Bare flash Vs plastic diffuser Vs umbrella Vs softbox

We hate to use flash during wedding shoots. Being able to shoot just with the ambient light ensures the pics look just like the place looked in reality (and often even better). And that’s why we use lenses that can let maximum amount of light pass through them and camera-bodies that have sensors to give acceptable image quality in least amount of available light. And yet, once in a while, the available light is just not enough to be able to click a nice clear picture. This typically happens during night time baraat processions and cocktail parties (where it is a need to have very dim light). But once in a while, even the phera-venues and other venues end up being badly lit and it becomes next to impossible to take good pictures in such cases. And this is when, it is better to use a flash (also called speedlight). If you can, off camera flash light always gives better results than on-camera. But even when using off-camera lighting, there are various levels of effort that you can undertake. Here in this post, I have tried to compare the difference in results from four different options, all of which I have explored in real wedding shoots.

To begin with, have a look at the following four pictures that I shot few hours ago, of my wife.

best lighting solution for wedding photography

The basic difference in result can be observed by noting how the shadow on the wall right behind her gets blurred. During weddings, even if there generally is no wall behind a person, there are so many people all around that shadows inherently fall on the people behind your main subject. So it makes sense to have the shadows diffused to the extent possible. If best results were the only consideration, I would always use a soft-box. But then, I will try explaining soon whey soft-box is not always the best solution even when it gives the best result. By the way, also note that bare-flash does not light up a bigger area properly (notice how the bed sheets are darker in the bare-flash picture compared to other three).

Let us now try focusing on just the face (ignoring theĀ blurrinessĀ of shadows). Does the lighting on the face start getting better as we move from bare flash to plastic diffuser to umbrella to soft-box? What do you think, from the zoomed in pictures below?

bare flash vs diffusor vs umbrella vs softbox

Well, as you can see for yourself, bare flash gives kind of harsh shadows which get slightly okay if you use a plastic diffuser and get significantly soft and natural if you use an umbrella. Picture from a softbox and an umbrella look almost the same. At least at this level of zoom. Will this opinion change if we zoom in further and observe? Let’s do it.

should one use in flash in wedding photography

In the above example, there definitely is not much difference between the umbrella and the soft-box result. So other than the extra blurriness of shadows that softbox can achieve for you, an umbrella is almost as good. And so yes, I mostly use umbrella, when I have to. Another reason for not favouring softbox is that it is kind of bulky and big to move around in a crowded place.

When its not possible to use an off camera flash (especially when you are shooting the baraat in dark night on a road), I at least put on the plastic diffusor to smoothen the shadows to the extent possible.

So well, in case you hadn’t experimented with these four options yourself, hope this post is helpful to you. Keep clicking and keep sharing what you learn. And as Steve Jobs once said (and so did couple of characters in Go, Goa, Gone) – What do we know? What have we learnt? :P

PS: she has been reading Shantram since past two years – she bought it on our first date!!


The author

I started in the spring of 2012 to experiment with wedding photography. Prior to that, I studied at IIT Madras (2003-08) and worked as a business consultant in PwC for four years. Since 2014, I have also been making documentary movies on a variety of subjects and issues ( Phone: +95525 89252 Email: To get quote for wedding photography / cinema, please provide city, date and approx duration of all the functions. I am location independent and shoot across India - without any additional charge for travel.

2 thoughts on “Bare flash Vs plastic diffuser Vs umbrella Vs softbox”

  1. This helped a lot! I’m trying to decide which flash equipments to buy first, and from this post I say I’d go for a soft box instead. Thanks for the help! :)

    1. Yep – if softest light is the idea, sofbox is the answer. If you are going to use speedlights, you will find it difficult to source a simple umbrella type of softbox that will fit in. However you get them easily in US. Or if you are indeed in India, then you should try looking for it in jjmehta forum. In india, most sellers assume that one uses a softbox only for big studio lights, hence the softboxes don’t naturally fit in with a speed-light.

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