Appropriate size of softbox

Discussion in 'Digital Cameras' started by Lordy, Feb 25, 2004.

  1. Lordy

    Lordy Guest


    We are getting ready to buy two Photoflex softbox kits to improve our
    photography of oriental garments (textiles, etc) and are wondering which
    size to buy. We think the medium size softboxes (24x32x17 inches) will do
    for most of the items we'll be photographing (52 inches tall x 17 inches
    wide). However, on ocassion we do take pictures of larger items, some as
    large as 66 inches tall by 67 inches wide.

    The questions are:

    1. Will the medium size do for the our regular items?
    2. Will the large be enough for the larger items?
    3. Will the large be too big for the regular items?

    I hope I've explained our issue correctly...

    Thanks for any help!

    Lordy, Feb 25, 2004
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  2. Lordy

    Lordy Guest

    I forgot to say the size of the large softboxes is 54x72x32. Sorry about
    Lordy, Feb 25, 2004
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  3. Lordy

    Alan Browne Guest

    The larger the aperture of the softbox, the softer the light. If the
    subect is larger than the softbox, then you have to pull the softbox
    back to get even illumination over the subject ... and the softbox
    becomes more of a point source. That's the exagerated view of things.

    If you want a perfectly even illumination of the subject with light
    arriving from all directions from the softbox, you want the subject
    close to, and smaller than the softbox aperture.

    I don't know about how you will present your subjects. If you want the
    textile texture to show, then an over sized softbox will kill it a bit.
    I would guess that the medium size is more than enough. I suggest
    that you don't want such even soft lighting that the texture is lost.

    A 'rig' that works for large objects is to hang a thin cotton sheet and
    place the strobes on one side, say 6 - 8' apart and the subject on the
    other. This is so difuse that the photographer can stand between the
    sheet and the subject w/o affecting the lighting on the subect enough to

    (BTW: I have two med. Photoflex' and think they are great for everything
    from macro to portraits, albeit quite expensive).

    Alan Browne, Feb 25, 2004
  4. Lordy

    Lisa Horton Guest

    If you think those are expensive, check out Chimera!

    Lisa Horton, Feb 25, 2004
  5. Lordy

    Lisa Horton Guest

    My first thought is: Are you sure that softboxes are what you want?

    What, specifically, is your objective here? Just very soft light, or
    light that will show off the texture of the fabric?

    In general, if you want a very soft light look, you would like your
    light source to be bigger than the subject, and close. What film crews
    do when they need a 10 foot tall softbox is rig a sheet of the diffusion
    material in a free standing frame, then point the light through that.
    The effect is basically the same as with a softbox that size.

    Coming back to photographing your clothing, a diffusion frame would
    allow you to use one device to emulate a variety of softbox sizes, by
    varying the distance from the light to the frame. You can also use
    multiple lights on one frame, a difficult thing to accomplish with

    One brand name of the type of setup I'm describing is Scrim Jim, but
    there are other brands. You can also make your own frame out of PVC
    pipe and ripstop nylon, but it's unlikely to be as easy to disassemble
    as a manufactured product.

    Lisa Horton, Feb 25, 2004
  6. Lordy

    Lisa Horton Guest

    Anything to say about softboxes and clothing?

    Lisa Horton, Feb 25, 2004
  7. Lordy

    Lordy Guest

    Thanks for the reply!

    You mentioned strobes in your text. I guess I need to make clear the plan
    is to use only constant light, without a flash.

    What you said is interesting... So,

    1. If I use the large softboxes, I'll get softer light, which will rob me
    of texture. Is this correct?

    2. BUT, if the subject is bigger than the large softboxes, I'll have to
    move them away from the subject and that will gain me texture because the
    lights become more of a point source?

    3. For our regular items, if I can get the softboxes away from the subject,
    that will make up for the softer light of the large softboxes?

    4. Will the medium softboxes do OK for the larger items we have to

    Again, thanks! I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

    Lordy, Feb 25, 2004
  8. Lordy

    Lordy Guest

    Nope, I'm not sure softboxes is what I want. All I know is we need a solid
    source of light so our Sony DSC-S75 digital camera doesn't get all hung up
    on not having enough light to focus, etc. Frankly, the "softness" of the
    light, while I was aware of it, was never that much present in my mind.
    That should tell you my level of experience.

    Our objective is to photograph traditional oriental clothing, which has a
    tendency to be very reflective because of materials such as silk and gold
    coaching, in detail and texture. We've been doing that for some time, and
    have learned a lot during that period, but it still represents a huge
    challenge. We've been able to find a few tricks and workarounds that give
    us decent results, but we know our photographs can look so much better than
    they do.

