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36" Umbrella with a speedlight - is the light still too harsh?

patindaytonapatindaytona Member
edited November 2015 in flash & lighting
I had bought a couple of 36" umbrellas and recenty tried the brolly umbrella.....I tested them indoors with wife standing only a foot away and the light is not very soft! I suppose it's a matter of opinion "what is soft" to your or me.  I was planning on using them mainly for outdoor photography off camera flash. But not now! My estimated distance outdoors with usually about 3-4 people in a group would be like 12 feet or so. Would it make any difference if i used that large thing instead of a much smaller softbox (12" x 12")?     
Certainly would be much more convienient to use the small one if it isn't going to make much difference.      I understand the more it's used as a fill light the better to avoid harsh light, but their may be occasions when it's dull overcast and the main light would show up as the off-camera flash.  I did remember one article by neil showing how even a bare bulb off camera flash is BETTER than on-camera flash.    I suppose the convenience alone using a small box allow more focus on the creative aspect of the photo.


  • McGregNiMcGregNi Member
    edited October 2015
    I find the effect can be harder, even at close distances, if the flash is quite near the umbrella, and/or the flash head zoom is zoomed in a lot. You could try pulling the flash back and widening the zoom so that it's angle of coverage just strikes and fills the whole umbrella (any wider is obviously wasted light).

    This way, you are keeping a spread of even light over the whole umbrella but can still keep it close to your subject for a soft look. (well, may be worth a shot anyway!) ... Good luck, hope you can sort it).
  • Sound advice, thanks McGreg. I do think i have it near the end of the rod though. Clearly this same idea, conveys the fact that by moving the umbrella just a few more inches away from the subject will already produce significantly harder light. Realizing this, these smaller "convenient" umbrellas would only be good for a single person head shot only.
    So, it's got pretty limited use.   Outdoors?...seems it would really not be very useful afterall knowing it would be yards away from a full subject, or even further from a group of people.
    As far as using it mainly as fill flash, might as well use a regular bare flash.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Make sure you're not "choking" the light from the umbrella by pushing the umbrella too close to the umbrella bracket. 

    If you use the umbrella too close to the umbrella bracket, then your light source is still small.

    Can you post some examples?
  • How were you using the umbrella, shoot through or bounce? I have had good results using shoot through indoors and bounce outdoors but when used out doors it is more fill rather than dominant. The distance you'd need it  be for a group of people you may as well use bare flash when needing more than just fill.

  • McGregNiMcGregNi Member
    edited October 2015
    I'm interested in peoples experience with flash zooming in these situations .... As I said on the other thread, I have found limited effect with umbrellas and soft boxes, not so much a change in the light spread, but rather a change in the 'shape' of light, with a harder, higher contrast centre when flash is zoomed in and concentrated towards the centre of the modifier.

    Conversely, a wide zoom that just allows all the output to fill from the edges of the umbrella or softbox, seems to help the softening effect of close lighting .... I have not found much said about this matter in books really.

