Softbox Buying Guide


Softboxes are among the most common light modifiers used by photographers, videographers, and filmmakers both on set and on location. Loved for their simplicity and effectiveness diffusing and shaping light from a studio strobe light, on-camera speedlight, LED light panel, or other type of photography or video light, softboxes are one of the first modifiers many photographers learn how to use.

The popularity of the softbox has resulted in an ever-growing assortment of shapes, sizes and mounts to choose from. With so many options available, selecting the right softbox can become overwhelming. This guide breaks down the most important features to consider when picking out a softbox.

Why are softboxes so popular and why should I be using one?

Softboxes create a soft, flattering light that makes (almost) anything look good. They can be used for both portrait and still-life photograph in a studio or out on location.

What kind of lighting effect does the softbox provide?

The softbox will "soften" the light output of a given light. Imagine placing a white T-shirt in front of a bright flashlight. The light becomes more diffuse and "softer." This quality of light is desired by many types of photographers for all kinds of subjects.

Anatomy of a Softbox
Softboxes have different shapes. Why is that?

Most important to the character of the light created by a softbox is the shape. The shape of a softbox determines the directionality of light falling on and off of its subject. Shape also determines how your light will appear in reflections or catchlights in the eyes of portrait sitters. Let's take a look at the various options:

Rectangle / Square

Standard control with rectangular reflections.

Ideal for: General purpose, large subjects, group portraits, product, macro.


Unique light control and elongated reflections.

Ideal for: Product, edge lighting, full body or wider portraits.

Octagon / Rounded

Natural shape and round catchlights.

Ideal for: Portraits, headshots.

Key Takeaway: If you are just getting started, we recommend sticking with one of the above shapes. For those with more specific needs, we will dive into the specialized options further down the page.

Softboxes come in different sizes. Why is that?

There are two main considerations for softbox size: light spread and portability.

Light Spread:

A larger softbox creates more diffuse light and covers a greater area with light.

The smaller the softbox, the less coverage you get from the light shining through it. A small softbox might have enough coverage for a close-up facial portrait, but it will be insufficient for photographing a full-body portrait, or something as large as a car.

An important thing to understand is: Larger Softbox + Closer to The Subject = Softer Light.


Larger softboxes are heavier and can be more challenging to handle. They also take up more space. You'll need heavier light stands and maybe sandbags or other counterweights to keep them stable and safe. Not all lights can support the weight of large softboxes. Think of the size of your studio as well. Large softboxes can fill a space and can take up a lot of storage space when not being used.

What considerations are needed to mount a softbox on my specific type of light?

Different types of lights, an LED panel versus a monolight for example, require dramatically different mounting methods. Compatibility must be gauged.

Some softboxes require the purchase of a mounting accessory or adapter, such as a speed ring, which allow some softboxes to work with a variety of brands—assuming you own the appropriate speed ring for your brand of light.

Monolights & Strobes

The standard studio still photography light is the monolight/strobe. These lights have the widest compatibility for softboxes, though they often require a speed ring. A speed ring is simply an adapter for the softbox to mount to the front of a particular light. You will need a speed ring that is compatible with your light and the softbox you are choosing.


The best way to mount a small speedlight to a softbox is through the use of a dedicated speed ring bracket. These brackets have a built-in speed ring (check compatibility with your softboxes), a shoe mount or clamp for the speedlight(s), and a standard mount that fits on your everyday light stand.

Note that speedlights are highly directional light sources and are better suited to small-to-medium softboxes. When you do use them make sure the zoom is set to the widest setting and it can be useful to attach a dome diffuser to the front if you have one. Also, speedlights are usually not as powerful as larger monolights and strobes, so you might notice a dramatic drop in output when mounted in a softbox.

LED Panels

If you want to mount a softbox to an LED panel, you'll need to do some research and be warned that it may not always be possible. You will need to find softboxes designed for LED lights, which are often described the size of the LEDs they are compatible with. They have an open back with straps to attach directly to the LED panel. It's very simple if you find a compatible softbox.

