In photography and cinematography, shooting outside with the aid of natural light can give you some impressive compositions. After all, natural sunlight is the most ideal kind of lighting that you can get. However, natural lighting does not always cooperate with you. Moreover, moonlight does not always do the trick in the nighttime. But, in the studio, using a softbox can help a photographer or cinematographer to apply soft, natural-looking light onto a subject. But, can the same sort of thing be applied outside to get you the lighting you want?
Can you use a softbox outside? Yes, although softboxes are primarily designed to be used in photo and film studios, they can be used outside. In fact, the addition of a softbox to particular applications of outside photography allows you a more considerable measure of control over the lighting.
But, carrying a softbox along with you without an understanding of how to use it to fit your needs will not automatically lead to better pictures. In which situations is the use of a softbox outside ideal? What kind of softbox will best suit your needs? Read on to learn the answers to these questions and more.
What Type of Softbox Should You Use Outside?
You can find a variety of softboxes available to purchase online on Amazon, from handheld ones to bigger studio-sized ones. They also have many different shapes, from rectangular ones to octagonal ones. Depending on the feeling you want to capture, the kind of lighting you need and the environment, a different size and shape of softbox may be ideal for the situation you are dealing with.
A small softbox can be ideal because of its portability and can be easily carried to a variety of locations outdoors. For example, if you wish to have a photoshoot in rugged terrain, you may only be able to take a handheld camera and a portable softbox with you to capture that look you want to achieve.
This does not mean that you cannot also consider a larger softbox for use outside. A large softbox can cover a broader area than a small softbox can. In a place with naturally reflective elements and a good flat surface to catch the light, it can be an ideal lighting choice if you are ready to put in the extra work of carrying it along.
When Should You Use a Softbox Outside?
There are a few instances where it may be more appropriate to use a softbox outside for a photoshoot:
Balancing Light to Get a Good Exposure
A softbox can disperse light onto a subject, which creates a soft, natural light effect; this lighting effect is most likely how it gets its name as a “softbox.” The lighting on the subject can be controlled depending on the softbox's closeness to the subject and the direction of light projecting onto the subject from the softbox.
In addition, you can use a diffuser with your softbox to get an even more enhanced control of the lighting produced by the softbox. For example, a gold banded diffuser can create a warm golden glow as if the sun is setting, and it is the “golden hour of light.” There are many more light effects that can be created by a diffuser added on to a softbox.
If you’re outside, it is natural to want to use a bit of flash to enhance a person’s face in places with shade or cloud overcast, but the nature of a camera's flash will create a harsh contrast because it is a small source of very bright light. To avoid having overexposed portraits, you can use a softbox to modify your flash outside effectively.
Simply place the object producing your flash, this is usually your camera, inside the mouth of your softbox. This will amplify the size of the light and scatter it to also reduce the harshness of its lighting on the subject.
You can also lower the intensity of the flash and complement your lighting with your softbox. The softbox will become the primary source of light for your picture, and the flash will be a slight accent to it, giving you just the right lighting and doing away with harsh shadows that hide your subject.
Nighttime photos can be aesthetically pleasing and unique, but they pose a consistent challenge with lighting, especially when they are taken outdoors. Using direct flash can often lead to overexposure and pictures where all the details are muted out. But, some cameras cannot pick up anything at all without some lighting to assist them in the night.
When you use a softbox in nighttime photos, it can help you get evenly lit photos that do not compromise the subjects. This is especially helpful if you are trying to take a nighttime portrait photo. However, it can be used in numerous other applications as well.
In Foggy or Hazy Landscapes
A foggy environment is drastically different from a cloudy climate. White cloud cover on a sunny day diffuses the sun's light and creates soft lighting, actually called “the softbox effect.” Heavy cloud cover from thunder clouds can cause dark shadows to form overhead and mask out the sunlight photographers are looking for.
Similar but diverse issues occur with a foggy day. It can be challenging to decipher your subject amidst the heavy fog. To a certain extent, the fog can also be hard on your camera lenses.
In each of these situations, adding a softbox and pointing it in the right direction can enhance the lighting on your subject. In foggy conditions, for example, by taking a handheld camera and a portable softbox, and getting a little closer to your subject, you can accurately find and capture great shots. The fog will also leave behind a cool effect, so it’s a bonus if you can properly utilize your lighting to achieve what you want.
Photographing Outside Subjects Far Away
All the previous sections have discussed how softboxes can help enhance the lighting on mostly nearby subjects; at a close range, a softbox is an ideal add-on to any photography kit. But what about faraway subjects? If you are outdoors and want to photograph someone or something at a considerable distance from yourself, can a softbox still be helpful?
Softboxes are genuinely not designed to be used at long distance ranges. The proximity between the softbox and the object affects the way the lighting hits the subject. Most professionals recommend a set distance will give you an ideal result, typically within 6 feet. So, using a softbox for shooting a subject far away is not really considered often.
However, it could be possible to use a softbox at a distance with the aid of some reflective surfaces like mirrors. The softbox would be placed such that its light reflects against the mirror or other naturally occurring reflective surface, and the light would bounce back onto the subject to enhance its lighting.
To conclude, a softbox can be a great addition to your arsenal of tools when you are taking pictures outside. There are numerous applications in which using one can really take your photography to the next level, but the most significant benefit is that adding a softbox for outdoor photos will give you more lighting control than ever before.
However, one thing to keep in mind that you can only reap the benefits of a softbox outside if you are shooting a subject within a relatively short distance. It can be quite tricky to achieve the same effects with subjects that are farther away.