Monday, January 12, 2009

Back to Basics: How to Choose an Umbrella

Umbrellas are cheap, portable little light softeners. But there are enough choices available to make picking the right one a little confusing. Or worse yet, to end up with something that is completely a wrong fit.

Below are some of the pros and cons of each of the major types of umbrella. You'll find that choosing is easy, once you figure out how you will be most likely be using it.

Shoot-Thru or Reflective

The first choice you'll make is whether you will bounce off of an umbrella or diffuse light through it. This is also the biggest variable in the quality of light from an umbrella, so you'll want to make this decision first.

Shoot-thru's offer softer light, both because they are white (vs. silver) and because you can place them very close to your subject. This is simply because the shaft will not protrude into the frame in advance of the umbrella, because it is pointed in the other direction. So you'll get a larger apparent light source, and thus softer light.

Since the light source can be very close with a shoot-thru, it can also be very powerful. If you do outdoor headshots and compete with the sun's light level, this kind of thing matters. You'll want a shoot-through. Just come in as close as possible with that light source and keep it barely out of the frame.

Another advantage of a shoot-thru with a removable black backing is that you can partially gobo the light with the backing. This will remove some of the degree of coverage coming from your light source. This technique can keep light off of, say, the bottom of your frame, as seen here.

But given the same lighting distance, shoot-thru's are usually less efficient than their silvered reflective counterparts. And efficiency is important if you are lighting larger objects (such as full-length portraits rather than head-and-shoulder shots.)

To get even coverage over a larger area, you need to back that light up. And a silvered reflective umbrella will let you do that and keep a lot of light hitting your subject.

A good example is in this group shot, done with two, horizontally ganged 43" reflective umbrellas to make one large, efficient source for key lighting this group shot. It was done for one of the location shoots on the lighting DVDs inside of a dark, shiny room that just threw one problem at us after another.

The silvered umbrellas helped us keep as much of the flash's power as possible with a longer working distance. Additionally, the black-backed silver umbrellas also gobo'd themselves for us, as they were just out of the frame to camera left.

Rather than choose, I like to have this one both ways. I use shoot-through umbrellas with removable backings most of the time, but always keep a silvered umbrella or two with me. Fortunately, they are very cheap ($26 and $20, respectively) and the double-folds take up very little room in the light case. So it is easy to splurge for those two reasons.

Double-Fold or Regular

This one is easy. If space in your bag (or on your shoulder) is at a premium, go with a double-fold. If you value durability over marginal portability, get a standard umbrella.

Apples to apples, the prices are all in the same neighborhood, so this is really a physical size choice. The double-folds are wonderful little umbrellas, and at 43" they are great for general use. But you do have to be careful with them because they are constructed in a fairly lightweight manner to allow every thing to collapse upon itself.

That said, if you aren't using them in windy conditions they will hold up fine if you are careful. And you can make the tip of the shaft (where it gets clamped) stronger with a pencil stub.

Another factor to consider is whether you are using a normal stand or a 5-section compact model. With a normal stand, there is no reason to sacrifice strength and get a double-fold, as you are already committing to the linear space for the stand. May as well get the more sturdy umbrella, too.

Conversely, your choice of umbrella may dictate your choice of stand, so keep them both in mind when choosing.

Medium or Large

First of all, why not a small?

Because you can make any umbrella into a smaller light source by zooming in the flash head or choking up on the shaft (or both). And the smalls are only a few bucks cheaper than the mediums. If that. So go with at least a medium and you'll have more flexibility.

So your choice pretty much comes to something in the medium range (~43") or something in the large range (~60"). And speaking of inches, that measurement is the distance around the face of the umbrella, from tip to tip.

Why? Because it sounds bigger that way.

Second, a myth to dispel: You shouldn't use a huge umbrella with a small speedlight.

You absolutely can, but with the lower-powered flash you lose one of the biggest advantages of a huge umbrella, which is that you can back the light way up and still keep it soft.

With a speedlight, if you back that umbrella way up (say, to light a large object) you will lose effective power before you lose softness. But if you are shooting in a very low-light situation and your aperture is accordingly set (i.e., close to wide open) you can get away with it.