    I only ask, because I always find myself asking the question, ..' what zoom setting should I use now' when firing a flash straight into a modifier .
  • Thanks for the replies. Great to see you Neil! I can't find the examples..will try it again later. Believe me, i know all about the choking  and the widest zoom on flash. I'm kind of planning already to try and sell my reflectors and brollies if i can and buy a 24" x 24" softbox. I saw Neil use(d) that outdoors. Should be a good comprimise for size and convenience. I have no assistances (my wife or a nearby friend might help sometimes in holding the flash though). Neil, what do you think of this?--I was pondering deeply on outdoor flash with a fairly small softbox, and i came up with this:  Underexpose a couple stops as usually suggested (if backlit brightly the subject is automatically underexposed in that case).  Now, using off camera flash, illuminate the subject just a little, not properly expose with correct flash). I'm talking directional light here, not fill.  Then, in lightroom, bring up any remaining shadow on the faces.                The reason is because by under exposing the flash, you'll retain the light/shadow transition much less harsh than if you used full power (correct flash).            P.S. I know you could use a reflector, additional flash etc. but i use one key light flash.
  • Tony, tried both. They both seems very close to each other in quality to me. Not related specifically to this discussion, but here's one of my outdoor flash shots. I sometimes take two photos, one with me in the shot holding the flash by person, then another shot (both on tripod). Then, i just layer them in PS. and erase me out of the image.
    36.png 410.5K
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Aaaah, I think I know what the hiccup here is - you are fairly far away from your subject. And the further your light is from your subject, the smaller it is, and hence the way the highlights and shadows transfer, is more abrupt. i.e., more contrast, and the flash shadow more pronounced. 
  • Neil, well, I had the 36" brolly umbrella about 8 inches from her face. I shouldn't have deleted them so fast from the camera, maybe they werent' as bad if i had uploaded them bigger on the computer. I'll try again tonight and repost.
    But yes, in majority of my situations, it'll be far away like maybe 15 feet? A 36" brolly isn't going to do much, but question is, would it make a significant difference than a bare flash would being that distance?
    Thing about the brolly is that you HAVE TOO get the flash unit pretty close (choke) up the rod because of it's design, but then, it does bounced around and back thru the translucent part on it's way out.
    Is it a good idea for me to get a 24" x 24" softbox, or am i just wasting more money trying that?
  • patindaytonapatindaytona Member
    edited November 2015
    Perfect opportunity. My wife came home from work couple hours ago dressed up for Halloween. I grabbed everything and tried the brolly. It was about 3 feet from her left (as looking at her). Yes, it's pretty good softness. I'm not sure about doing a group though. As Neil says somewhere, even a bare flash is better off camera than none at all. It's all a matter of balancing ..ambient/flash. And it's a lot different DOING than always reading about it. Experience.
  • Tad too red, because i just made a fast fix..too much.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited November 2015
    "But yes, in majority of my situations, it'll be far away like maybe 15 feet? A 36" brolly isn't going to do much, but question is, would it make a significant difference than a bare flash would being that distance?"

    I would say yes, it would make a radical difference in how soft the light is.
    But the best way to convince yourself, and also have a visual reference of this, is to test it yourself.

  • When using shoot umbrellas with speedlights, don't point the center of the umbrella at what you want to light. Aim the center of the umbrella slightly in front of the subject, it will avoid the hotspot you get with that combination. 
  • I don't see so much harshness as I do specularity. I think hard shadows/overexposed skin with harsh lighting.
  • It is fact that the larger the
    light source, at a given distance from the subject, the softer and less
    harsh is the light.

    On-location shoots give us less choice of light sources than in the studio
    because of portability, and inclement weather conditions (wind for example)
    making it impractical to use heavy studio strobes and large soft boxes. When
    using portable speed lights our light source is far smaller and less powerful,
    so we are limited to the size of flash modifiers available to us.

    A popular choice is the shoot-through umbrella or the reflector umbrella. A
    common problem with these umbrellas is that the shaft is too short to get the
    speed light far enough away from the umbrella itself, and as a result the speed light is
    not able to fill the entire umbrella with light, as is shown in the image

    size of the umbrella does not determine the size of the light source!

    size of the light source is determined by the amount of the umbrella that is
    filled with light !

    Below, the speed light is as far from the umbrella as the shaft
    will allow. Shown here with the Neewer flash bracket to keep the light as close
    to shaft/centre of the umbrella as possible, and a Pocket Wizard remote
    transceiver for off camera flash. As you can see with this configuration the
    speed light has only been able to fill less than half the total area of the umbrella
    with light. The shafts on lighting umbrellas are limited in length to make them
    as portable as possible, plus a longer shaft would not be effective with the
    limited power of the portable speed light.


    By adding the Lite-Scoop, the best of the modifiers that I have tried,  and with the speed light the same distance from the umbrella
    as above, the umbrella is fully filled with light, maximizing the effectiveness
    of the umbrella. The same improved results are to be had with reflective
    umbrellas, brollies and soft boxes designed for portable speed lights as shown here.

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