In this tutorial we show you how to use umbrellas to do one light studio portraits. Umbrellas are the ultimate bounce modifier. We talk about why use them, how to use them, the quality of light you get from seven foot translucent diffusion, black/white and black/silver umbrellas.
Hi, this is Jay P. Morgan. Today on The Slanted Lens I’ve got Sophie Jordan Collins here with me and we’re going to take a look at seven foot umbrellas. Why would you use a seven foot umbrella? Well let’s look at that. Why would you use them? How do you use them? What is the quality of light you get from a seven foot umbrella? And last of all let’s take a look at my very favorite! Let’s get started and see what we can do.
Why use a seven foot umbrella? First off, umbrellas are the ultimate bounce modifier. You put it on a stand. You can get it close. You can get further away. You can get it overhead. You can use it and direct it and it becomes a modifier that you have control over. When you’re bouncing a small flash out of the ceiling it’s just the ceiling has to be close to you. If you decide, “You know what, I want to bounce a small flash out of a wall on the side here so I get more of a side light.” Well, there’s got to be a wall there. But with an umbrella you can put that umbrella where you want and get that beautiful wrapping quality of a bounce light. But you get to decide the walls there now or the ceilings above my subject matter or the ceilings here. Or with that shoot through you can bring it in and give yourself a beautiful quality light as it wraps around the person’s face.
But why a seven foot umbrella? Because they are so large and so soft it just gives you a beautiful wrapping light that looks fabulous on the person’s face. It’s a beautiful wrapping balanced light. Except for translucent. But let’s take a look at the different qualities of these different lights. Most manufacturers make these three different umbrellas or some version thereof. Westcott makes a shoot through seven foot umbrella. It’s made to allow light to pass through it. So it’s not a bounce modifier. It’s a directional modifier or it can be a bounce modifier. We’ll look at both ways. Directional is going to be much nicer on that umbrella.
Then they make a white/black. This allows us to bounce into a nice white area. But it gives us a black to keep the spill from going all over the room and create an additional fill in our scene or lighting something else in the scene that we don’t want it to. So a black/white modifier.
And then we have a silver/black modifier. This gives us a much brighter light out of it, probably at least a stop, maybe a stop and a half. We’ll test that. But it gives you that same control. You have the black wrap around the outside so it’s not going to allow the light to spill. It makes it so you can guide it and direct it and be able to modify it and use it the way you want to without spilling into the room. It gives you some control of the umbrella.
So let’s look at the quality of each one of these with our model. All right, first off, on a stand because these things are so large that they do fall over pretty easily. It’s really important that you set the legs of the stand correctly. Normally you put a leg towards your model and your talent. But that’s usually because the modifier is going to lean over and the weight is going to be towards the model or the talent. But in this case, if you set it up like I have right here it’s on the tipping point of the stand. So I’m much better off to take the stand and put a leg underneath the direction where the umbrella is pointing. Now if I turn this umbrella around and shoot through it, which we’ll do in a little bit, I’m going to want this leg to go back towards my talent. When I do that so it’s underneath the weight of the modifier. Okay, now as we set up inside here this is super important. If you look at the ceiling up here, look at all this spill I have in the ceiling. There’s a reflector here. This reflector is bouncing out of the edge of the reflector. It’s bouncing light above. So if I bring this in, the deeper I get this into the umbrella, the less the area of coverage is. Now you kind of have to split this a little bit because it’s not exact. You’ve got a reflector that has a reflective surface and it’s bouncing all around. I mean, right now I’ve got it pretty controlled. But it’s also it the main area of coverage. It is right here in the middle. So I’m going to push this out. I’m going to get that area of coverage a little further back. I’m going to let it bounce into the ceiling a little bit. A problem you wouldn’t have if you’re using this outside or using it in a gymnasium or in front of a building, because you wouldn’t have a ceiling this close to it. But that little bit of bounce up there will give us a little bit of fill light. It will change the quality slightly, but not that much. So I’m trying to get this area of coverage to cover most of my umbrella and that’s going to give it a larger area of coverage. Which is going to give us a softer light. I’m now going to set this up in a five portrait lighting position. I’m going to get the edge of it towards my lens and the highlight back in here above her nose and that right there should give me a very good Rembrandt on her face. I can’t get this up as high as I would like to. So the way to work with that is to tilt it. Now I’m going to come up and that allows me to come up a little higher so this isn’t lighting underneath her chin quite as much. It’s going to lie a little higher and it’s going to give us a nicer light on her face. So tilting it slightly is going to help. But it is a big source. It’s going to light her entire body. All right, let’s take a quick shot here and see what we got. So there’s an image. This first setup with that umbrella around gives us a nice Rembrandt on her face. It gives us a pretty soft light as it moves around her face because it’s getting up closer to the lens. But we still have a lot of shadow there. We can fill that shadow in with a fill card.
Let’s take a look at the silver/black umbrella. Let’s take a look at the quality of that light. I’m guessing it’s a little harder and a little brighter. The quality is very similar. It seems to me it’s a little harder, just a little bit harder. You definitely see that. But what’s really fascinating about it is it is one and two-thirds stop brighter. One and two thirds stop at this distance. I’m very close to her. From the umbrella to her is about six feet. So at that distance it picks up a stop and two thirds. That’s a tremendous amount of exposure and doesn’t look that different from the white/black. I mean the white/black is definitely softer. But this one is much more, it’s more specular and it’s much brighter.
