One Light Series: Using a Shoot Thru Umbrella for Portraits
In last week’s post, I went over the basics of getting started with off-camera flash (OCF) for your portrait photography. It’s a great skill to have for difficult and unexpected lighting situations and when you want something different than whatever natural or ambient light is available.
For the majority of your portrait photography, you will want to pair your flash with a modifier. A modifier goes between your flash and your subject to change the quality of your light. In this post, I am going to talk about a specific modifier known as a shoot thru umbrella. This is a great modifier to choose if you are just getting started in experimenting with OCF as it is budget friendly, produces flattering soft light, and can give you a variety of looks.
A shoot thru umbrella is just what it sounds like. An umbrella, that you fire the flash through to light your subject. The umbrella is made of white material and is placed between your flash and your subject to create soft, diffused light.
Using the Shoot Thru Umbrella
The umbrella is relatively easy to set up. As you can see in the picture below:
- The umbrella shaft fits through the receptacle on your umbrella bracket.
- Mount your flash on the shoe mount at the top of your light stand.
- Direct the flash toward the umbrella so that the umbrella is between your flash and your subject.
A good starting place when positioning your flash is at a 45-degree angle to your subject with the bottom of the umbrella level with your subject’s shoulders. Once you are comfortable with this set up, experiment with moving your flash, subject and your camera to achieve different looks.
Here are a couple examples, for this image, I was using a Flashpoint Streaklight 360 at it’s lowest power setting to add a hint of fill light and bring some brightness to my son’s eyes.
These images are straight out of the camera (SOOC), to show the results of the lash without any additional post-processing.
Here is a closer look at a non-flash image. The light is not terrible here as the trees to his left give some shadow and shape to that side of his face.
Here is the same scene but lit with a flash and umbrella combo. I like the added depth the flash gives and the subtle difference in the tonal range of his skin.
Here is another example with pretty bad light. The catchlights in her eyes are very dim and all her skin is basically the same muddy tone. The flash adds nice, bright catchlights and increases the tonal range of her skin, you can see that there is both a highlight and a shadow, which I personally prefer to have in my portraits.
Here is a pull back to the image. I would normally place my umbrella higher compared to my subject but it was a very windy day and I wanted to lessen the chance of my light stand being blown over. It blew over anyway, but at least it did not have as far to fall to the ground.
Sandbags are a great idea for on-location work.
You can escape from the wind by taking your kit inside. It can be a life saver in dark homes and buildings when no natural light is available.
Here is where my light was set up in regards to my daughter’s position.
Thoughts on Using a Shoot Through Umbrella
Inexpensive and a great place to start for a beginner strobist.
Compact, lightweight, and takes up little space in your camera bag.
Easy to set up.
Offers very little control of light spill and it spreads everywhere.
Becomes a kite in windy weather.
The ends of the umbrella spokes seem to be magnets for children’s eyes.
I really do believe this is a great modifier, to begin with when learning flash photography. I hope you have the opportunity to give it a try and I would love to see your results.
Happy picture making!