Because it produces broad, soft lighting, photographic umbrellas are often used for fill but that doesn’t mean you can’t let umbrellas totally light your portrait subject, especially with a large parabolic umbrella. That old lighting rule that “size matters” is important in lighting because a bigger umbrella is going to produce broad, soft light for your portraits.
The advantage of using a parabolic umbrella is three fold: First, a big light source, especially when placed near the subject, is going to create soft lighting. Second, because of the umbrella’s parabolic shape, light falloff towards the edges is minimized when compared to working with traditional photographic umbrellas. Third, a parabolic design results in high light efficiency allowing you the choice of producing either high contrast or extremely soft light. In actual use, you can expect between two to three f-stops more output than a typical soft box.
This type of umbrella is often overlooked by the average shooter because the typical European-made parabolic umbrella costs $6,000 or more but Paul C. Buff offers offers a 51-inch white translucent umbrella for $29.95 so using parabolic umbrellas won’t break your piggy bank.
Paul C. Buff has sizes up to 86-inches. And even though these umbrellas seem large—they are big—when opened, many fold to 35-inches on length or so making them easily transportable.
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.