Photographic umbrellas are the simplest and most inexpensive form of light modifier and that makes them the most popular too. Photographic umbrellas look and act like rain umbrellas except they’re reflective and light is bounced into or shot through them creating a big, soft light source that’s aimed at the subject. And size does matter: The closer and larger a light source is to a subject, the softer the lighting effect will be. That old lighting rule is important because a large umbrella is going to produce broader, softer light for your portraits.
Westcott has been making all kinds of umbrellas for a long time and offers a series of three parabolic umbrellas that are available in White Diffusion, Silver and White/Black finishes with price points around $100. Each umbrella measures seven-feet and weighs only 2.5 pounds and comes with a nice case. These large umbrellas are constructed using 16 fiberglass ribs that provide more strength and durability than the typical steel or aluminum frames used in most photographic umbrellas. The umbrella’s center shaft is double the thickness of typical shafts but has a 7mm tapered tip that should fit most lighting equipment including monolights and power pack/head systems.
A single light source often produces a shadow, especially when a subject is close to the seamless background and while you can see the shadow on this portrait, it is broad and soft. The image shown was originally shot in color but I find it easier to convert to monochrome after retouching, which is always much easier to do by starting with a color file.
To learn more about studio lighting techniques, please pick up a copy of my book, “Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from your favorite book or camera stores as well as including Amazon.com.