Elizabeth Halford Photography {the blog} » photography in plain English

Reader Question – Umbrellas

Louise Q. put this excellent question on my Facebook Wall:

Q. What are the benefits of using different umbrellas e.g. black, white, silver?

A. Wow I’m loving the questions I get for reader question Wednesdays! To answer your question, I’d have to say that, for me, the benefit of having different umbrellas means I can match them to my outfits. Just kidding! I totally know you’re talking about the umbrellas which go on strobe flash heads! :)

There are two types of umbrellas and usually, they are one umbrella which adapts to use in one of the two following ways: A ‘bounce’ umbrella is one where the light shoots into the umbrella and bounces the light back at the subject. In this manner, the strobe head (or even simply a speedlite) faces away from the subject and into the umbrella. The material of the bounce fabric can be white, silver or golden to give different effects to the light quality. The other way is to use it as a ‘shoot-through’ umbrella. In this way, the light faces the subject and the umbrella filters the light through it’s transparent white film.

As far as the colours go (for bounce umbrellas) this is a general guide:

  • Gold – creates warm tones and makes your subject’s skin appear a bit more tanned
  • White  - Neutral colour effect. Gathers the existing light and softly fills in shadows to light your subject
  • Silver – Neutral in colour and brighter than white.
  • As for the different uses:

    • Bounce = High specular light. More controlled. The bigger the umbrella, the wider the spread of light. I use this as the fill light in a 2-light set-up.
    • Shoot-through = High contrast light. More dramatic. Light spread is wide. I use as the key light when I’m too lazy to assemble my soft box.

    Thanks for your question, Louise! And don’t y’all forget to keep sending me your questions. Leave them in the comments below, email them, tweet them or leave them on my wall.

    • Adam Stonestreet

      You say that a shoot through is high contrast.  Could you elaborate on that?

    • Anonymous

      Hi there! Yes, by that I mean that the light is not as soft and diffused – it’s hard and contrasty