Learning About Photography Umbrellas
Photography umbrellas are collapsible, portable light softeners. They're some of the most affordable light modifiers you can find, and they're suitable for virtually any type of lighting, including off-camera speedlights, sunlight, monolights, and strobes, as well as continuous light sources.
Photo Umbrella Types
Photography umbrellas come in three main types: translucent, reflective, and parabolic umbrellas.
Also known as shoot-through umbrellas, these light modifiers evenly spread out light to your subject to create a soft illumination and produce a wide lighting pattern that's easy to position. They're suitable for flash photography. To use this umbrella, place the light source behind the umbrella and point it toward your subject.
Reflective umbrellas have shiny surfaces that bounce light to the subjects to maximize light output and eliminate any shadows. Unlike translucent models, reflective photography umbrellas allow you to move the light source away from your subjects while still maintaining effective light output. They're perfect for portrait and group photography.
These are larger, and have a more rounded profile than other umbrella types. Designed with more panels, parabolic umbrellas alter light to make it look more natural on camera. They can work as suitable alternatives to softboxes, which have the same function.
For best results, consider the accessories you may need. Umbrella grids are made of fabric and help you tighten beam angles and control spill light of parabolic umbrellas. Grids can fold flat for easy carrying when not in use. Umbrella diffusers act like caps placed over the front of reflective umbrellas to create softboxes. They form a softer and more diffused light for your photography.
Choosing a Suitable Umbrella Size
Umbrella sizes range from 30 to 120 inches when fully opened. The larger the umbrella, the softer the light will be. However, this is also dependent on the type of light you're using. Therefore, if you have less powerful speedlights or flashes, you may want to consider getting a large-sized umbrella to more effectively soften the light on the subject. If you travel with your umbrella lighting kits, consider telescoping umbrellas to save on space. Most collapsible umbrellas can open up to 43 inches and collapse down to 15 inches for easy portability.
B&H Photo and Video stocks a wide selection of photo umbrellas, so choosing the appropriate one for your needs is easy.