So let’s take a look at a shoot through umbrella that we’re going to bounce into. It’s not going to be very efficient because most of the light is going through this umbrella. But let’s just take a look at that really fast. I know first off we’ve got to at least open up three stops. The silver umbrella before this was a stop and two-thirds brighter. So we’re going to go back to that base exposure. Back to a stop and two-thirds. And I’m going to open it up a stop. This is by far the softest light we’ve had. But what’s happening is that we’ve got light passing through this umbrella. It’s bouncing into the ceiling. It’s bouncing around. So let’s go ahead and let’s move this. Now let’s flip it around the way I like to use it and let’s shoot through it. So the white/black was giving me about f/8. I had to go to f/6.3 for the shoot through. Well, we were bouncing in the shoot through at f/6.3. And when I turn it and aim it directly through the shoot through it’s about the same at f/6.3. So I’m getting about the same exposure whether I’m bouncing or because it’s very inefficient when I bounce this shoot through. But when I shoot directly through it it’s about f/6.3. The silver was almost two stops brighter to that. It was f/16. So it jumped up two stops as you went two stops. And it’s a little more hard.
So let’s take a look at all three of those together and just see exactly what we’ve got there.
Now let’s take a look at those three images side by side with the fill and just see how that softens the images and how each one of them look. I love the shoot through. It’s just a beautiful light. It’s so gorgeous and I wouldn’t use it this far away from the subject matter. I would push it in like this right off from the edge of camera. It’s going to bring me up at least one stop. It just gives me a beautiful light. But it’s still with some shadow. I can bring in a light and I can open it up a little bit. Bring a reflector in and open it up a little bit. Look at that. You just have beautiful highlights. Still have nice shadows even though I have a fill card in there. I love this umbrella. It’s absolutely beautiful. The problem in here is I’ve got a ceiling that’s a little too low. If I could get this up higher it would allow me to get the hot spot of this umbrella right on her face. Right now that hot spot’s kind of mid-body for her and not on her face where I want it to be. But it’s still beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful. I think it’s a gorgeous light. This is the go-to light for me. You can modify with this light. Don’t think you can’t get a really dramatic look with this shoot through umbrella because you can. Let me show you that next.
So if I want this umbrella to look moody all I have to do is not let this side of the umbrella see the front of her face. It’s as simple as that. So look at how beautiful that is. I mean it’s just beautiful light. I’ve got a beautiful Rembrandt that falls on her face. It’s very moody and very dark over here. I can bring a light in and fill it if I want. But this just becomes a beautiful light. So even though it’s a large shoot through umbrella it really gives me the ability, if I move it, to be able to show beautiful light on her face or very moody light. I don’t have to use it as a large flat source.
I’m going to make it even more moody. So now I’m really moody on this. The light is way back around here. It’s lighting her hair. I’m just lighting the side of her face. But look what happens in this situation. If I turn her head or chin right to here. Look right there. And then maybe look about into here. That is an absolute beautiful light. It wraps all the way around her. I’m getting hair light in the back and get a beautiful light on her face and just a little bit of openness on her cheek on the dark side. If I put a reflector in there now. So there we have it that shoot through umbrella is just absolutely beautiful. I can make it as moody as I want to. Part of the way I make that happen is get it in as close as possible to the talent. Get it around so that the largeness of the seven foot doesn’t see the side of our face. Or I can go the other way. I can come around here and get it above the camera. If you have two or three people that shoot through umbrella will give you a beautiful light on two or three people together, a family setting or a fashion shot.
So I don’t have to use it from the side. I can get it right up front in a butterfly, beautiful paramount butterfly up here in front. If you’ve got a family or if you’ve got a fashion shoot it’s a great place for this light to be. And then you bring your fill card underneath and bounce light up underneath her chin and its looks absolutely wonderful.
What are the pros and cons of a seven foot umbrella?
- It’s a modifier that collapses into a very small little tube and it’s easy to carry with you.
- It gives you a beautiful soft light because they’re so very large, and
- You can control that light. You have the ability to turn them and to shape the light a little bit by adjusting it. And that’s what gives you the ability to modify with that light. It’s not just to bounce off the wall or off the ceiling. It gives you the ability to control where you put that bounce light and that gives you more control than you’ll ever get with a wall or ceiling or any kind of a surface you’re trying to bounce off from at a venue or somewhere.
So what’s the downside of an umbrella? Well,
- Is that they are large and the wind catches them. If you’ve got them outside I guarantee you the wind’s going to blow them over if you don’t have at least one or two sandbags on them. Two sandbags is ideal because the wind changes. You can have it one side and it will just blow them over the other direction. So have a couple of sandbags on them.
- The other thing is that they throw light everywhere. I mean it is not as controllable, it’s not as modifiable as say a soft box. It has a much more control, a soft box or an octodome. This just basically throws light everywhere. So they’re just not as easy to modify. It gives you a broader source but that’s part of the quality and the charm of them, that they do have a broader wider bounce look. And it’s a much softer nicer look, especially in that seven foot umbrella.
So there’s a quick look at the pros and cons of a seven foot umbrella.
All right, so let’s wrap this up. I love these large seven foot umbrellas because they are so soft and beautiful. My favorite by far is the shoot through umbrella because I can get that really close to the subject matter. I can get my talent and get just a beautiful wrap with that umbrella. I think it’s gorgeous. I’ve used it in context where I’m trying to also balance with ambient. It works extremely well in that situation. I think it works well in so many different situations. In fact, I’m going to do another lesson we’ll be coming up in a week or two here we’re going to take it outside and I’m going to show you how to use it in direct sun because it’s absolutely stunning. All right, you keep those cameras rollin’ keep on clickin’!