For just a few dollars, a speedlight in a 60" umbrella makes a gorgeous, soft, light source for close-up portraiture -- i.e., head shot, 3/4 shot. Just keep it in pretty close to the subject. And it doubles as a sweet main light mod if you add a more powerful monobloc to your bag later.

But for most shoots, a standard 43-45" umbrella is a great fit for a speedlight. It also gives you a nice power-to-effective-size ratio that works well with the small flashes.

My Suggestions

For most people, I would suggest starting with a pair of ~43" umbrellas for your first flash. One silver reflective, and one a removable-back shoot-thru. Standard or double-fold is a pick 'em, and your choice depending on the variables above. They are cheap, and adding a second won't really bump up the shipping much, either. Go crazy for once in your life.

For your next umbrella (say, if you have two flashes) I would suggest a second black-backed shoot-thru. This gives you the option of ganging them together for a huge light source in close, and/or using them high and low for "clamshell" lighting, seen in the head shot at left.

If you want to create very soft indoor light on the cheap (at close range) consider a 60" shoot-thru as a value-oriented option. And especially if your lighting arsenal includes a monobloc. But it will not have as much versatility as will a medium-sized umbrella.

Here are some of my favorite choices, all of which I consider to be good values, in umbrellas:

:: Westcott 43-inch Shoot-Thru Double-Fold ::
:: Westcott 43-inch Reflective Double-Fold ::
:: Paul C. Buff 60-inch Shoot-Thru ::
:: Eclipse 45-inch shoot-Thru Standard ::


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wish you could find a more durable umbrella!! After having gone out and dropped 65 canadian dollars on a photoflex umbrella which I bought to replace the opus umbrella I previously had.... and then having said umbrella blow over twice in a month... and mangle the frame.... it would be nice to see something that was a bit more resiliant.... how about carbon fiber shrouds... or a solid metal, rather than those formed sheet metal frames? seriously... I want to be able to use an umbrella more than a dozen times before it needs to be replaced...

January 12, 2009 1:26 AM  
Blogger Connor said...

Very informative. I got a pair of 40 inch shoot throughs awhile back because I hadn't heard any of these differences. I made the right choice by accident it seems.

January 12, 2009 1:28 AM  
Blogger Mutt said...

Thanks for the info David. Very useful.

Looks like I might have to upgrade from my 34" shoot-through.

January 12, 2009 2:35 AM  
Blogger Doug Batchelor Photography said...

While working with a shoot-through recently, I wish i had thought of leaving the black backing partially on to control spill ... that would have worked much better than my idea of trying to gobo the the flash itself! For that clamshell setup that you mentioned, are you using a boom arm for the upper umbrella (and if so, do you have a favourite brand for that?)

January 12, 2009 2:56 AM  
Anonymous marco Iraola said...

Mr. Hobby you should do a piece on light stands and boom arms/ accessories, kind of a pimping out your light stand since you got on the topic of umbrellas.

January 12, 2009 2:57 AM  
Anonymous Virginia photographer said...

Having been an assistant for about a year or two in London, umbrellas seemed to be a bit cheesy when I found them used here in WDC. I'll never forget Joel Fried (deceased) a Washington DC photographer (good one too - fab prints) using a collapsed silver reflector as a catch light / spot or what have you - lens high and left of camera on a portrait. That was new to this jaded assistant. I use a collapsed silver umbrella to this day. "Tar very much Joel" - Sad, I can't find any mention of him on the web. He deserved at least a small latent footprint on the web, we all do once we're gone.

January 12, 2009 3:02 AM  
Blogger A J FRENCH said...

great info - thanks!
btw. for all you people who have no idea how big an inch is: 1" is 2,54cm - so a 60" brolly is about 150cm

January 12, 2009 3:21 AM  
Anonymous J'fer said...

