Umbrella are a quick and easy – not to mention affordable – way to produce soft light. One of the main differences between an umbrella and a softbox though, is their ability to control where that soft light spills. Or more precisely where the light goes and where it doesn’t. Lets walk through a couple different kinds of umbrellas and what kind of spill you can expect when using each.
There are two main “rules” that come into play when shaping lighting.
- The larger the light : the softer the light
- The closer the light : the softer the light
Keeping these in mind it’s easy to see why a shoot through umbrella is such an amazing lighting modifier for portrait photography. I travel with an 60″ reversible umbrella and when used, it quickly takes a small light source like a Nikon speedlight and super sizes to 60 inches of soft light. Rule 1 covered. A shoot through umbrella also lets you move your light modifier right up to the edge of your frame getting the light as close as possible. If you did this while using your umbrella in the bounce application the umbrella shaft itself would be poking your subject in the face before the light source itself got equally close. Rule 2 covered. At this point we can usually dial in the proper exposure settings, get the shots, and call it a day. There is one downfall of the shoot through umbrella though, and that is it’s overall lack of control. The light on our subject is beautiful but, it acts as a kind of light grenade in the process and from these example photos you see that the light hits our subject but flies every else as well.
This goes by unnoticed some times when shooting outdoors. When shooting inside it’s a whole different story. Not only does the light shoot through the umbrella, it bounces back, and on top of that it can spill over the edges of the umbrella as well. Have you ever used a shoot through umbrella and noticed a line of light slashing through your frame? It’s happened to me once or twice, and knowing what causes it will help you in deciding which modifier to use in certain situations next time you’re out shooting.
There is a way to get the best of both worlds, without going as far as purchasing a softbox. I really love the soft light and natural looking round catchlights of an umbrella, but I like control of my light to go with it. That’s what drew me to the Halo unit. It’s a shoot through white umbrella with a hood built onto the back. You‚Äôll notice from this final shot that we now have beautiful soft light but none of the spill and distracting shadow lines we had previously. Just another solution to controlled soft light!