This is why an octabox is the best modifier for portraits

Jan 4, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This is why an octabox is the best modifier for portraits

Jan 4, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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While I don’t think everybody will ever agree on a single modifier that works best for shooting portraits, we all have to start somewhere. Usually it’s with one light and one modifier. So, where does one begin in their search for the perfect portrait modifier?

Photographer Daniel Norton explores that topic in the above video, and explains why he thinks an octagon softbox (aka “octabox”) is the best and mose useful modifier for portraits.

One of the key points of the 3ft Octabox that Daniel covers pretty early on in the video is that it can simulate the look of various other popular light modifiers. Like a ringlight. While it’s not exactly the same look, it does get fairly close. Although, it does get close without having that distinctive ringlight shadow, so you’re never going to replicate that look completely.

But he then angles it down and raises it up to give a similar look to a beauty dish. This demonstration shows why we’re seeing “collapsible softboxes” advertised that are basically just octaboxes or 16-sided softboxes. Because they offer a very similar look to a socked beauty dish.

My own go-to when I was starting out with flash were small 24″ square softboxes for speedlights. They’re styled after the Lastolite Ezybox and have been sold under various brands over the years. Once I moved up to strobes, I immediately jumped on the 4ft octabox, and that kind of size and style continues to be my favourite and most used modifier – although I now typically go a little deeper with the Glow EZ Lock 4ft “deep parabolic” softbox.

Which modifier will ultimately give you what you need can only come through experimentation. Trial and error. But, as I said, everybody has to start somewhere, right? And I agree with Daniel that a 3-4ft octabox is a great modifier to get you up and running. They’re useful in both the studio and on location, extremely versatile and are usually the first modifier I recommend to people, too.

What was your first flash modifier? Would you recommend it to a new flash user?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “This is why an octabox is the best modifier for portraits”

  1. Ryan HK Avatar
    Ryan HK

    36″ Octa was my “go-to” for years if I was only bringing one modifier with me. It’s definitely a great all around tool for both the new and experienced.