What size softbox for family portraits?

As a rule of thumb, the size of a softbox should be approximately the same size as the subject; that is, a headshot or half-length photograph might require softboxes of between 18 and 24, while full-length photographs might require several softboxes of 48 or more. Larger softboxes work well for portrait or large area photography, as they produce softer lighting with more gradual transitions between light and shadow. Large soft light sources also make skin imperfections less apparent, making them an ideal modifier for portraiture in general, as they produce a quality of light that flatters almost everyone. Larger softboxes are also ideal for photographing whole bodies, as well as for photographing large groups, as larger softboxes spread the light over a wider area.

In general, you should always work with a softbox of at least 36 inches if you plan to shoot photos like the one above. In addition to the physical size of the softbox, the distance of the softbox from the subject will affect the look of the lighting. Smaller softboxes (e.g., 18 to 24 inches wide) are more appropriate for head and half-length portraits. To get a slightly different look, you can move the softbox back so that the edge of the softbox is roughly in line with the back of the model's head.

Another option is to split the model with the lighting so that half of the light box extends behind and the other half in front. A final option in terms of light box placement is to place virtually all of the light behind the model. As can be seen above, placing the softbox to one side of the model produces a portrait with much more contrast than the first example. The standard softboxes are the traditional style softboxes that you have to mount by inserting four or eight rods (depending on the shape of softbox you have) into the outer casing of the softbox, and then inserting the other end of the rods into the speed ring located in the centre of the softbox.

Once the main body of the umbrella has been set up, then you just need to attach the diffusers (and also the grille if necessary) using the velcro tabs located around the inside perimeter of the softbox. Either way, as you can see in the portrait above, using a softbox helps you create a much nicer portrait that has even light without harsh contrast to distract the eye. In addition to size, you may prefer a round softbox to a square softbox because of the type of light it creates in the subject's eyes. Soft boxes are commonly used in portrait and commercial photography, as they replicate the light from a north-facing window that was commonly used in the early days of photography to get the best lighting.

For more details on how the size and shape of softboxes affect portrait lighting, be sure to watch the video above.

Roger Deonarian
Roger Deonarian

Evil analyst. General bacon scholar. . Total zombie fan. Friendly food advocate. Evil pop culture enthusiast.

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