Lighting Tools: Shooting with Umbrellas

If you follow me on Instagram (@joefarace) you may know a few months ago, my basement was flooded causing damage to the family room, bathroom and my in-home studio. As of Tuesday, all repairs and refurbishments to the family room were complete and we’re in the final phase of repairs to the studio. When it’s completely finished I’ll do a video tour of the 11×15-foot studio, showing updates and some of the lighting tools I use. Because I’m hoping that will be done real soon now, in the meantime I wanted to give you a look at some of my favorite lighting tools…

danielle.umbrella1For new studio shooters, there can be confusion about lighting equipment. Some photographers think it’s too complicated and too expensive but in reality it can be neither. Part of this misunderstanding is created by a  bewildering array of products and buzzwords.To avoid this, there’s an important lighting rule you should keep in mind:

The closer and larger a light source is to a subject, the softer the quality of the light will be. Conversely, the further away and smaller the light source, the harder it becomes. That’s why the size and shape of your light source determine the lighting’s quality.


Photographic umbrellas are used to produce a broad, soft light source and their construction is not all that different from rain umbrellas. Umbrellas are available in different fabrics and sizes and some are even available as collapsible models that let you to create a compact lighting kit you can take on the road.

The color of the fabric has a bearing on the color temperature of the output and in addition to neutral-colored white umbrellas, there are gold umbrellas that can be used to “warm up” a portrait subject. There are even zebra umbrellas that alternate stripes of gold and silver to give some warmth but not too much. Shiny silver fabrics create sparkly looks and soft white does just what it sounds like.

Some umbrella’s thinner fabrics allow you to reverse the umbrella and use it in “shoot through” mode to soften the light and produce a narrower light source. That’s why I am a fan of umbrellas that have a black fabric backing so light fired into it won’t leak out the back. That’s also why some umbrellas have a removable black cover so you can use them in shoot-through mode too, like I did with this portrait (above) of Danielle.

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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

Author: Joe Farace

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