How much difference does it really make if you shoot with a silver Umbrella Deep, a white Umbrella Deep or a translucent Umbrella Deep? To find the answer, we asked photographer Klara G to do a little test for us. Here are the results.
The umbrella is to photographers what the Technics SL-1200 is to DJs. In other words, the umbrella is, by far, the most common and most widely used Light Shaping Tool out there. It is so for a good reason. The umbrella is affordable, very easy to use, and extremely easy to fold and bring with you to an on-location shoot.
But that does not mean you cannot be creative and do a lot of different things with them. For instance, how you position and direct your umbrella has a huge effect on the light character. What size and shape of umbrella you use is also a determining factor.
Then there is the fact that most brands of umbrellas are available in different fabrics. All four sizes (small, medium, large and XL) of Profoto Umbrellas are available in white, silver and translucent versions. In addition, the white and silver versions can be equipped with diffusers, while there is a backpanel for the translucent one. Adding any of these accessories will also change the light character.
But truthfully now, how much difference is there really between a white, silver and translucent umbrella. And how much difference do the accessory really make?
Let’s say you use only one light and keep it in exactly the same position and angle, but you switch between a white, silver and translucent Umbrella Deep – plus you try it with and without the optional accessories – how much of difference will you be able to see? To find the answer, we asked photographer Klara G to try it out.
“Umbrellas are, by far, my favorite Light Shaping Tools,” says Klara. “I love the beautiful, round catch light they create in the eyes. I also love the light you get when you put the subject close to a wall or a backdrop. The falloff looks great! You are also free to create some nice gradients and lighting effects by simply changing the direction of the umbrella, or by using a flag or a white reflector screen.”
Klara G shot no less than 12 images with almost exactly same setup. The flash head stayed in exactly the same position. The umbrella shaft’s position in the umbrella holder was the same. The aperture was the same. There were no tweaks in postproduction. The only thing Klara G changed was the actual umbrella and its accessory.
“The setup was nice and simple,” says Klara G. “I had a single D1 Monolight on a boom, positioned 45° to the right and slightly higher than the subject’s face. The D1 and the umbrella were angled to the left of the subject’s face, so that only the falloff hit the subject’s face. It’s my opinion that if you aim the umbrella straight at the subject, the light gets too harsh. It gets a whole lot more interesting if you do it like this. You get a bit more drama that way. A bit more intimacy.”
Finally, Klara G put up two black screens – one to the left and one to the right of her subject. These were used to absorb spill light and to prevent the light from bouncing around in the room. With everything in place, Klara G started shooting.
You will find all 12 images below. There are some comments from Klara G on each shot, but we generally tried to keep it short and let you be the judge.
So what do you say? How much difference is there between a white, silver and translucent umbrella? Which one is you favorite? Do you have any question about shooting with an umbrella? Leave a comment below! Both we and Klara G stand ready to reply!
See more Klara G’s wonderful world of imagery at her website.
“White umbrellas used to be my favorites, and they are, without a doubt, the safest bet,” says Klara G. “Let’s say I could pick just one Light Shaping Tool to use for the rest of my life. Well, that would be the white umbrella, because it’s the most versatile and the fastest and easiest to work with. The shadows are always nice and soft. Even if you’re in a hurry and quite sloppy with setting up your lights, you still get a nice result.”
“The diffusor, obviously, diffuses the light and makes it softer and more even. It’s quite evident on the background, where he shadow turns into almost a gradient. It’s nice, the diffusor. It adds a lot of options without adding any weight or taking up more space than necessary.”
“Lately, I’ve come to favor silver umbrellas. They create a similar light, but you do get harder shadows and a bit more drama in the image. I like that. As a result, however, silver umbrellas are bit more demanding to work with. You have to be a bit more careful with how you position the umbrella to avoid getting any ugly shadows around the subject’s nose, for instance. But when you get it right, it looks really, really good.
“Also, the deeper shape of the Umbrella Deep Silver S really comes into play here. You can get quite different light by simply sliding the shaft in its holder. Personally, though, I almost always put it as close the flash head as possible. That way I get an intimate and crispy light with both softness and contrast.”
“Again, the diffusor makes the light softer and more even. For instance, the edges of the shadows on her neck are much broader and there is more light reaching the wall behind her.
“I’d also like to point out that if you compare the image shot with the Umbrella Deep White S with the diffuser and the Umbrella Deep Silver with the diffuser, you can see that the light looks almost exactly the same. The only difference I can notice is slight variation in color to the background. It gets a bit less blue with the silver umbrella.”
“The translucent umbrella isn’t really a umbrella in that sense. The light isn’t reflected or directed. It’s diffused and spread. Plus, the shape of the light source if pretty much turned inside out. So you don’t get the same falloff that you’d get with a white or silver umbrella. Instead, you get a light that spreads evenly over a much, much larger area. I think it quite evident if you look at these images.”
“To be honest, I didn’t understand the Backpanel at first. So, it’s a big, black thing you attach to the back of the umbrella? So what? But then I played with it some, and now I get it. For this particular shot, it didn’t make much difference, except slightly reducing the amount of light spilling around the studio. But I’ve just on other shoots where it was actually very helpful. For instance, quite recently I did a shoot where I put the Umbrella Deep Translucent S with a diffuser right above the subject, pointing down. It created this really half-circle of light with a beautiful falloff. So, I’m sure you can do tons of stuff with it.
After these shots, Klara G replaced the black foam boards she used for flagging off light with white foam boards and repeated the entire process. Unlike the black foam boards, which absorbed spill light and created shadows in the subject’s face, the white foam boards reflected the light and created a more even light with less contrast and brighter shadows. The effect can clearly be seen in the images Klara G shot.
The effect was in all cases a more even light and brighter shadows compared to what she got when she used the black cardboard wall.