Thanks for going "back to basics". I am new at this strobist movement. I've almost completely read Lighting 101 but rested over the holidays so as not to be overwhelmed. I am about to buy my first umbrella so this article came at a perfect time. One question though, why not have the best of all worlds by getting a collapsible white shoot-through umbrella with a removable backing that's silver on the inside and black on the outside? Does such a thing even exist?

January 12, 2009 3:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


January 12, 2009 6:13 AM  
Anonymous Alexander said...

Happy New Year, David!

Thanks for doing again with this post what you do best: teaching strobism!

January 12, 2009 6:35 AM  
Anonymous Devjon said...

Thanks for the advice David, there are a lot of Strobist readers here in the UK and it is frustrating not to be able to obtain a lot of the kit mentioned without having to pay shipping charges which are far more than the cost of the brollys.
Off topic, are you heading over to the UK this year?

January 12, 2009 7:20 AM  
Blogger mr_chompers said...

Don´t forget ultra small! 24"!!

Only one manufacturer that I know of, Alzo Digital.

They work great as more of a Beauty dish type light, while still folding up to 19" long, so they fit in most small kits.

A quick example using the 24" Not really possible with a 43"

January 12, 2009 7:59 AM  
Anonymous Serge Van Cauwenbergh said...

So far, I have one medium umbrella which I don't use very often. I also have a Lastolite foldable softbox which I prefer more, it's very handy when making just portraits. Maybe an umbrella will be more efficient for full length portraits?

January 12, 2009 8:15 AM  
Blogger Matt Sanderson said...

Great post. It's always good to go back over the basics in case you forget or, like me, have only just promoted themselves to understanding things properly!

January 12, 2009 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with J'fer that it seems like a white umbrella with a removable backing with silver inside would be ideal, but as far as I know only Bowens currently makes such beasts (Redwing's model can only be found used). I would think a standard black backing would be a waste of light. Am I missing some obvious disadvantage of silver backing?

January 12, 2009 11:04 AM  
Blogger Heipel said...

Gotta love the bit about how to measure properly. LMAO!

January 12, 2009 11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dumb question - I've had conflicting instructions about using the reflectors on my monoblck units with umbrellas. Yes or no?

January 12, 2009 11:35 AM  
Blogger DVD Steve said...

Does anyone have a decent UK source for double fold umbrellas yet????

January 12, 2009 11:53 AM  
Blogger Joe Dolen said...

That was extremely helpful and I just called up Alienbees and ordered a couple new umbrellas for myself. Thanks!

January 12, 2009 12:14 PM  
Blogger Adrien said...

Interesting, this is definitely helpful.

One problem, though. The article seems to assume that the reader is already very educated about studio lighting. But if it were the case, maybe that he would already know enough about umbrellas.

For example, I don't understand this statement:

Additionally, the black-backed silver umbrellas also gobo'd themselves for us, as they were just out of the frame to camera left.

January 12, 2009 12:40 PM  
Blogger Levi said...

good stuff. I've been mulling over the westcott double-folds myself..

here's something that might interest you (I know you love the DIY stuff..)
SB800 w/ Paul C Buff softbox:

January 12, 2009 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Photek Softlighters, best of both worlds, reflected and diffused. Can be used without the diffusion panel like a regular umbrella.

January 12, 2009 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a very useful post but came a couple weeks too late for me! I took a Christmas family portrait (16 people) and proudly erected my shoot through umbrella to the delight of the family. Whilst the end result was way better than would have been a year ago (pre strobist) the lighting was less even than I'd hoped. Next large group I do will be lit with a silver reflecting umbrella (which I already own-doh!) and placed a little further away. Thank you and please keep teaching me.

January 12, 2009 12:50 PM  
Blogger JT said...

Who's that good lookin' guy in the clamshell shot? :-)

January 12, 2009 1:17 PM  
OpenID appstateden said...

I've got my strobist kit 4 months ago. I use both shoot thru and bounce umbrellas. Usually I shoot indoors in my small room.
Actually I noticed, that a shoot thru is more powerful than a bounce one.
The light goes thru it, it also bounces back. Then it bounces of the ceiling, of the walls, it fills the room. So I think that in my particular case, the shoot thru is more powerful choice.

