Crash Course to Softbox Modifiers: Parabolic, Lantern, Rectangle, Octagon & Umbrella

Crash Course to Softbox Modifiers: Parabolic, Lantern, Rectangle, Octagon & Umbrella
Nowadays, there’s a lot of choices when it comes down to softbox modifiers - but what exactly are they, and what do they do to shape the light? 

We’re going to give you the lowdown on these lighting modifiers and the kind of lighting effects they create: 
  • Parabolic softbox
  • Lantern softbox
  • Umbrella softbox
  • Octagon softbox
  • Rectangle softbox
Let’s dive in and find out what these handy softbox modifiers are best for, and which makes the best softbox modifier for beginners.


What are Softbox Modifiers?

In a nutshell, softbox modifiers alter the diffusion and softness of the light, depending on their size and shape. Some soften the light for better-looking shadows (or to remove most of the shadows), and others create a hard, contrasty light to make a dramatic image.

A softbox in its simplest terms is just that - a box with a diffusion panel of fabric at the front to soften and spread the light. The larger the softbox, the softer and more shadowless that light becomes.

Parabolic Softboxes

Parabolic softboxes are like a hybrid of the traditional umbrella lighting modifier and a softbox. They are the classic umbrella shape, but they are much deeper and also have an optional front diffuser cover and/or a grid. The design funnels the lighting for maximum effect, and can be used to create soft or harsh light.

For soft light, a white diffuser is used as a front cover on a parabolic softbox. Fora crisper, more defined light, you would use it without the white cover on, allowing the silver lining of the softbox to give more punch to your images. For even more direct and hard light, you could add a grid to the front of the softbox to reduce the spread of light and throw out a more focused beam.

These softbox modifiers are great for portraits, beauty, fashion photography, interviews, and film or video shoots. The Spectrum range below covers softbox sizes from 70cm to 120cm, and all of the parabolic softboxes are collapsible for easy transport, as well as being compatible with any Bowens mount lights:

As the sizes get bigger, each parabolic softbox gives off a wider amount of light spread, but if you have a smaller strobe light, it makes sense to use a smaller parabolic softbox instead of a large one. To give you an idea of how to use a parabolic softbox in a shoot, here’s a lighting setup:


Lantern Softboxes

These softboxes are lantern-shaped, which means they give a wide spill of smooth, omnidirectional light. They are very good for interior and real estate photography, as well as fashion and portraits, and can be easily moved to point in any direction you want the light to go. As with most other softboxes, the larger the lantern, the bigger the spread of light, and the more diffused the light will become.

The Spectrum lantern softboxes come in 65 and 80cm sizes:

Here is a lighting diagram to show how a lantern softbox can be used:


Umbrella Softboxes

There are two types of umbrella softboxes to choose from - shoot-through and reflective. Shoot-through umbrella softboxes are made of white diffusion fabric, and pointed towards the subject. The light is softened and diffused as it passes through the fabric, giving a soft light that is ideal for portraits, fashion, and baby photography.

Reflective umbrellas are lined with silver or white fabric, and the light is reflected back on the subject. While both types of umbrella softboxes give a soft light, the reflective umbrellas give a crisper look and don’t lose as much light as the shoot-through ones.
The Newborn & Baby Lighting Kit comes with two soft white diffuser umbrellas, two silver umbrella, two light stands, 2 bulbs, 2x bulb holders, 1x backdrop stand.

Here’s an idea of how to set up shoot-through umbrellas for a baby or child’s photography shoot:

Rectangle Softboxes

Rectangle softboxes are a great way of maximising your lighting choices. You can use one softbox alone for a dramatic look, but having two or more rectangle softboxes makes them more versatile because you can do two-point lighting setups with the 'Illuminate Mate' Kit, and you can create three-point lighting setups with the Triple "Illuminate Mate" Kit.

Rectangle softboxes are among the simplest modifiers to use, but are popular with all kinds of photographers because of their versatility. You can use rectangle softboxes for almost any type of photography from product right through to headshots.

...and this is how they can be used to create even more dimension with three-point lighting:

Octagon Softboxes

These softboxes are also known as octaboxes, and are subtly different from rectangle softboxes due to the shape of light that they cast. They are built from the same materials as rectangle softboxes, but they are in an octagonal shape instead. They’re great for fashion and portraiture photography, and give a lovely circular reflection in your subject’s eyes that can look more natural than the rectangular reflection as rectangle softbox gives.

Both octagon and rectangle softboxes can be used for just about any type of photography, but octagon softboxes really shine when used for portrait photography. Full kits like the 'S-Beam 150' LED  lighting kit are great for beginners too as they contain everything you need to set up your light with an octagon softbox and start shooting, including a Spectrum Heavy Duty Light Stand.
The S-Beam 150 is a continuous LED light and not a studio strobe so there’s no need to worry about setting the correct flash power. Continuous lighting also allows you to use a smartphone for your photography or to film video easily. Here’s a lighting diagram to inspire you on using a single octabox:
This is an idea of a double octagon softbox setup:


Final Thoughts

There you have it - the different types of softbox modifiers and what they can do. Here’s a quick recap of the types of photography each modifier is best suited to:
  • Parabolic softbox - portraiture, flat lays, fashion, and product
  • Lantern softbox - portraits, interior, and real estate photography
  • Umbrella softbox - baby and child photography, portraiture, and fashion
  • Rectangle softbox - fashion, portraiture, food, product, e-commerce
  • Octagon softbox - especially good for portraits, but also fashion, food, and product

Here’s a final tip for using softbox modifiers, regardless of their shape - The closer the softbox is to a subject the softer the light will be. Move it further away and the light will become more contrasty and shadows will become harsher.