Ah, the lowly umbrella. Simple, relatively cheap, no frills. I have often denigrated umbrella light as being a bit boring, while at the same time praising it for being utterly reliable, producing predictable results time and again. In other words, boring. It is a very basic light shaping tool, often the very first one in a photographer’s arsenal. Light, cheap and collapsible, it’s easy to see why.
But lately, I’ve been using bigger umbrellas more and more in all manner of situations, and have been collaborating with Lastolite to perhaps produce a couple hopefully advantageous wrinkles in the lighting options an umbrella presents. We’ll see where that goes. But in the meantime, I’ve been having fun using speed lights, and firing them into umbrellas that are about the size of a small midwestern city.
Shot the above in Saudi Arabia a couple weeks ago, and the shaper is an jumbo Lastolite umbrella box type of light, the type with a soft piece of frosted material over the umbrella scoop. I’ve got three SB-910 speed lights on TTL firing into it, all hung on a ratcheting tri-flash. The results from this are generally soft and wrapping–a very easy going quality of light that has a lot of forgiveness in the shadows.
Now, could you do this with a single big light? Of course. Just didn’t have one of those with me. But the nice thing about having small, multiple sources pointing into this Sasquatch of a light shaper is that they do all combine to produce a large, lovely volume of light. And, given the vagaries and alchemy of TTL, I can send a signal to those lights via the commander flash, and they resolutely (well, sometimes reluctantly) follow me to f1.4.
The other thing about using small, position adjustable flash guns into a giant shaper is that if you need to sequester the light into a certain quadrant of that shaper, you can do it by clicking the speed light heads in different directions. Say you want more light being produced out of the lower scoop of the umbrella. Just take two of the flash units and click them downwards into that area. The effects are subtle, but definitely visible, thus giving you a another fairly easily accessible element of control over the broad brush of flash lighting you are painting the scene with.
At PhotoShop World in Orlando, and demonstrated this type of approach on stage, albeit with a big shoot through umbrella. Found a wonderful member of the audience, and asked her to come up.
From ten feet, it looked like this…
From five feet, it looked like this….
Then, by redirecting the speed lights inside the brolly, and pushing them towards the right hand side of the umbrella, the shadow side of my subject’s face opens up, just a touch….
Small adjustments inside a big light….more tk….