January 12, 2009 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another unbrella (sic) that some might like to consider is a SoftLighter. ( Its more of a portable softbox but can be used like a std umbrella. Its work quite well with off camera flash and really controls spill. I normally shoot in small rooms and find that I get a lot of spill out the back when using a shoot-through which effectively increases ambient light. The Softlighter gives me a big, very soft light source while controlling spill quite well. It also has silver and gold reflectors that can be inserted into the umbrella (albeit with some effort).

Std, shoot-through, silvered or gold interior, and a softbox... All in one. I really like the Softlighter.

January 12, 2009 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone apart from Vistek stock Westcott umbrellas in Canada? Any Vancouver Strobists know where I can get a double fold 43"?

January 12, 2009 1:53 PM  
Blogger Kristof Pattyn said...

Thx for this post David,

I've noticed it's been a long while since i've used the reflective umbrellas, especially since I bought myself a shootthrough and later on a lastolite EZbox. This weekend an opportunity for using the reflective umbrella presented itself when I had to do a full body shot, but I have been used to slap on that softbox or shootthrough for a while. Thanks for reminding me to switch back to the reflective ones once and awhile!

January 12, 2009 2:14 PM  
Blogger Michael Warf said...

I have a 60in shoot through convertible back umbrella. It starts to compete with a softbox at that size, my only wish was that it was a double-fold version.

January 12, 2009 3:11 PM  
OpenID pestbarn said...

What if I would like one of my standard tripods to double as a light stand? Is there any special mounts or anything that I need to get to be able to mount an umbrella, with a speedlight, on a tripod?

January 12, 2009 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would recommend against the double fold umbrellas. I have them and i have the standard umbrellas also from westcott. The double fold umbrellas are slightly shorter in length but the standard ones are still shorter than the nano stands. If you carry your umbrellas bungeed to the stands you will see no space saving with the double folds and you gain the build quality of the slightly larger standard umbrellas. if you only have the double folds you dont know what you are missing with the quality of the standard ones.

January 12, 2009 4:25 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

With regards to appstateden:

"The light goes thru it, it also bounces back. Then it bounces of the ceiling, of the walls, it fills the room. So I think that in my particular case, the shoot thru is more powerful choice."

Very true, there is a lot of 'power' there, but that's also called 'contamination'. Sometimes you don't want to nuke the entire subject and/or site. Great lighting is as much about what you DON'T light, as is what you DO decide to light.

Just a thought. ;-)


January 12, 2009 4:27 PM  
Blogger Barnacle said...

great info as usual, but i have some questions.
am i to understand that a shoot thru in close is considered a larger source than a reflective scooted back some? thus being softer?
and my shoot thru is best for head shots where as my reflective will allow for more subject to be included?
also, i am looking for a more durable umbrella as my beach conditions are HARSH!!

January 12, 2009 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Mark Sirota said...

I really want some 60" double-folds. Why don't those exist? Ideally it would fold to about 22", to be about the same length as a Bogen/Manfrotto 3373 with an umbrella bracket.

January 12, 2009 4:42 PM  
Blogger pixelmixture said...

where can we find such umbrellas in europe

January 12, 2009 5:10 PM  
Blogger Tyler Brownfield said...

I love the versatility of my 43" convertible Westcott, but hate the method that the back is attached to the umbrella with prongs, as others in the Flickr group have mentioned too.

Recently I added snap buttons to the umbrella as a better solution (pictures: Might be something consider if your prongs are giving you trouble.

January 12, 2009 5:57 PM  
Anonymous MBrads72 said...

@pestbarn, on using a tripod as a lightstand:
Get a cheap wireless flash trigger off eBay (v2). This has a tripod QR threaded screw. The space between the bracket and the receiver is exactly right to wedge in an umbrella shaft.

January 12, 2009 6:46 PM  
OpenID dpinn said...

Would you please clarify for me this statement: 'And speaking of inches, that measurement is the distance around the face of the umbrella, from tip to tip.' Do you mean the straight-line distance from one tip to another, or the distance from one tip to the other via the umbrella's point at the apex?

