Softboxes produce soft controlled directional light. The image above demonstrates the effect of moving the light source away from the subject. As stated in the beginning, the larger the light source appears to the subject, the softer and more diffused the light becomes. Take a look at the shadows and contrasts in the above images.
Softer light is generally a desired effect when working with all subjects, from people to highly reflective objects like jewelry, which is my specialty. The specular highlight-- the bright spot on an object--is usually more pleasant when created by soft lights.
These light modifiers are the workhorses in our studio. Softboxes work similarly to umbrellas by scattering and softening the light, but in quite a different manner. They are rectangular boxes made of opaque, black material on the outside, lined with diffusion material on the inside (white or silver), and usually have an additional white diffusion panel called a baffle, which sits several inches away from light. The front of the softbox is open but kept covered with one more layer of white diffusion material. This produces a very soft light source and, because of the design, light is directional and therefore controlled. Should a photographer need additional control, most good brands have a grid that can be fastened with Velcro at the front. Softboxes produce a rectangular catchlight on the subject.
On the negative side, softboxes are big and bulky. For onsite shoots, you’ll have to take them apart, unless you have a minivan or SUV. Some brands are easier than other to assemble, but generally they’re a pain in the neck and since time is money, might not be worth the effort. They cost substantially more than umbrellas and can strain a beginner’s budget, depending on the brand and size. Softboxes come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from small ones that can be mounted on camera flash guns to enormous ones used to illuminate cars and trucks. Our studio is equipped with several 24" x 36" and 30" x 60" softboxes.
They are basically the same as a softbox except they have eight sides rather than four. They are very popular in fashion and portrait photography. Quite large, they can be unwieldy, measuring from five to seven feet. The catchlight they produce is similar to the umbrella’, multi-sided and octagonal.
A very simple device, a beauty dish looks like a bowl that fits onto your light with a small plate that reflects the light back onto the sides of the dish. It is used most often in beauty/cosmetic and glamour shoots. It produces a light that is in between a bare studio light and a softbox: the shadow/highlight transition is more abrupt, giving it higher contrast. Because of this, the beauty dish tends accentuate flaws in your model's skin, so attention must be given when placing the light. It works best between three and four feet from the model, giving what many call a "liquid wrap-around lighting." The beauty dish produces a circular catchlight. In my jewelry photography, I sometimes use them when shooting pearls because they produce round highlights.