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The Difference Between a Ring Light and a Softbox Light

Lighting is, and always will be, very very complicated with thousands of possibilities. Which is exactly what makes lighting a scene so great! Everyone does it differently and creates there own unique voice with every piece they make. This makes knowing what light to use and when crucial. This article will help you make your decision on when to use a softbox light compared to a ring light. Trust me, you’re going to want to know this when you become a Director of Photography one day.

Softbox Light Vs. Ring Light

Now, let’s talk about about the difference between these two lights. Below are what the actual lights looks like.

A photo of a softbox light
This is a softbox.
A photo of a ring light
...and this is a ring light. Pretty straight forward hey?

As I’m sure you can tell, the names of each light basically tell you exactly what they look like. The biggest difference with the ring light, other than the shape, is the fact that the ring light has a hole right in the centre of the light. This is perfect for placing a camera. Generally, both these lights give off very similar light, especially when the ring light has it’s diffusion covering on. Both give you a beautiful even soft light that wraps around your subjects face. A ring light is a bit more direct, while the softbox will spread throughout the space more.

The main difference is the shape. The box light is much more versatile and, other than in certain circumstances, is always preferred in a cinematic setting over the ring shape. Ring lights are used more so for makeup tutorials and vlogs. This is where putting a camera in the centre comes in handy. One major disadvantage of a ring light is your subject might get what is called a Catchlight in their eye. What’s a Catchlight you as? It’s this!

A man with a catchlight in his eye
Sometimes good, sometimes bad?

This is completely up to you and your artistic style whether or not you want this in your film. This can happen with any light source but it is more likely to happen with a ring light as opposed to a softbox light.


Unfortunately, this is not a one light fits all type of situation. It all depends on the specific project your working on. So, if money isn’t an issue and you can buy both, that would be great. However, if you’re like most people and money isn’t in abundance I’d recommend a softbox light. It will give you the widest range of scenarios in which you can use it. If you’re looking for a second opinion, you can read this Reddit thread. If you want recommendations for each type, we’ve had a great experience with this Ring Light and this Softbox Light! And you definitely have to be wearing this shirt the next time you light.

Have you ever used either? Let us know which one you prefer in the comments!

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