January 12, 2009 6:49 PM  
Blogger plot17A said...

Any thought on how far should the flash be zoomed in using a Canon 580 Mk2 with a shoot through umbrella?

January 12, 2009 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've noticed you've been getting away from the umbrella to use your speedlight softbox. I can see the reason behind it so could you flush out the differences and advances in a blog post.

January 12, 2009 7:19 PM  
Anonymous said...

About Softliter mentioned above. I use multiply flashes with it, which can be possible by special mount. Look here:
This mount is very useful, because i can use more than 1 flashes in any umbrella, which gimes me more power or less recycle time.

January 12, 2009 7:36 PM  
Blogger SASDALLAS said...

How about a few suggestions for hard-shell, but lightweight umbrella cases?

I have mangled and bent so many umbrellas over the years it ain't funny. My fault for tossing them in the bag with the stands, throwing them in the trunk, and . or whatever, but.

Since I now have upgraded my collection to all new I would like to keep them around for a while.

Anyone use a lightweight, hard-shell case for these?


January 12, 2009 7:50 PM  
Blogger marc weisberg said...

David, I've been following your blog for quite some time, but have never commented. This recent piece on Umbrellas is so elegantly put. I enjoy using umbrellas, more than softboxes, becuase i like that bit of extra contrast pop. I recently got a 60" up from a 40" that i've been using for quite some time and was floored by the quality of light. I'm shooting my ProFoto AccuteB600R into it. Before i had the ProFoto i'd always used my Canon speed lights with the 40" and always had great success. But the 60" with the 600w head is amazing. Thanks for always contributing to the world photographic community. What you do rocks and i've learned a whole bunch from you.

January 12, 2009 8:37 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Barnacle, because you can move a shoot through closer to your subject without it being in the frame the apparent size is larger. Physically a shoot through and reflective can be the same size but the size that is apparent to the subject is what matters for the softness of the light.

The reflective umbrellas are good for group shots because they are more efficient. The further the light source is from the subject the slower the light falls off which allows you to more evenly light a larger object (or group) by having the source further away -- at the expense of softness, obviously but at those distances adding a foot or two distance isn't going to make a huge difference in softness. The further the light is away the weaker it is as well which is why using a reflective umbrella in that case is helpful -- you get more light on your subjects.

When doing a group you can also point the umbrella at the opposite end of the group which helps to even out the light by feathering it to the people closer to the umbrella.

I'd love to see the differences between a Softlighter, an ebay knock off, soft boxes, and umbrellas!

- sgf323

January 12, 2009 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Cuki, UK said...

@Pestbarn: There's a cheap and sturdy enough "Hama Studio Umbrella Clamp" (Google it) which can be mounted on a regular tripod as well as on a stand.

January 12, 2009 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could I ask if anyone can give their opinion on the Lasolite Umbrellabox?

January 12, 2009 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Mike Oxford said...

Another movie-photo setup shoot using umbrellas. (Found via


January 12, 2009 8:59 PM  
Anonymous RLLewis said...

Cool, I would love to see a "back to the basics" as a weekly or bi weekly installment.

January 12, 2009 10:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just ordered a 43 inch Westcott the night before this post. I was freaking out when I saw the title of the article but was glad that it confirmed my purchase decision. (I picked it because it was on the Strobist page about umbrellas from before you liked shoot through).

Thanks again for creating such an informative blog. Over the past 6 months of reading you have turned me from an enthusiast to someone where my only focus is pro photography.

What a pleasure off camera lighting is!

Thanks again for another great article.
P.S. For the poster that said that you need an in depth understanding of studio light to understand this, you don’t. You just have to read through the Strobist articles. You will begin to understand more quickly then you could ever imagine.

January 12, 2009 10:45 PM  
Blogger Phat Baby Photographer said...

I'll second the double folding umbrellas being more fragile. I'm constantly repairing the things and will probably stock a spare or two.

Another great article David.

