Photoflex Lighting School

Lighting Equipment

In this lesson, LA photographer Jay P. Morgan demonstrates how to use umbrellas on set. Umbrellas are great modifiers and the ones that most people start with. They’re inexpensive compared to soft boxes and they collapse and fold away, which makes them easy to store and transport. They are the first step in controlling light to achieve your photographic vision.

This lesson examines the materials umbrellas are made of and how they affect the light. To test each umbrella, Jay P.’s team set up a target that allowed them to track how the light spread. Afterward, Jay P. photographed a model with the various umbrellas to see the effects of each. Here are his notes on the shoot.

Our TRITONFLASH was placed 8 feet from the center of the target. The camera was placed right next to the center of the umbrella. We made the exposure equal f/11.5 on the light meter for each set-up. We kept this consistent to show what the light loss or gain was for each umbrella.

Light-Bouncing Results
Our first light modifier was a Photoflex ADW 30” Adjustable White umbrella with a black backing. I started with this series of umbrellas because they are about in the middle of the scale for exposure. You don’t get as much light as a silver umbrella, but more than a shoot-through. This umbrella has a solid area that it covers. From the center to 3 feet on each side, it only loses about 1/4 of a stop. When you go out to 6 feet from the center on each side, it loses about 1/2 stop. It has a very broad area of coverage with little fall-off. The black cover keeps the light more controlled so that you don’t light the ceiling and your talent. It’s slightly more controlled than a shoot-through.

Next, we moved on to an ADW 45” Adjustable White umbrella. We got a very similar area of coverage to that of the 30-inch. We lost about 1/4 stop at 3 feet out and 1/2 stop at 6 feet.

The ADH 30” Adjustable Silver umbrella was next and we gained 1 stop of light with this umbrella. This is a much more focused light. At 3 feet on either side, we lost 3/10 of a stop. At 6 feet out, we lost 3/4 of a stop. It falls off very fast. This umbrella, when moved closer, is a very focused light source.

Next was the ADH 45” Adjustable Silver umbrella. We gained the same full stop of light with this umbrella but the area of coverage was a bit broader. At 3 feet out, we got the same 3/10 fall-off, but at 6 feet we got 1/2 stop fall-off. It falls off very fast after 6 feet.

Next, we shot with the new ADH 72″ Adjustable Silver umbrella. With this umbrella, we gained 1.5 stops more light over the ADW umbrella. It’s the silver lining and parabolic shape that focuses the light. The light fell off 1/2 stop at 3 feet and 1.5 stops at 6 feet. A very narrow area of coverage.

The Photoflex RUD 30” White Shoot-Through umbrella was next. Here we were bouncing light, not shooting through the umbrella. Interestingly, with this umbrella, we did not lose any light value as compared to the version with the ADW and it projected the very same pattern as well. We lost 1/4 stop at 3 feet and 1/2 stop at 6 feet. You can shoot through this type of umbrella, which makes for two different types of light – one very soft and one very directional. The disadvantage is that they throw light everywhere, making it harder to control.

Next, we shot with the Photoflex RUD 45” White Shoot-Through umbrella. Again, we bounced light rather than shooting through and maintained the same light pattern as the 30-inch. It has a 1/4 stop fall-off at 3 feet and 1/2 stop at 6 feet.

Next was my favorite umbrella, the new Photoflex RUD 72” White Shoot-Through umbrella. This is a very soft light and a joy to work with. The area of coverage was very similar to the 45 and 30 inch. At 3 feet, we lost about 1/4 stop and at 6 feet we lost about 3/4 stop. It falls off faster. The parabolic shape helps to narrow the light pattern.

Shoot-Through Results
With the reflective tests complete, we then shot through the translucent umbrellas. The  RUD 30” White Shoot-Through was first. This made the light more narrow. At 3 feet we lost 1/4 stop, but at 6 feet we lost almost a full stop.

The ADH 45” Adjustable Silver umbrella gave the same result.

The RUD 72” White Shoot-Through umbrella also gave us the same result. We lost about a stop of light shooting through when we were on set, but showed no light loss when we tested them later. It’s inconclusive as to the power loss, but I don’t think you lose power by shooting through.

Tests with a Model
With all of the light spread tests complete, we decided to examine the different light qualities on a person’s face. We placed different umbrellas 5 feet away from our model, Tatum, to test the light.

