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Light is what makes photography possible, and precise, nuanced lighting control is what enables photographers to capture truly professional-looking images that showcase and enhance whatever is in front of their cameras. Some of the primary tools knowledgeable photographers employ to control the lighting precisely for everything from sports and nature images shot outdoors to events, portraits, and products shot indoors, are light modifiers. These devices alter the direction, coverage, and quality of the light, or block unwanted light from reaching the subject.
The list of light modifiers is a long one, and includes everything from scrims, snoots, and light boxes to tents and strategically placed sheets of plastic and matte board. Among the most popular light modifiers used by serious shooters are umbrellas and collapsible reflectors, which are durable, easy to store, transport, and set up, and yield predictable results. This article provides detailed descriptions and performance parameters for a number of recently introduced umbrellas and reflectors offered by Profoto, a broad-spectrum brand of lighting and flash equipment used by many pros. Their apt tag line: “We Are The Light Shaping Company.”
Profoto was founded in 1968, in Stockholm, Sweden, by Eckhard Heine, a photographer and engineer, and photo equipment retailer Conny Dufgran. When Dufgran sold Heine a flash unit that wouldn’t work, the latter went home and invented a new type of superior unit that was subsequently exhibited as the Pro-1 at the giant Photokina Trade Show in Cologne. It was an instant success, and Profoto has followed it up over the years with an extensive line of quality lighting products that combine aesthetic form and high-level functionality. Their distributor in the United States is Profoto US, Inc., Florham Park, New Jersey.
Profoto recently expanded its product roster to include a line of five different collapsible reflectors in two sizes, 33" and 47", each in a sturdy, easily folded "squircle" (rounded square-shaped) frame that’s equipped with two ergonomically contoured handles that make them easier to fold and to hold in various positions. Four types of two-sided reflectors are available—Silver/White, Sunsilver/White, Gold/White, and Matte Black/White. There’s also a translucent diffuser version available.
Medium Collapsible Reflector Black/White (33") provides the ability to bounce, shape, and block sunlight and studio light to place the light where you want it and remove it where you don’t. The black side acts as an effective flag to deflect unwanted light from the subject, and the white side lets you reflect and direct natural or artificial light without altering its hue. Sturdy fabric ensures durability. All these comments also apply to the Large Collapsible Reflector Black/White (47") version, and its larger size provides greater flexibility when lighting larger subjects or areas.
The Medium Collapsible Reflector Silver/White (33") lets you increase the effective light output and brilliance of light sources by reflecting light from the silver side, and provides natural light reflection without altering the hue by aiming its white side toward the source of illumination. This reflector is not designed primarily for blocking light, but all other comments above apply. The Large Collapsible Reflector Silver/White (47") performs similarly, and its larger size offers greater flexibility in lighting larger subjects and areas.
The Medium Collapsible Reflector Sunsilver/White (33") allows photographers to achieve a warmer light output and higher contrast by aiming the Sunsilver side toward the light source and also to achieve natural-looking light reflections that don’t alter the hue of the reflected light by bouncing the illumination from the white side. The warming effect is subtle but noticeable, and not as pronounced as what you get with the gold reflector below. All other comments above apply. The Large Collapsible Reflector Sunsilver/White (47") performs similarly, and its larger size offers greater flexibility in lighting larger subjects or areas.
The Medium Collapsible Reflector Gold/White (33") creates a warmer light with a lower (redder) color temperature when the gold side is aimed at the light source, bathing the subject in a golden hue. The white side provides neutral, natural reflectivity. The warming effect is more pronounced than with the Sunsilver/White reflector. All other comments apply. The Large Collapsible Reflector Gold/White (47") performs similarly, and its larger size offers greater flexibility in lighting larger subjects or areas.
Deep umbrellas provide a concave reflective interior surface that produces a soft but directional beam that clearly defines the subject and allows for more precise control over the spread of light. Profoto deep umbrellas also feature 16 fiberglass rods for a rounder shape and more even light spread, and are constructed of heat-resistant materials and surface-treated metal elements to prevent corrosion and discoloration. All come with carrying bags and optional diffusers are available.
The Large Deep Silver Umbrella (51") has a highly reflective silver interior surface that is ideal for producing soft shadows along with crisp subject details. The Extra Large Deep Silver Umbrella (65") is similar in design and general applications, and it provides broader coverage for larger subjects and areas.
The soft white interior of the Large Deep White Umbrella (51") helps to produce diffused, even light of unaltered hue, along with soft shadows—ideal for portraiture and other applications. The Extra Large Deep White Umbrella (65") is similar in design and general applications, and it provides broader coverage for larger subjects and areas.
The translucent shoot-through design of the Large Deep Translucent Umbrella (51") lets light pass through it, allowing you use it as a light diffuser as well as a subtle reflector to create soft lighting with very soft shadows. As with the other models, its deep design facilitates precise control over the light spread. The Extra Large Deep Translucent Umbrella (65") is similar in design and general applications, and it provides broader coverage for larger subjects and areas.
Profoto shallow umbrellas provide a somewhat less concentrated beam with more light spillage at the edges than deep umbrellas, producing an attractive “wrap-around” lighting effect that is flattering to many subjects and is especially effective for group portraits and interiors. Like Profoto Deep Umbrellas, they’re constructed of durable, heat-resistant materials using metal elements that are surface treated to prevent corrosion and discoloration, and all of them come with carrying bags.
The soft white interior surface of the Small Shallow White Umbrella (33") reflects sunlight or artificial light onto the subject without altering its hue or color temperature, yielding a soft, natural effect, while the Medium Shallow White Umbrella (41") increases coverage and further diffuses the output. The Small Shallow Silver Umbrella (33") is of similar design, but its highly reflective silver interior surface helps to bring out crisper details in your images. The 41" Medium Shallow Silver version is ideal for larger subjects.
The Small Shallow Translucent Umbrella (33") and the Medium 41" models have the same configuration as the white and silver models, but their translucent, shoot-through design allows light to pass through so you can use either umbrella as a diffuser or a subtle reflector to create soft lighting with very soft shadows.
The umbrella diffusers provide even more lighting versatility for Profoto umbrellas. The diffusers pull over the front of a white or silver umbrella, effectively turning it into a softbox that delivers a softer, even more diffused light. They also reduce the light output by about 1.5 stops.