January 12, 2009 11:56 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I've purchased two Impact kits from B&H item #IMDFUMK. They are great and inexpensive. Lightweight, compact and have a removable black back so you can double them as shoot throughs. Great for a beginner.

January 13, 2009 12:35 AM  
Anonymous Virginia photographer said...

Anonymus:- monobloc - European for monolight, monohead, all in one.

Jeff - thanks for the item number on the kit #IMDFUMK. That looks like a good start for me. I need to leave the Hensel Porty's and go lighter.

January 13, 2009 1:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Calumet umbreallas are pretty nice and durable as well. The metal rod in the middle is solid (no need for the pencil hack), and they come with a protective sleeve for transportation. They are not double-foldable or anything like that, though, and I think they are like 80€ for the 60" one with the removable back.
The Profoto ones are nice, too, but a bit pricy and they come with a big ad saying "Profoto" on the back.


January 13, 2009 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I see a couple recommendations for the Photek Softliter. I have a 60" that I use both with and without the diffuser a lot. One thing I don't see mentioned is that half the shaft (the protruding part) is removable, which makes it easier to position closer to your subject.

January 13, 2009 8:09 AM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

Is there a square umbrella? I hate round catch-lights, but those umbies are so nice and easy to carry around!

January 13, 2009 9:18 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

.....a 42" shoot through satin can also be used to calm down a cranky Ring Bearer:

January 13, 2009 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Alan Lapp said...

David - thanks for the information, good to know. I would have never imagined a 60" would be useful with a speedlight.

Regarding protecting umbrellas in a hard case, at the airport, I recently saw a plastic case for golf clubs and thought it would be pretty useful for lighting gear.

The other thought I have is mailing tubes for individual umbrellas. The ubiquitous round, cardboard tubes which have plastic end caps -- every office goods store sells them. You can cut them with a sharp knife to the appropriate length, you can label them with a sharpie, you can glue them together like a grid so they are more convenient to handle. (kind of like DIY drinking straw grids) Heck you could even work out how to put a shoulder strap on it.

January 13, 2009 1:34 PM  
Anonymous michael conner said...

Double-folds are fragile indeed. I was shooting a wedding outdoors on a beach with soft sand - my wife was holding the stands, but a wind gust forced her to choose between her skirt and the umbrella. One slow fall bent it all to heck. However- they were serving chicken skewers - the bamboo skewers and some gaffers tape make a great repair!

January 13, 2009 1:46 PM  
Anonymous Patrick Snook said...

About zooming the flash head (Canon 580exII). I did a few quick tests--flash on 1/128 power, on stand, used a Westcott double-fold 43" shoot-through umbrella, pointed the camera at the front of the umbrella (i.e. from in front, on the subject side), killed the ambient using a fast shutter speed. Tried several zoom settings. I see an evenly lit umbrella only when I use the pull-out wide-angle fresnel on the flash head (the lcd screen tells me that's a flash-firing angle equivalent to, or used for, a 14mm lens). That makes sense: if I put my camera at the same location as the stand-mounted flash, and zoom the lens until I can see all of the umbrella, it *just* fits in the frame with the lens at 17mm. So, if you intend to use the same size (or larger) umbrella as a fairly uniformly lit and large source, then zoom wide, using the pull-out plastic fresnel lens on the Canon 580exI or exII. But do your own test, to be sure. :-)

January 13, 2009 3:07 PM  
Blogger Mstic said...

anyone know how westcott & eclipse brands for umbrellas compare to impact umbrellas? Thanks in advance.

January 13, 2009 6:05 PM  
Anonymous The Knoxville Photographer said...

Thanks for the great information. I really don't use umbrellas much so this helps me guide other photogs questions about them.

January 13, 2009 8:24 PM  
Anonymous Ronaszegi photography said...

I use Wescott collapsible umbrellas and I agree they are not too sturdy. They work well inside though for architectural interiors. I mostly use the 43" as shoot through. I like the smaller size because I can fit it into hallways/ doorways or next to the camera without getting in the way of the wide angle shots.
Excellent and very informative post!

Thank you!


