interesting.

    My question is the following,
    When stiffany is being photographed with the softbox 75 or the the two small 30×120, there are some concentric shades coming from the light, so there is one concentric shading on the background for the 75 shots, and two one each for the 30×120, the concentric lights reduce some when applying the window mask to correct for flare, but its still there. Please could you comment on that?

    1. Hi and thank you I’m very glad to hear you are enjoying the platform. With regards your questions on this video (and any other video) we kindly ask our members if they could detail the time in the videos at which they are wanting clarification that way it becomes easier for myself or one of the team to handle any training support questions and note it down for future reference. If you could reply please with the times I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. All the best Karl.

  2. I’m in the proces of selecting my basic equipment and was planning on standerdising on Bowens mount for modifiers. Do the broncolor modifiers come with Bowens mount or another mount?

  3. Hi Karl if for my background I used a black glossy,silk, matte card while doing a still life shoot with 1 softbox why am I getting a patch of light showing on one side of the card please help

    1. Hi Manj, it could be as simple that you have a small hole or gap at the edge or back of your softbox near where the light is. It could be light pollution from elsewhere, there are 100 reasons but unfortunately unless I’m there I’m only guessing. The easiest thing to do is to put your hand in front of where the patch is and look at the shadow direction that will help you identify where it is coming from.

  4. hello Karl, in the half-length or 3/4 portrait, which is the best positioning of the CENTER of the softbox?

    1. Hi, It will depend on the softbox and it’s distance from the subject. If the softbox is good and produces an homogenous light then I’d say slightly above centre height of the model and a reflector on the floor.

  5. hello Karl..very instructive explanations and logical. i m a beginner at studio photography–..funny enough i like the last one..small soft box–nice dramatic look:):):)–thank you

    1. Hi, Unfortunately Parabolic or deep softboxes like this are just a marketing ploy. If it’s fully diffused and homogenous at the front then it’s just like any other softbox. If it has other ways of using it without the front diffuser that gives and interesting light then it might be useful for other things. It’s also actually not Parabolic, for it to be parabolic it must conform to a true parabola shape for the physics of parabolic lighting to work – Read this article to understand why – and then watch this video to further your knowledge on light

  6. Excellent demonstrations Karl, I really enjoyed the presentations. I’m looking into getting a soft box, however, I have just one speedlite at the moment. In purchasing a soft box, do I need to be looking for an adaptor of some kind to be able to attach it to the speedlite, or are some soft boxes designed specifically for speedlites? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Darrien, yes you will need to source an adaptor that holds your speedlite in place with the softbox, there are such things and some of the softbox manufacturers have them too.

  7. Great show well explained.
    Is is possible to get some live show or teach us more on videography as well .I really like the quality on your videos. The lighting and colour temperature is so great and camera angles


    1. Hi, thank you. Yes that’s a good idea for a future tutorial I’ll keep that in mind for when we come out of lockdown.

  8. Silly/quick question. Your Hasselblad software, Phocus, when you had the RGB values up on Stiffany’s face to compare exposures you said they were: 180, 165, 150. Does Phocus software go up to 200 or 255 before it hits overexposure?

    Main question, depending on answer to above (I use Capture One Pro 20) for studio portrait shots like this what values would you be aiming for, approximately for a ball park for me, on the highlighted/brightest part of the face?

    I’m asking as I’m trying to get out of the habit of using my Sekonic light meter so I can use the histogram and values instead, but I”m not great at reading the histogram as yet and can’t find a decent tutorial on it so I’d like your opinion on RGB values on brightest part of face. In Capture one I have four values, RGB and something else, which I’ve yet to figure out what that is, example, I get 203, 153, 118, 164 when shooting the same mannequin that you have (Stiffany seems to have a bit of a tan) and that’s using the flash meter, but on calibrated computer screen they seem underexposed by about a stop to a stop and a half.

    I imported some ‘stock’ photos of fashion/catalogue models into Capture One and they were all pale/caucasian ladies and I took readings off the brightest part of the face from seven different images and found an average of: 230, 211, 192, 214 – are these values what I should be aiming for with pale/caucasian ladies in a studio, as a rough ball park of course.

    1. Hi Nigel, it goes up to 255 (which if it is 255, 255, 255) indicates you have peaked at maximum recordable/displayable white (without using highlight recovery). Stiffany has a bit of a tan but I’m afraid I wouldn’t know specific values for skin as there are so many variables. As mentioned before, if it looks good, I go with it. If you want to go from measurements then you could measure some images from my site or other photographers.

  9. Hi Karl,

    What do think about foldable softboxes? Is there any inconvenience?

    Thanks for another amazing show!

    1. Hi Pedro, I’ve never seen them. My own softboxes come apart and I can wrap them up quite compact so it’s never been an issue. As long as they have double diffusion and are homogenous then that’s the key thing.

  10. Great show! Fully enjoyed seeing the comparisons.
    One question for you though.
    about 21 minutes in, you talk about the use of a scrim versus a soft box, and how with most skin there is hardly any difference as skin is kind of lustre, and diffuses most of the light. However, couldn’t you play with the use of a soft box, or a scrim to get specific effects when the skin is a little oily? I mean, with oily skin, you typically get a lot of specular highlights. Couldn’t you use a scrim to manage that specularity of those highlights in a creative way?

    1. Hi Kryn, oily skin is essentially gloss and the best way to reduce that is (as demonstrated on Stiffanies eyes) to get the scrim or softbox close so that your reflected gloss light to skin diffussion is closer. However I would say first and foremost don’t accept oily skin, get a tissue on it and get some matting powder to tone it down. Occasionally you might go for a baby oil look on legs and body but it’s not a look we often require on faces.

  11. hi Karl
    i like portrait photographing but when i use the big softbox ( or beautydish or….. )
    i always get a king of ofer light on the face where the softbox is like

    is this normal? is it iritating or is it normal for a photo like this also a photo is always to red is this because shutterspeed is to low? (1/160 ) when i set the broncolor higher it looks like ovrelight


    1. Hi Harm, if your ISO is at 100 and you were shooting say at f8 or f11 with 1/160th then you shouldn’t be getting ambient light polution? Also check your white balance is set for flash or daylight. Also try using the softbox closer to reduce the shadows and use a white fill panel on the opposite side of your model.

    1. Hi Karl,

      What I could use for weddings or small indoor events where natural light is not an option anymore?
      Thanks Alex.
      PS: Great information in your live.

      1. Hi Alexandru, we use the Siros L but there are other brands you can look at too such as Bowens, Elinchrom etc and also speedlites might be an option too.

  12. Hi Karl

    Great show as always. I am a bit confused with the concept of “soft light”, on this and previous shows you mention that when you bring a large soft box closer to the model, the light gets soft. By this do you mean that the surface that the light is falling on shows reveals less texture, or the shadows that the lighted part is casting is less darker? In the earlier part of the show, when you brought the large soft box closer to Stephanie it casted a much darker shadow versus when you move the soft box further away, obviously this is due the inverse square law, so what is “soft light” exactly referring to?

    Thanks a bunch


    1. Hi Amit, You are absolutely correct as demonstrated when the light is closer (if there is no fill light) then the shadow areas will look darker (because of light fall off) but the angle that the light is able to reach into texture means the models skin will be softer and the transition of shadows will be softer or shadows themselves will have a less defined edge. As I demonstrated though, distance is equally important as size in determining the best lighting solution and then as also demonstrated the direction and spill.

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