    Image manipulation is also a challenge and very time consuming. So, in
    addition to better quality photographs, we'd like pictures that are solid
    enough from the beginning that we don't have to mess with them too much in
    PhotoShop (or whatever).

    We've never used a professional light setup and that seems to be the next
    logical step, so here we are!

    Thanks for your interest!
    Lordy, Feb 25, 2004
  9. Lordy

    Lisa Horton Guest

    Okay, with more specifics, more specific suggestions are possible. I
    don't know what kind of light source you're using now, but for best
    results, you probably want more. Since you mention difficulty
    focussing, I suspect you want a lot more.

    Only certain softboxes are suitable for use with hot lights, using
    inappropriate ones is a fire hazard.

    I think that what you'll find the best compromise between easy and good
    results is to have a large light source at an angle off to the side, say
    starting at 45 degrees. The soft light will reduce your problems from
    reflective material, and lighting at an angle will help bring out the
    texture in the fabrics. If you use a very large source, you'll get a
    wrap around effect and probably won't need any other light source.

    Back to the light panel as described below, but substitute halogen work
    lights for the strobes. You can just keep adding lights until you get
    "enough". These are also available on stands, which may be the most
    convenient option for you.

    Mind your heat on the ripstop diffusion fabric if you make your own. If
    you buy a panel, you may be able to get optional heat resistant fabric.
    But still watch your heat on the panel :)

    For a little sparkle in your light, try another work light off to the
    other side, higher, and twice as far away as the diffused source.

    Lisa Horton, Feb 25, 2004
  10. Lordy

    Lordy Guest

    Thanks for all the great info, Lisa. It is all being very helpful.

    Today I spoke with a salesperson at a local pro photo shop. He helped me
    understand the issues a little better.

    It appears that a large softbox will give plenty of light, but so much and
    so soft that the subjects (oriental clothing) will appear flat and without
    detail. So he recommended that we use, in addition to a large softbox at a
    45 degree angle from the subject, another, smaller softbox, possibly with
    the diffuser taken off, coming from the other 45 degree angle.

    At first that was a little confusing, but then we understood (or *think* we
    understood): the large softbox provides coverage with a softer light that
    presents the entire subject, while the smaller softbox, with harsher light,
    gives the subject depth, detail, and texture.

    Does this make sense? Are we understanding this correctly?

    The lights we are considering are Photoflex lights (we won't be using
    strobes). We just don't know which size(s) yet.

    Lordy, Feb 26, 2004
  11. Lordy

    Lisa Horton Guest

    You are getting good advice, and you are understanding it correctly.
    Photoflex is a good brand. I use all Photoflex softboxes myself. Their
    Starlites were one of the first lighting systems introduced just for

    Lisa Horton, Feb 26, 2004
  12. Lordy

    zeitgeist Guest

    general rule of thumb, the light source should be twice as large as the

    however, don't panic, you can take the lightbox off and bounce the flash off
    a side wall, or large sheet of styrofoam insulation panel (if you can find
    one white, peel the plastic off) for your larger items if needed. The
    shinyier the object the larger the light needs to be.

    if you box is too big you can move it back, twice the distance is one
    quarter the size.

    however, for textiles you will want some reflectors, perhaps a large mirror
    you can adjust to reflect light, skim across the fabric to raise texture by
    placing hightlights at an oblique angle, that way you can tell a fuzzy
    fabric from a smooth one.
    zeitgeist, Feb 26, 2004
  13. Lordy

    Lordy Guest

    Thanks for the reply!

    The rule of thumb sounds good to me, but if I have an item that measures 66
    x 67, does that mean I have to get one of the humongous (and particularly
    expensive) X-Large softboxes. By the way, we are not using flash; we want
    to use continuous light.

    Several people have suggested a large box to provide soft light and a
    smaller box, with the diffuser, etc, off, to provide a harder light to
    create depth, detail, etc. So, we are to the point where we are fairly sure
    we'll get one large box and that will probably do OK for the 66 X 67

    What we are not sure about is the second light. We know a small box will do
    fine for adding texture to our regular sized items (52 X 17). However, we
    are wondering if it will be too small for the larger items. Further, if we
    get a medium, we are wondering if it will be OK for the large items, but too
    much for the regular.

    You comment about "the shinier the object, the bigger the box (light)
    needed" seems to verify our decision to get at least one large box. I
    assume the idea is that larger lights supply softer light.

    You mentioned light skimming. If that is the desired effect, it sounds like
    a small light would do the job, rather than a medium one. But will that do
    for the larger items?

    Thanks again!

    Lordy, Feb 26, 2004
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