Two of the most popular MagMod modifiers are the MagBox and MagSphere. The question often pops up regarding the difference between each. So while on a shoot with our model Mary, I decided I’d take a few shots with each modifier in the exact same position so we can see the difference between them both. I’ll also share some tips on how I like to use the MagBox to get my favorite results.
So the most obvious difference between the MagBox and MagSphere is the size. When you are lighting something, a relatively larger light source is always going to give you softer light. A light source can be large based on its size or its proximity of the light to your subject. For example, obviously the MagBox is larger, but if my MagSphere is within a foot from my model, but I move my MagBox back 20 feet, they are now nearly the same size relative to the model and will create a very similar quality of light on her. This is important because if your goal is to get the softest light possible then not only will you want to choose a larger modifier but you’ll also want to get the light in close to your subject.
Let’s do some shooting and talk about the different results we get from the MagBox and the MagSphere and where I would use each.
I’ll first start with the MagBox positioned at 45 degrees to the right of the camera, about 2 feet from my subject. What you’ll see is a nice soft loop light shadow coming off the nose. Couple things to keep in mind, try to make sure that your shadow coming off the nose doesn’t cross into lips and that it angles down just a little. If you find it going straight across or up a little, then your light stand needs to be raised.
Now let’s do the same shot but this time using the MagSphere. Check out the difference between each. See how the MagSphere’s light creates a harder more defined shadow. It’s still softer than a bare flash because it’s 250% times larger but it’s not as soft as the MagBox. One type of light source is not better than the other. Both hard and soft lights have their own storytelling purposes. That being said, I find that soft light is much easier and more forgiving to work with than hard light.
Our eyes are naturally drawn to areas of contrast in photos and so when using a harder light source that creates more contrast on your subject you’ll want to be very precise as to not distract from other parts of the photograph. The soft light, on the other hand, blends the shadows creating less contrast and in effect helps make your subject look as good as possible by minimizing wrinkles and blemishes. Lastly, when shooting with hard light, it’s not uncommon to have your subject stay in a very particular place. But when shooting with a larger light modifier like the MagBox, you typically have more freedom for your subject to move around the frame.
Let’s do the same series of shots but moving the lights to the right 90 degrees. See how the MagBox light wraps around the subjects face and the shadow off the nose is quite soft. Now if I put the MagSphere in the same spot, you’ll be able to tell the difference quite noticeably because the size of the MagSphere is only a fraction of what the MagBox was. You’ll notice the light doesn’t wrap much and the shadows are quite a bit harder.
Let’s shoot one last set with the lights directly over the camera in a Paramount or Butterfly lighting setup. These three lighting setups are three of the most popular and ones I use often.
Once again when comparing these images you’ll see that the shadow coming off the nose or on the neck is going to be softer when using a larger modifier. That said, in this instance I actually kind of favor the MagSphere lighting as I feel like it carves out the face better here and really accentuates her facial features.
Softboxes are some of the easiest light modifiers to use. Essentially all you need to do is point it at your subject. But here are some things I like to keep in mind for best results.
First I like to make sure the middle point of my softbox is just above eye level and then tilt it down ever so slightly using the MagShoe. When using a softbox if you place it up too high you aren’t able to get light under the chin and the contrast that results there can be less flattering.
Secondly, I always make sure I have a layer of diffusion on the front of the MagBox. Diffusion is the act of spreading something out. In terms of photography, it means to spread out the light, thereby making it softer. MagBox has two types of diffusion. One is the simple translucent soft fabric diffuser and the other is our state-of-the-art FocusDiffuser. Both of them serve the purpose of softening the quality of light and subduing the shadows. The especially cool part about using the FocusDiffuser is you get the diffusion out of your light while hardly losing any amount of light - this is something that wasn’t possible before the FocusDiffuser. When using the MagBox always make sure to include a diffusion panel on the front for the best results if getting soft light is what you are after.
Lastly, when using a softbox I like to keep my box within approximately 1-2 times the diameter of my softbox. So for example, the MagBox 24 Octa is 24”. So when using it I like to keep it within 24 inches-48 inches (60cm -120 cm) when possible to get the softest light. The closer the better.
So how about an umbrella. How does this modifier come into the picture? Well as a wedding photographer shooting outside, I stopped using umbrellas after having lost expensive flashes after the umbrella on the stand caught a light breeze and abruptly tipped over. Granted I could have carried sandbags or had an assistant hold the light stand, which would always be a good move, but not always possible. Umbrellas will help to spread your light, however many of them will have a hot spot and because the light is not contained (like a softbox) it will spread over the entire subject, background, and ground. I'm not a fan of bright green lit grass. In addition to resisting the wind a bit more, the advantage of using the softbox is having all your light contained in one source so you are able to put the light exactly where you want it efficiently.
Alright so let’s wrap this up.
The advantages of the MagSphere are the following:
• 250% larger than your normal bare flash
• Super quick and portable
• Smoosh it anywhere in your bag
• Stackable with the MagGrid
• Perfect for small / medium size rooms
The advantages of the MagBox are the following:
• Relatively large light source compared to other MagMod modifiers
• Super soft light when in close
• FocusDiffuser for control and diffusion
• Super simple setup
• Great directional light