Octoboxes and more-typical rectangular softboxes appear to have similar structure and function. How do they differ, and when would you use one over the other?


2 Answers 2


An octabox will give you nice round catchlights and produce generally more natural looking highlights and reflections. The straight edge of a softbox often sticks out when shooting with reflective surfaces more than a more organic curve or circle.

On the other hand softboxes are easier to mask and gobo due to the straight edges, and more suitable to certain technical lighting styles (e.g. for product photography where you want lights parallel to certain surfaces or at an angle to 'feather' the light). They are often cheaper, and easier to set up and tear down.

You can't go too far wrong with either, I prefer boxes in small sizes for simplicity / control and octas in large sizes for a natural light look and inconspicuous reflections.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you tell me what kind of desk lamp would do for lighting of softbox? I just think I can leverage one at my house instead of buying expensive one and big. \$\endgroup\$
    – Boris_yo
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 18:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Boris_yo unless you are shooting in complete darkness, with the lamp as the only source of light then a desk lamp will be nowhere near bright enough to light up most softboxes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 11:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your point is shooting in darkness is the only way to have desk lamp light up softbox? \$\endgroup\$
    – Boris_yo
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 5:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can put a desk lamp in a softbox, bus as I stated it's not going to be bright enough to be much use, unless your ambient light is very low. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 5:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ What if I bought 2 desk lamps? And what temperature of bulb I need for this? I assume day or cold? otherwise I feel I will need to use flashlight as well as I have a flexible stand for it. The last case would be to order professional photography lighting lamp... \$\endgroup\$
    – Boris_yo
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 7:25

Octaboxes tend to focus the light a bit more than square or rectangular softboxes. Some fashion and portrait photographers favor them for several reasons:

  • More light out of smaller box because of focusing effect
  • Interesting catchlights in the eyes. If you look at a lot of portraits, you can start to recognize the ones shot with beauty dishes, octabanks, and softboxes by the catchlights

In terms of the "more light" point I brought up, the fact is you can only get so many lumens out of a give light at a given power. However, the diffusion of that light absorbs some of the light, reducing the amount that reaches the subject. The more narrowly the modifier focuses (think parabolic reflector), the more light appears to fall on the subject. In this regard, my opinion is that octabanks are very useful.

You'll also find some really big octabanks that are useful for lighting wide or tall scenes evenly.

I would typically use a softbox for less-than-perfect complexions, older (i.e. > 35 years) people, and products where shadows are to be minimized. Octabank is a mod I favor for younger models who have good complexion. I don't use them for product.


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