Off-Camera Flash | You see photography umbrellas in almost every Hollywood movie that features a photographer. They are part of the imagery that people see in their mind when they think about portrait photographers, but what exactly does a photography umbrella do? In this article we will examine 3 tips for shooting off-camera flash with an umbrella.
Types of Photography Umbrella For Off-Camera Flash.
You may be as surprised as I was to find out that there are actually different types of photography or flash umbrellas and each one has a specific purpose. The first thing to note is how many spokes the umbrella has. The standard number of spokes is usually 8 or 16. The more spokes it has the more it wraps the light around your subject giving you a more flattering and less harsh light. The next thing to examine is if it is translucent or not. A translucent umbrella means that you can fire your off-camera flash though the umbrella, turning it into a large diffuser. If it is not translucent, then your flash umbrella should have a black fabric covering the back of it and it should be lined with white, silver or gold material. The gold and silver linings are obviously more reflective than the white lining so they give a more specular or striking light while the white lining diffuses the flash for a softer light on your subject. Remember that the reflective material will also determine the final look of your portrait, as the gold reflective material will cause your image to warm up considerably.
Shooting with a Flash Umbrella.
The most important thing to remember when shooting off-camera flash is that the light falling on your subject is determined by the size of the light in relation to your subject and the distance of the light from your sitter. The larger the light source, the softer the light and the closer the light source, the softer the light. This is best demonstrated by looking out your window. The sun is a small spot in the sky, for us here on planet Earth, and it is also very far away. The resulting light is bright, harsh and with great contrast between highlights and shadows. Not ideal for portrait photography. Now imagine a cloudy day. The light from the sun hits the clouds turning them into a massive light source that is far closer to us than the sun. The result is a softer and more flattering light with less contrast. This exact same principle applies to off-camera flash photography.
40” Silver Photography Umbrella.
This example was shot against a white wall using an off camera flash and a 40” silver photography umbrella. With the silver lining, you can see that there is a very focused light on the model’s face with striking shadows and contrast. The highlights very quickly turn to shadow areas and there is very little light hitting the background. What is interesting to note in this photograph is the shadow on the model’s cheek with beautiful contrast with the viewer’s attention being brought directly to the model’s eyes.
40” White Bounce Umbrella.
There is a striking difference between this example and the one above. This photo was shot with a 40” white bounce umbrella. Instantly you can see how the white lining of the photography umbrella scatters the light from the off-camera flash. The result is a more even light with just enough contrast to keep detail in the shadows without the image becoming flat. You can also see that the flash now lights more of the background, which is perfect for location photography as it keeps your sitter in the environment. A 40” white bounce umbrella is ideal for shooting headshots where you want to add a bit more character to the portrait without making it look theatrical.
40” Diffuser Umbrella.
The 40” diffuser umbrella gives you a variety of shooting options. As you are shooting through the umbrella, you turn it into a sort of soft box that can be used to create either high or low contrast images. In this example, the desire was to create a “Rembrandt” lighting style. Rembrandt lighting is named after the 17th century painter known for his portraits, among other works, and his creative use of light. His signature style was a small triangle of light on the shadow side of his sitter’s face. He used window light as his inspiration but photographers can recreate this iconic look with a diffuser umbrella. As you are shooting though the umbrella the light is scattered and tries to wrap itself around a person’s face. Although some experimentation is needed in the positioning of your model, the resulting image has a beautiful level of contrast with a creative use of light.
Off-Camera Flash Photography.
Using a photography umbrella to control and manipulate your light is one of the key techniques that you must learn when starting out in portrait photography. Flash umbrellas represent a convenient and affordable option for getting more creative and interesting images when you are learning how to photograph people. So what are you waiting for? Get practicing and start shooting your best portraits yet.
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