Creating Hard Light with a Softbox

Written by Fredrik Franzén on . Posted in Lighting Tips

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Profoto RFi softboxes

©Ab Sesay

Softboxes are great. They are easy to work with, they are easy to bring along to on-location shoot, and, last but not least, they are versatile. Fredrik Franzén and photographer Ab Sesay have together produced eight articles that highlights the latter. This is the first one.

The softbox is one of the most popular tools for light shaping. Most of us use it to create a soft, even and flattering light, but what we often forget is that the softbox is a versatile tool that can also be used to create a harder light with sharper shadows. This article will take a closer look at its properties.

All images in this article were lit with just one softbox: the Profoto RFi 3’Octa, standing in exactly the same place at exactly the same angle. But as you can see, the images are quite different. So how did we do that?

(1) | ©Ab Sesay

For the first image (1), we mounted a Softgrid onto our Octa RFi. The Softgrid reduces the light spread to 50° and creates a more directed light. As you can see, the light is just as soft and even as you would expect, but the amount of spill light that hits the wall behind our model is drastically reduced.


(2) | ©Ab Sesay

For the second image (2), we removed the Softgrid. This did not affect the quality of the light, it is just as soft and even, but the light spread is much wider. Compare our model in the first and the second image. She is lit almost exactly the same. The background, however, is now a lot brighter.


(3) | ©Ab Sesay

For the third image (3), we removed both internal diffusers – and this is where things get really interesting. Removing the diffusers essentially converts our octagonal softbox into a parabolic reflector. Now, the light is no longer wrapped around our model. Instead, it is focused and quite hard. Take a closer look at the sharper shadows under our model’s chin or around her necklace. Also, notice how the highlights are defined and how her features and skin texture are richer in contrast. This is not a light we typically associate with a softbox.

Image #4 | ©Ab Sesay

(4) | ©Ab Sesay

Finally, let us take a closer look at the fourth and final image (4). This was shot exactly the same way as the third image: no grid and no diffusers. Again, this is not your typical softbox light. This light is almost like sunlight or something you would use on a fashion shoot – focused, distinct and quite hard.

In conclusion, we have created three different lights with just one softbox. Or, in other words, do not underestimate the versatility of the softbox.

If you want to learn more about Profoto RFi softboxes, please visit our dedicated RFi page.

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Comments (8)

  • Murray


    I knew that 3′ octa was a good buy!


  • Greg


    Lets see the lighting diagrams for these please!
    Photos as examples are great, but would like to see the overhead layout w/ distance references
    would love to see an eye level layout with height references.


  • Thomas


    It would be good to see the fourth option of no diffusers with the Softgrid.


  • Ed


    There’s also a lot more cleavage in Image 4. I didn’t know a softbox can do that.


  • Mike Devlin


    Which flash head was used for this ? I would like to see a comparison of images like these showing the differences between a standard head and a D1… And a D1 with a domed diffuser….


    • Fredrik Franzén

      Fredrik Franzén


      Hi Mike,

      I believe Ab used Pro-8 packs in this case, but you could do this with a D1 too. A comparison is not a bad idea, though. We might take you up on that…

      /Fredrik Franzén, Profoto


      • Mike Devlin


        Thanks Frederik, I realize it is possible with the D1s… Just interested to see how much of a difference the flat-front would make… And how close you could get to a standard head with a domed diffuser…



  • Jeroen


    Nice examples! To bad i am not shooting with Profoto gear ;-)


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