How to Use Umbrella Lights During Studio Photography

By Miguel Cavazos

Things Needed

  • Digital SLR camera
  • 2 bounce umbrellas
  • 2 strobes, flash units or continuous light heads
  • 2 light stands
Bounce umbrellas cast broad and relatively uncontrolled light.

Reflective bounce umbrellas are often used on location because they are relatively cheap, portable and cast a broad light that is suitable for many location assignments. Bounce umbrellas are applicable in the studio. The broad light is effective with shots against white backgrounds, environmental sets or when the umbrella is positioned close to the subject.

Duo Umbrella Technique

Set up two light stands with strobes, flash heads or continuous light source. Extend the light stand until the light head is slightly above the subject.

Release the umbrella springs, and open the umbrellas until the spring lock toward the top of the umbrella staff is engaged.

Attach a bounce umbrella to each light stand or light head, and point the light head toward the reflective interior surface of the open umbrella. The light stand or light head should have a wedge that accepts the staff of the umbrella. If there is no wedge, it may be necessary to purchase an umbrella mount or adapter.

Position one light stand approximately 5 feet in front and 45 degrees to the left of the subject. Position the other stand the same distance from the subject, and at 45 degrees to the right. Position the stands so that the reflective interior surface of the umbrella is pointing at the subject.

Set one light source to full power, and set the other 1 to 4 stops lower. This will add dimensionality.

Set the camera to 100 ISO and between f/8 and f/11, and fire off a few test shots.

Review the shots on the camera. If they are over-exposed and washed out, then try a narrower aperture (i.e. higher f/number), or increase the subject-to-light distance of both lights or reduce the power setting on both lights. If the shots are under-exposed and dark, then use a wider aperture (i.e. lower f/number), or reduce the subject-to-light distance of both lights or increase the power setting on both lights.

Note the f/number, distance and light power settings for the best shots.

Experiment by maintaining the distance and power settings, but repositioning the stands at different angles to the subject. Illuminate from 90 degrees on both sides, or position the key light (high power) to illuminate the front at 45 degrees, and position the second light roughly opposite to illuminate the back of the subject. Always remember to keep the umbrella out of the frame when taking the shot.

Tip

Bounce umbrellas cast broad and relatively uncontrolled light that may be more suitable against a white background, or for shots that incorporate the setting or environment. A single studio bounce umbrella may generate the best results when positioned at narrower angles to the subject. Shortening the subject-to-umbrella distance reduces the spread of the light. A single studio bounce umbrella positioned close to the subject can be suitable for headshot photography.

About the Author

Miguel Cavazos is a photographer and fitness trainer in Los Angeles who began writing in 2006. He has contributed health, fitness and nutrition articles to various online publications, previously editing stand-up comedy and writing script coverage as a celebrity assistant. Cavazos holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and political science from Texas Christian University.