Using a photography umbrella
A photographic umbrella (known as a brolly in some places) is exactly what it sounds like, just like the umbrella you would use in the rain except these are designed to bounce, reflect, or soften a light source. There are two basic types of umbrellas, bounce and shoot thru. A bounce umbrella is one that you aim the light into and bounce back towards the subject and a shoot thru umbrella is where the light is aimed at the subject through the umbrella making the umbrella act like a large softbox.
In this tutorial we will take a look at the different types and show how the light will act differently with the different types.
Bounce umbrellas come in a variety of choices, usually either a solid color or mix of white, silver, gray, or gold depending on what effect your are trying to achieve while shoot thru umbrellas are usually either white or a soft silver. A browse through the umbrella page on Westcott’s site will show you a good selection of what is available.
Let’s start with using the bounce umbrella. The Photo Basics kit comes with a light silver umbrella which gives a nice even light without it getting too harsh. Figure 3 shows an image taken with this umbrella.
To aim the umbrella, point the shaft at the item you want to photograph. For this shot, we raised the light a couple of feet above the subject and pointed the shaft of the umbrella at the subject. With the light silver, we get fairly even coverage and a soft shadow on the right side of the subject. Also not the specular highlight on the bottle, has some of the detail of the umbrella in it, but not too much.
Light Silver Bounce
If you are looking for more contrast, then bouncing into a highly reflective silver umbrella will throw more light which may create more shadows. Figure 4 will show the same image as before taken with a silver umbrella. Notice how the shadow on the right is much more pronounced. With much harsher light, we now have a very distinct specular highlight on the water bottle where you can plainly see all of the panels of the umbrella.
The next type of umbrella is the shoot-through type. Usually this is a white although there are also light silver but white is certainly more popular. As you can see from the picture here, the umbrella is acting like a giant softbox and evenly illuminating the subject. We rotated the light around and pointed the light head at the subject, shooting through the white umbrella.
In figure 6, notice how the shadows are much more subdued when compared to the previous shots. Also take note of the much softer and non-distinct specular highliting on the water bottle.
White Shoot Through
It can sometimes be difficult to really see the difference that the different styles of umbrellas can make, especially when only previewing through your camera’s LCD screen. The most important differences are in the light quality/shadows and how the light plays off other objects in the scene and how specular highlights can be used to add extra dimension to an object.
I highly recommend a small selection of umbrellas since they are typically pretty affordable, especially on eBay, so you can experiment with different lighting setups. A light silver, bright silver, and a shoot through are great starters and if you are doing portrait shots, we recommend a gold/white or gold/silver reflector which will add some warmth to the subject face.
Get yourself a few brollys and start experimenting!lighting, Umbrellas