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Lighting Modifiers: Umbrella Vs Octagon Softbox Comparison Guide

Last Updated 19th July 2022

When it’s time to expand your photographic skills, the first step is to take the plunge into off-camera lighting. Having strobes, speedlights, or continuous lighting on stands is the best way to produce professional results. The next consideration is how to modify the lighting because it will be too harsh and direct without some form of diffusion. The most common form of light modifier is the softbox and the umbrella. A softbox is a frame with white material covering a light source. It creates soft, directional lighting that is highly flattering. From one device, you illuminate your subject from various angles by reflecting the light through the diffuser.

An umbrella is a simple, compact, versatile flash modifier providing gentle light. The light is fired backwards into the shiny, inner surface of an umbrella before bouncing towards the subject, or the light shines through the outer shell of a translucent, white umbrella. There are many different types of softboxes and umbrellas on the market. So, which one is best for you? This blog article explains whether to purchase an octagonal Godox softbox or an umbrella for your next photo project.


Octagon Modifiers

Male photographer bent over taking a photo of a beige flat lay with octagon softboxes on either side of him

Shooting with a flash or continuous light means you are not limited to available light from the sun. Off-camera photography lighting from a bare flash unit gives you more creative control over the direction of your light, but it’s often harsh and produces hot spots on the subject. To have an appealing result from a portrait or fashion shoot, you need to diffuse the light by having white fabric between the light and the person you photograph. The easiest way to achieve this is with a softbox. Godox manufactures varying sizes of octagon modifiers, which are all collapsible for storage and transport. Here is a softbox comparison guide between the available sizes.

Small softboxes are convenient when there is limited space in the shooting area. Small lighting modifiers are an excellent choice for headshots and portraits because they soften the light for even illumination of the subject’s face and clothing. Godox has a small, octagonal umbrella with a diffuser over the front, creating a softbox offering broad, circular light that is bright and natural. When this modifier is placed at 45 degrees to the subject, it produces the classic portrait-style studio lighting often found in magazines. Using two softboxes simultaneously brings even illumination to portraits, newborn photography, and product shots.

A large softbox is more effective at softening the shadows. Large softboxes are preferred at events for fashion photography and videography. In those situations, full-length body shots and images of groups of people are required, and a large softbox will spread the light over a wider area. A large softbox provides a nicer transition between light and shadows and between the subjects and the background. The only problem with large softboxes is that they require high-intensity output to illuminate the subject. A standard speedlight won’t have enough power to fill and radiate from a large softbox, so it’s best to use strobe or continuous lighting on those occasions.

A rectangular softbox can soften the light to make it more appealing, but an octagon softbox controls the shape and direction of the light to a greater degree. Fashion photographers love octagon softboxes because they reduce light spills. Portrait photographers love octagon modifiers because they form round catchlights in the eyes. Round catchlights are appealing because they mimic the light from the sun, so the photo can appear to have been taken outdoors in natural light. In the picture below, you can see how the catchlights have become large, natural, and captivating in this model’s eyes. If you want to jump into fashion photography or want to enhance your portrait photography but don’t know where to start, Hypop can supply a kit containing lights, large octagon softboxes, stands, and backdrops.

Close up shot of female model holding white Madonna Lily flowers

Umbrella Modifiers

Female photographer taking a photo of a female model in front of a beige backdrop

If you are on a budget, the Godox range of umbrella modifiers is an excellent alternative to a softbox. And even though they are a bit cheaper, they produce exceptional outcomes that you’ll be proud of. The other advantage they have is that they are simple to set up. An umbrella also folds down to a small size that’s easy to transport and store.

An umbrella gives a broad type of illumination similar to outdoor light. There are two types of umbrellas: shoot-through and reflective. With a shoot-through umbrella modifier, the outside of a white umbrella faces the subject, and you fire the strobe or flash through its translucent material. Reflective umbrellas face away from the subject, and the light bounces back from the inside of its metallic lining. Hard light reflected from this shiny material becomes broader and more even when it reaches the subject.