The ADW 30 White umbrella shows a pretty strong shadow on the wall and deep shadows on her face.

When we changed to the ADW 45 White umbrella, we saw that the shadow on her nose started to open up and the shadow on the wall softened. It’s a larger source so the umbrella illuminates more of her face.

Next was the ADH 30 Silver umbrella. Notice how the shadow on the wall is very defined and that the light is specular on her face.

When we went to the ADH 45 Silver umbrella, the shadow became less defined, though still specular on her face.

The ADH 72 Silver umbrella wrapped around her face and cut into the shadow on the wall, but was very bright on her face. This is a very pretty look.

When we got to the RUD 30 Shoot-Through umbrella and maintained the bounce-light approach, it looked very similar to the ADW 30.

Similarly, the RUD 45 Shoot-Through looked very similar to the ADW 45.

The RUD 72 reflected was very soft and the shadow on the wall and on her face was very open. It created both a key light and a fill light, all from the same source!

When we shot through the RUD 30 umbrella, we saw more open shadows. Bouncing light off an umbrella creates a harder quality of light, while shooting through it creates a softer quality of light. It was still a 30 inch umbrella, so the shadow on the wall was very defined, but the shadow on her face revealed more fill light.

The same was true of the RUD 45 umbrella when we shot through it. The shadows were softer than when we turned it around and bounced light off of it.

The RUD 72 Shoot-Through umbrella was very soft and the shadows opened up very nicely, a very pretty light. This is one of my favorite ways to use an umbrella. A very soft light when you shoot through a 6-foot umbrella!

Time To Experiment
WIth all the comparisons shot, we were now ready to apply what we learned. First, we placed the RUD 72 Shoot-Through umbrella slightly behind Tatum and let that soft light wrap forward. It’s a great placement. I dialed the power down on the TritonFlash and opened up to f/3.5 with a 200mm lens, which threw the background out of focus. This is a very soft source, but with the right placement it can look very moody. The strobe head shot through the umbrella, lit her face, and the bounce opened up the background beautifully.

Next, we moved the umbrella behind her and from the right side. This opened up the background more and rimmed her hair. Finally, we added a 39×39-inch White LitePanel to become the key on her face. A subtle but cinematic effect!

For further information about the products used in this lesson, click on the logo at the top left of this page.




Topic Filter: Commercial / Landscape / Portrait / Stock / What's Hot

Related Tutorials


Martin Lawrence

After many years as a keen amateur photographer, I decided to start a small landscape photography business called Lakescenes which I ran alongside my main job as an IT Manager. As business increased, I found myself working long, but rewarding, hours just to keep up […]

Read More

Rob Sheppard

Rob Sheppard is a naturalist, nature photographer and videographer who says his favorite location is the one he is in at any time. He is the author/photographer of over 40 books, as well as a well-known speaker and workshop leader, and a Fellow with the […]

Read More

Gary Hart

Gary Hart has photographed California’s natural beauty for over 30 years. Gary’s photos and writing have appeared in many publications, most recently Outdoor Photographer and Sierra Heritage magazines. You’ll also find his images in greeting cards, postcards, calendars, and many galleries and private collections throughout the world.

Read More

Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz

Originally from Poland, based in London UK, Jaroslav has background in Fine Arts, degree in Architecture, and wide array of experience. Being an Architect taught him how to be resourceful and to solve complex problems with simple, yet innovative solutions. Constant passion for graphic & […]

Read More

What's Hot

How Not To Shoot Sharp Pictures

Deliberately shooting Unsharp pictures…..Why? Wouldn’t it be just a little bit, well…naughty? Of course it would, which is why it’s so much fun. It’s not as though the ‘focus police’ are going to come and check to see you have correctly used your equipment ………….right? […]

Read More

Beauty Lighting for Stills and Video

Trying New Things I definitely fall into the category of photographers who get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Although I am often hired to shoot a style that my clients see on my website or portfolio, or shoot images for a […]

Click to Watch

Taking Control of Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness

Taking Control of Contrast, Saturation and Sharpness is at the very heart of photography. When you shoot a photo on your camera one of two things happen. Either the camera saves the image as a Raw file or as a Jpeg. The fundamental difference between […]

Read More