A Photographer’s Guide to Umbrellas

by AryanArtnews
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Umbrellas are probably the least rated optical shaping tool. There is also a view that it is for beginners because it is cheap and easy to obtain. This couldn’t be far from the truth.

Umbrellas are a wonderful modifier that is loved and cherished by both professionals and beginners. Here is a basic photographer’s guide to umbrellas.

What is a photo umbrella?

As the name implies, an umbrella is a light modifier that can be opened and closed like a regular umbrella that people use on rainy (or sunny) days. Umbrellas are one of the easiest ways to create soft or diffuse light. Depending on the type, the umbrella may reflect, reflect, or diffuse light.

Let’s take a look at some common types of umbrellas.

Common type photo umbrella

Shoot-through umbrella

These are the first umbrellas that have ever existed. They are made of translucent diffusing fabric that diffuses the edges of shadows, and depending on the size, shoot-through umbrellas produce light of varying softness. The smaller the umbrella, the stronger the light. The shoot-through umbrella creates a hotspot in the center because the light source is directed directly at the subject.

White umbrella

The white umbrella is indirect, it first hits the umbrella and bounces off the modifier, and you need a light to get out on the same side. Thus, this light source produces indirect reflected and diffused light. Depending on the size, the light will also be quite soft. The spread of light of a white umbrella is much larger than that of a silver umbrella. These are common choices for the light they produce among portrait and fashion photographers.

Silver umbrella

They reflect light, have a small spread of light, and produce light in more directions. They are more efficient because they reflect instead of bouncing a silver umbrella. Therefore, silver umbrellas are preferred to white umbrellas in the field. In a small set, it seems to produce a harder light. That’s why silver umbrellas are great for fill lights in small studios.

Silver vs White Miss

It’s important to note that softness is determined by size, not material. A common myth is that a white umbrella produces a softer light than a silver umbrella. In fact, a white umbrella has a wider spread of light, and in a small room the light will bounce off everywhere and fill the shadows. When you bring it into the field, the silver and white umbrellas give off exactly the same soft light.

Deep vs shallow

Today, umbrellas come in two common shapes: deep and shallow. A shallow umbrella creates a much wider spread of light. This is useful when lighting large groups, backgrounds, or portraits. Deep umbrellas, on the other hand, are more directional and have some improved contrast.

Deep umbrellas have some ability to focus. But don’t get me wrong when claiming that the company has a parabolic umbrella. If they are really parabolic, it is impossible to create them. Good-looking modifiers are not parabolas. If anything, it’s a false promotion.

I personally use both deep and shallow umbrellas in much the same way. Shallow ones tend to be cheap. If you want to experience a true parabolic modifier, rent a Bron Color Para or Breeze.

Special shape

There is a series of parasailing umbrellas designed for rooms with low ceilings. These seem really interesting, but it’s a good idea to try a regular umbrella first. The shape of the light source (for the ParaSail rectangle) determines what the shadow edges look like, much like a 1×6 softbox is vertically soft and horizontally hard.

Few people know the exact details of how modifiers affect light, so it’s usually best to start with a round umbrella.

Umbrella accessories

There are many ways to make your umbrella an accessory. Here are some common ones.

Diffusion fabric

Unlike what is generally believed, they do not soften the light, but diffuse it. The difference between softness and diffusion is a topic in another article. The diffuser is best combined with a silver umbrella because it spreads more light. Another way to use a diffuser is to use a white umbrella if you want to create an incredibly soft and diffused light that is wide and beautifies your face. Annie Leibovitz is known for using this frequently in portrait photography.

Back panel

The translucent umbrella not only allows light to pass through, but also bounces off. This is not desirable as it causes unnecessary light loss. Therefore, you can add a back panel to a translucent umbrella that contains and reflects light in the wrong direction.

How does the umbrella in the photo work?

There is not much to understand the principles behind an umbrella. The translucent umbrella acts like a scrim and uses a small light source to increase its size, making it softer and more evenly diffused.

Other umbrellas that are indirectly shining light work differently. The light first hits the bottom of the umbrella and then reflects / bounces while the modifier fills the umbrella. If a diffuser is added, the light will bounce a few more times and come out in a very uniform and orderly manner.

Possible uses of photo umbrellas

There are countless ways to use an umbrella, and it is loved by photographers of all experience levels. When I started, my first qualifier was certainly an umbrella. There are several ways for photographers to use an umbrella.

Portrait photo

This image required a uniform spread of light and great reflection. I used a large 65-inch umbrella with a diffuser to evenly illuminate the scene and create a soft, flattering light.

Octa is not used in the image

Fashion photography

Umbrellas are useful for illuminating the background and creating dramatic effects. Photographers use large umbrellas as image fill lights. For example, in this photo, I used a large umbrella to fill in the dark shadows created by a mirrored light source placed very close to the model. In addition, I used another one to get the background gradient.

All other genres

Portraits and fashion are the most common places to find umbrellas in use, but they are used by sports, still life, headshots, interiors, and other photographers. In other words, if you want to start flash photography in your desired genre, we recommend that you consider buying an umbrella.


Umbrellas are a great tool to add to your weapon, no matter where you are in your career. There are so many good umbrellas on the market that it doesn’t make sense to list all brands, names, etc. here. Umbrellas are also great for beginners as they are generally fairly affordable.

Don’t be fooled by the softbox with a more professional look. Neither is good or bad — they are different modifiers that serve different purposes.

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