Introduction to Umbrellas

Umbrellas are a quick & convenient way of converting a hard light source to a soft one. The reflection of the light in the umbrella becomes the source, and it is softer since it becomes larger to your subject. They fold down small & travel light, making them a convenient and versatile way of extending the capabilities of your light.

Silver Reflective Umbrella
White Nylon Umbrella

Umbrellas diffuse & soften light. As with diffusion gels, you will lose some output using an umbrella but you can often move the light closer to compensate. Umbrellas also diffuse the light output over a wider coverage area and are somewhat hard to control. But being lightweight, quick to set up, and inexpensive, they can be carried along easily. Lowel offers silver and white nylon umbrellas. Of the same size, the silver umbrella will reflect about twice the amount of light as the white one. Some people feel the silver umbrella emits a harder light but since they are the same physical size that is not technically true. But since it is brighter and can Increase contrast it is easily perceived that way. The white umbrella will reflect more subtley diffused light, with reduced output.

Why would you ever want less output from an umbrella? Consider that with two identical lights and identical sized umbrellas, set at the same distance from the subject, one with a silver umbrella and one with white, you will automatically have a nice contrast ratio between the key and fill lights for portraiture.

The white nylon umbrella also offers the possibility of being used in a 'shoot-through' mode. The umbrella acts as a large diffuser when placed between the light and the subject. The light is less soft but the output increases over three fold, against reflective use of the same umbrella.

The images to the right show the various ways that umbrellas can be used, and the difference in effects that can be achieved. Look closely as the shadow detail is sometimes subtle.

NOTE: Always set focusable lights to FLOOD when using umbrellas to avoid heat damage.

close up no umbrella

silver umbrella
Omni-light, silver umbrella

Close Up silver umbrella

white umbrella
Omni-light, white nylon umbrella, reflected

umbrella shoot through
Omni-light, white nylon umbrella, shoot thru

close up shoot through umbrella

wide shot two umbrellas
Left - Omni-light, white nylon umbrella

Right - Omni-light, silver umbrella
close up two umbrella

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