January 13, 2009 9:45 PM  
Blogger Akira G King said...

Still a bit confused about the size thing. 43" is that the diameter or the circumference? Measured left to right or around the umbrella. A small/medium metric is about 90cm wide, thus about 35".

About a hardcase. Try your local artsupply and look for a retractable tube that normally would hold drawings. Should fit 3 to 4 umbrella's at various lengths.

Altough I like shootthrough I do not like the ribs to show up in the catchlights. Does the oppacity of the trancelucent material have any play in this? Will a thicker white fabric show less ribs up close (one will sacrifice light, I know).

One last tip. I just bought a disposable threefold white umbrella at a drugstore for €3,- ($5). Loose the knob/handle and you have an instant shootthrough umbrella at a shoestring budget. It folds down to the size of a regular zoomlens. How's that for portability. Be sure to check the diameter of the shaft and the umbrella attachment/hole on your bracket.

January 14, 2009 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Great article David,

It may be back to the basics but still thought provoking especially in the shoot through Vs. bounce option.

I had been using a shoot through for key light and bounce for fill light for indoor wedding group shots but now think I would be better off with two bounce :-)

January 14, 2009 5:19 AM  
Blogger Charlie Thiel Photography said...

First of all, thanks are once again in order to David Hobby. I saw the post topic and thought, "come on, what is there to umbrellas?!"... And I learned at least three important things, one of which is that I have been using the wrong umbrella to shoot wedding formals. There is so much to learn, and David has taught me so much already (especially when I already thought I knew it all about a given topic). Like so many posters, I have trashed my share of umbrellas. That is why you should only ever buy cheap umbrellas!

For a great all purpose umbrella, I recommend one made by Bowens. It has a removable reflective (instead of black) backing. Therefore, when used as a reflective umbrella, the white diffusion material softens the light from the metallic reflective material. Or, the backing can be removed and used as a shoot through.

By the way, I too would love to see a post on light stands and boom arms. Why? Because I think I know a lot about them, which means I need David to set me straight!

January 14, 2009 2:25 PM  
Anonymous said...

There IS rectangular umbrella. Look here:

Frame of this umbrealla can be modified to any shape you like.

January 14, 2009 6:50 PM  
Anonymous Family Photographer said...

Great advice for those just getting into photography, or those with a low budget that have to choose between shoot through or reflective umbrellas.

January 15, 2009 2:02 AM  
Anonymous robloger said...

coll stuff man. thanks an ciao from romania.

January 15, 2009 10:23 AM  
Blogger MonteTheDog said...

Are there any pop-on diffusers (those plastic things) that can create a soft light similar to an umbrella in a pinch? Or do we always prefer umbrellas when possible?

January 15, 2009 11:28 AM  
OpenID pestbarn said...

I already have a "povertywizard" wireless triggering set, but on mine (the Cactus PT-04), the space between the bracket and the receiver is open at one end (like this), and I guess that it would work but be pretty unstable until the umbrella sort of falls off.

@Cuki, UK: Thanks for the tip, I'll have to look further into that and where they sell them :)

January 15, 2009 8:31 PM  
Blogger David said...

A few people have asked for a UK source for umbrellas. I got mine from Creative Video:

For instance, here's the double fold white with black backing:

David Wilson Clarke

January 18, 2009 8:23 AM  
Blogger Jason P said...

I would like to point out that both calumet and eBay are a good source for umbrellas in the UK :)

January 22, 2009 4:22 AM  
Anonymous Jenica said...

Awesome advice! Thank you very much for your links and information. I just bought my first umbrella last week and will be buying a shoot through now.

January 29, 2009 10:23 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hi ! Maybe it's too late to post a comment but I had to do it to have some answers.
Fist of all I was mainly a shoot-through umbrella before buying a softbox. With the softbox I became aware of one big problem I had with the shoot-trough umbrella.
In small places the light bounced in every directions and it was really hard to have "one" clean light. As I prefer the shape of an umbrella for portraits I'm wondering if a reflective umbrella would help me solving this problem ?!

April 23, 2010 4:48 AM  

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