The 41.3 inch / 105 cm transparent umbrella from Godox is compact, and when paired with a diffuser cover, it combines the advantages of an umbrella and softbox. The larger 65-inch / 165 cm parabolic shoot-through umbrella creates soft light and enhances ambient conditions.

Shoot-through umbrellas are helpful for getting close to your subject, which gives a larger apparent light source to produce soft light. A reflective umbrella faces away from the subject, so it can’t be placed as close as a shoot-through umbrella because, if placed at the same distance, the stand and shaft of the umbrella would protrude into the frame.

You lose some illumination when you shoot through the semi-transparent fabric of an umbrella, whereas a reflective umbrella sends all of the light towards your subject. This is beneficial when photographing full-length portraits and groups of people. Another advantage of reflective umbrellas is that you can choose either silver or gold interiors to change the nature of the photo. An umbrella lined with silver intensifies the quality of light. An umbrella lined with gold gives warmer skin tones for a healthier look, but it will affect the colour of clothing and backgrounds. An umbrella lined with white fabric has the most natural colour balance but reflects less light.

Godox has a 41.3 inch white umbrella which is a deep modifier allowing a range of effects from flood lighting to spot. Its parabolic shape provides directional control with a soft bounce and neutral colour. It can also be used as a diffuser to shield a subject from harsh sunlight. The larger, silver version maximises output for an extended lighting range. It offers plenty of detail in your subject and produces natural catchlights.

Babies have sensitive eyes, so using lighting modifiers to soften the glare of strobes and flashes is essential in newborn photography. If you want to start a baby photography business, or you want to take better photos of your children, our Twinkle Kit has all the photography lighting gear for those who want studio-like results. Or try our Hollywood Kit if you are having a party and want to give your guests the fun of a photobooth. You can combine this lighting kit with your iPad or tablet to capture and share great memories.

Umbrellas are portable, versatile and cost-effective devices for video lighting and photography. They are ideal for glamour, portraits, headshots, fashion, wedding, and newborn photography. As you can see from the image below, they produce soft, even studio lighting that is flattering and professional.

Close up of female model touching the side of her face

Spec Table


Umbrella Modifier  

Octagon Modifier


Baby/child photography, portraiture, fashion

Amazing for portraits but also fashion, food, and product photography


$50 - $95

$50 - $200


85cm - 165cm

80cm - 120cm


Which One is Right for You?

Do you have plenty of space in your studio or shooting area? If so, a softbox might be more appropriate for you. They offer more controlled lighting, similar to sunlight flowing through a window. And the shape of an octagon softbox produces round catchlights which are very appealing. Octagon modifiers are the choice of professionals due to their precision over the direction and spread of light, which wraps around the subject nicely. Photographers and videographers appreciate the even lighting and lack of hotspots.

But if you have limited space available, and especially if you have to assemble and dismantle your set-up each time you want to use it, umbrellas might seem more attractive. Umbrellas are easier to put together and break down quickly into a compact size for transport and storage. Due to their low price, these are a perfect option for photographers experimenting with off-camera lighting.

If you can’t make up your mind, perhaps choose an Octagonal Reflective Umbrella which is a combination of a softbox and an umbrella. This design takes the best of both worlds and blends them into a unique modifier. It has the shape of an octagonal umbrella, but it has a front diffuser to soften the light. Use it as an umbrella or a softbox.


Male photographer taking a photo of a shampoo bottle on a pink 3D flat lay set up

There’s no need to deliberate about whether you need a light modifier. If you want to do studio-style photography or videography, or if you intend to turn professional, you must have umbrellas or softboxes. But what type of modifier should you choose? The light is more contained and focused with a softbox, making them perfect for portraits and product photography. With an umbrella, more light spills around the subject, so the light covers a greater area, making it ideal for weddings and fashion shots. The photos you usually take will determine which modifier is best for you. If you like variety in your shooting, perhaps have one of each and see for yourself which one suits you. Both types will be helpful in particular locations and circumstances so you can experiment and produce a range of effects.

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