One of the most undervalued and little talked about light modifiers is also one of the most absolute essential for nearly any shooter who works with monolights. It’s the umbrella reflector–and many people don’t really know about them. In general, all that we hear about are softboxes, umbrellas, beauty dishes, and octabanks. But if you want beautiful light output right from the start with your monolight, you should absolutely never underestimate what this little addition can do for your photography.
What is an Umbrella Reflector?
Yes, you’ve heard of an umbrella–and for the most part the umbrella reflector was designed to work with umbrellas. When attached to a monolight, it gives an extra sense of security and stabilization to the large light modifier; but it also serves another purpose. Umbrella reflectors are often the equivalent of zoom heads on a flash and can have many different shapes from narrow to wide. The shape determines how narrow the beam will be when it hits the interior of the umbrella.
Trust us when we say that you want one attached.
But beyond serving as security for your umbrella, they also protect the sensitive diffusion dome protecting your monolight’s flash bulb. If your light takes a tumble, the reflector is the first line of defense.
Even more important is the fact that the umbrella reflector actually diffuses the light in a way and makes it more directional, thus making the light more efficient. What you’ll often end up getting is very soft, specular light similar to a softbox or even very edgy light that you typically get with octabanks.
In fact, many times for our product shoots and portrait shoots, all we roll with is the umbrella reflector.
What are They Good for Photographing?
Umbrella reflectors are generally used for holding umbrellas and therefore and make working with an umbrella on your monolight even more effective.
But the way that they’re generally used without an umbrella is basically like any speedlight or hot shoe flash that you’d work with.
Want to bounce the light off of a wall or a ceiling? The umbrella reflector is your best friend. You don’t want to do this with other modifiers so much because of their extra diffusion properties that kill the light source’s power eventually.
Want to aim it directly at your subject and shoot? You can totally do that too. In fact, the image to the right is where we do just that to provide enough illumination on Amanda. Notice the shadow from her glasses on her chest? It’s still quite slight–and that has to do with the umbrella reflector diffusing and directing the light.
We typically use umbrella reflectors when shooting products for the site, portraits, events, etc. I personally think that they’re the most versatile light modifier–though the umbrella is a close second.
With the umbrella reflector it’s all a matter of distance from your subject and power output combined with the creative vision that you want to achieve.
How Do You Use Them?
Umbrella reflectors are used in a couple of different ways. Here are just a few ideas:
– To hold an umbrella in place and to control the spread of the light when it hits the interior of the umbrella. Depending on the shape and size of the reflector, the light will either be wider or more narrow before it spills out from the umbrella.
– To focus a beam–though not as much as a snoot.
– To give directional quality to a light and therefore make it more efficient. With the reflector, you get a more focused light beam that you can aim at a subject.
– You can use them to deliver either edgy or soft portraits depending on the light available and if you’re considering blending monolight output with natural light.
– Want to enhance the light coming from a window? We often bounce the light off of window blinds to give more punch to natural light from the sun.
– Bounce the light off of a collapsible photographic reflector to add even more fill light or if you’ve got a transparent reflector you can use an umbrella reflector to focus the beam and aim the light through the large photographic reflector.-
There are loads of ways that you can use them, but those are only a few to get you started.