Point-Source LEDs

Being similar in design to monolights, point-source LED lights use a similar mounting method to strobes that requires a speed ring. Your light likely has a mount specified in its documentation, such as Bowens-type. What you will want to do is find a softbox and a compatible speed ring that will allow you to mount that softbox to your light.

Tungsten Lights

Tungsten lights work just fine with softboxes. Many tungsten lights require speed rings for adapting a softbox to the light's front face. You'll want to find a softbox that works with a speed ring compatible with your light.

A very important note has to do with heat. Tungsten lights get hot. Some get dangerously hot. Please make sure you are choosing softboxes and mounts that are made of heat resistant materials to prevent damage or fires.

Interior Color. Why are some softbox insides silver while others are gold or white?

Available in silver, gold, or white, the color and reflectivity of the softbox's interior will influence the character of your light.

Silver is most common as its extra reflectivity helps boost light output (already reduced by the use of diffusion) and has a relatively neutral to cooling effect on the light.

White is chosen for its completely neutral color profile and slight softening effect.

Gold is a rare choice for users who want a warming effect and slight output boost.

Key Takeaway: When in doubt, pick a standard silver interior for your softbox.

Heat Resistance. Is this something I need to be concerned with?

WARNING: Using softboxes not rated to withstand the heat of your lighting equipment can result in damage to property or personal harm.

If you are using cool-running LEDs, you usually need not worry about heat and your softboxes, but if you are using monolights, tungsten lights, or are unsure about the heat generated by your light please read this section.

Many softboxes are labeled as heat resistant or are rated to a specific wattage, such as 250W or 500W. Lights create heat, and with improperly rated materials, the heat from a light can ignite a fire.  Tungsten, HMI, and some monolights and strobe heads have modeling lights which generate large amounts of heat.

Your hot lights will have a wattage specification. With that information, you should be able to find a heat-resistant softbox that is safe to use on your light. When in doubt, check the manual for your light source.

Softbox Accessories. What accessories do I need?

Sometimes you'll want your softbox to do something a bit different than what it does out of the box. Plenty of accessories can help modify the light to optimize it for your shoot. This can include grids to help direct the light and minimize spill, extra diffusion to create a softer quality of light, or even just some replacement rods.

Speed Ring: Mounts softbox to select lights (e.g. monolights).

Speedlight Bracket: Mount a softbox to a shoe-mounted flash or speedlight.

Grids & Eggcrates: Narrows light beam and reduces light spill.

Front Diffusers & Internal Baffles: Adjusts strength of diffusion and softness of light.

Wands & Poles: Replacement rods for softboxes.

Barn Doors: Barndoors narrow the light output and reduce stray light and flare.

Specialized Options

Ball & Lantern

An often-seen fixture on film sets, the ball or lantern, commonly referred to as a "China ball" on some productions, is a popular option. Lanterns create a very soft omnidirectional light that closely mimics natural, ambient lighting indoors. They are hard to control, but this extra light spill can bounce off walls and surfaces to fill in a subject naturally. Designed for hanging overhead, they can also illuminate a group of subjects, such as those seated at a table.

Lanterns are ideal for mimicking ambient lighting, interior/real estate, architecture, fill, portraits, overhead lighting.

Beauty Dish

Beauty dish-style softboxes provide a more portable option than their metal brethren. Popular with portrait and fashion photographers, beauty dishes create a focused light that wraps around faces, chisels cheekbones, and produces a donut-shaped catchlight. Aside from being easier to store and transport, this iteration of the beauty dish adds an extra layer of diffusion as a softbox.

They are ideal for beauty, fashion, and portrait photography.


Parabolic softboxes adopt a deeper design than conventional softboxes, producing a more focused light that wraps around subjects. Common sights on fashion and commercial sets, parabolic modifiers can have quite a large footprint, requiring space to work with.

The modified light here is ideal for portraits, fashion, commercial photography.

Light Banks

Light banks are used to illuminate very large subjects or environments that require even lighting. Because of their large size, they often require multiple lights and much more complex rigging than conventional softboxes.

Light banks are ideal for large products, subjects, and spaces.

We hope that this buying guide has allowed you to find your way to the purchase of the perfect softbox for your lighting needs. If you have more questions, please engage us by using our web chat function, call, or email us at B&H Photo.