In this video photographer, Gavin Hoey looks at four different looks that you can get by using a single flash and a single umbrella and in the process, we can learn a thing or two about lighting and how an umbrella works in terms of lighting your subject.
There are quite a few things that you can learn from using an umbrella. Although many photographers tend to see it as a very basic modifier it can still be very useful and it is extremely portable and inexpensive (even large umbrellas are not typically expensive).
Hoey explains that it is important to get the correct distance between the umbrella and the light. Too close and you get a spot of light, too far and the light might go “over” the sides of the umbrella and not pass through it. You also need to remember that with an umbrella unlike a softbox that is closed, some of the light bounces back and can return in some unwanted angles (you can put a black material behind your umbrella to block this bounce.
A useful tip from Hoey – photograph the outside of the umbrella and get the light closer or further away until you got it just right – than mark the umbrella so you can always get the correct distance.
If you put your umbrella far away from the model you are going to get some harsh shadows but just like the sun this means that your entire area will be lit more or less the same so if you are shooting a moving subject that you can’t really predict how it will move (children, pets etc.) this could be an option.
Getting the umbrella closer ca make the image much more interesting with a lot more dynamics (brighter / darker areas).
Getting the umbrella much closer (almost touching the model) can be problematic (it can be seen in the final image although you can shoot with a longer lens or remove it in the post). This is, of course, a harder light but it can be more interesting./
Finally, you can play with the distance of the umbrella and the light itself. Now if you do this intentionally – i.e. get the light close to the umbrella and have the umbrella relatively close to your subject – the result will be an even more contrasty image.
Remember, there is no right or wrong here, it all depends on the look that you are looking for – it can be a more even type of light or a much punchier contrasty look – depending on your creative vision for the shoot and it can all be done quite easily with just a single umbrella and a flash.