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SB-28 in a Softbox

Here's the goal: a softbox, a source of soft, even, directional light, much like a north-facing window. Softboxes are standard equipment for studio work from portraits to still life. They're portable, and they're completely independent of the camera position and direction.

However, if you're using a digital camera and (for any of several good reasons) you want to use the flash designed to work with your camera, how do you include a softbox in your photography tool kit? Here's how. The softbox in the picture contains a Nikon SB-28, connects to any Nikon TTL-compatible camera (such as the Coolpix 990, which I use), and functions in full TTL mode--with multiple flashes, if you choose. This page shows you how to build a softbox without switching over to commercial studio flash equipment.

Completed softbox
The foundation for all this is a light stand, available from any good photo supply store. I like this one from Bogen (model 3330); it's light, sturdy, collapses to a small size for portability, and it's affordable. Light stands are useful for many other things as well, such as holding reflectors and props. You can't have too many light stands.
Bogen light stand
The next thing you need is an umbrella adapter. Again, this one is from Bogen. The brass piece comes with the adapter, and has a 1/4"-20 thread which fits tripod mounts. This is the key piece of hardware for joining together your stand, flash, and softbox.
Bogen umbrella adapter
Here's another important item, the Nikon AS-10 multiflash connector. It has a hot shoe on top (shown on right), a tripod mount on the bottom (shown on left), and three TTL cable connectors around the edges. The only difference between the AS-10 and the AS-E900 (made for flash brackets) is the built-in cable on the AS-E900.
Nikon AS-10 multiflash adapter
Now it's time to put the pieces together. Here's the umbrella adapter on the top of the light stand, with the AS-10 attached.
AS-10 on light stand using umbrella adapter
Now for the softbox. While many softboxes are made with fittings that work only for studio flash equipment, such as Novatron, this one from Westcott can be used with any flash. (This is Westcott's 28-inch "Apollo" softbox, included in the portable studio kits 2 and 3.) The frame of this softbox is a deep, square reflective umbrella, which is one reason why we're using an umbrella mount on the stand! One feature of this particular softbox is that the diffuser is set a few inches inside the edge of the box, to minimize spill.
Here's the softbox, opened up and mounted on the umbrella adapter. The diffusion cloth is folded over the top for now, so we can finish the setup inside the softbox, but the diffuser attaches with velcro around the inside edge of the softbox when we're done.

Note that the softbox has a zippered opening in one side, shown here at the bottom. The top of the light stand goes through this opening. The sync cable for the flash goes through this opening as well.

Inside a softbox
Now it's starting to come together. Here's the SB-28 inside the softbox. Yes, it's mounted very high inside the box, but the combination of reflective interior and diffusion on the front ensures that there's no hot spot in the illumination.

Note also the Nikon SC-19 cable attached to the AS-10 below the flash. In a single flash setup, this connects to your camera. In a multiple flash setup, there might be up to three SC-18 or SC-19 cables here, connecting to the camera or to other flashes.

We're done with setup. Here's the completed softbox, set up to photograph a jade carving. The softbox will light the piece almost from the side. A large reflector provides fill. A second SB-28 (far left) is set up on another light stand to light the background. Both SB-28s are connected to the camera with a daisy-chain of AS-10 connectors and SC-19 sync cables.
Setup for shooting with softbox
Here's the result, a photo of a jade carving, with soft, directional lighting. To complete the image, there's soft fill, a reflection in glass, and background lighting that's not influenced by the lighting for the subject.

This was shot with a Nikon Coolpix 990. The flash is in TTL mode, with the flash EV set to +1 to compensate for the dark subject. The EV adjustment was selected from a series of bracketed images. (This is the EV adjustment on the Speedlite menu; the overall exposure EV is set to 0.) White balance is set for Speedlite.

See the larger image for more detail.

Jade Lady