Very few photographic umbrellas have had me confused like the ANGLER Parasail Parabolic umbrella–but after working with this umbrella, its nuances started to become a bit more clear. I mean, look at the thing. It doesn’t look like any sort of umbrella. It’s shaped more like a Roman Centurion’s shield and has the relative rectangular design of a softbox. In a world where light modifiers seem to be changing, innovating and overlapping, the target audience for the ANGLER Parasail Parabolic umbrella seems to be those that sometimes need an umbrella and sometimes need a softbox. With its convertible design to be a very soft silver reflection type or a thick opaque white shoot through configuration, the ANGLER Parasail Parabolic umbrella’s best feature is its versatility due to being suspended on a rod and its easy ability to turn one way or another.
Working with a portrait subject in the studio first and foremost requires you to stop thinking about them necessarily as your subject and instead more as your collaborator. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re essentially going to be the conductor of the orchestra most of the time so to speak–but you need to think about people in a different way. You also don’t need the fanciest cameras, lighting, etc to make this work.
In fact, very soon we’ve got a special workshop dedicated to doing just this with Instax Wide film hosted at the Lomography Gallery Store in NYC. But if you’re interested in getting a sneak peak of what’s going to be taught, read on.
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Hey strobist photographers: if you’re shooting a portrait of someone, the best thing that I’ve learned over the years is to actually make them face your artificial key light source. Of course, you wouldn’t do this with a natural one light the sun–but you can surely create more flattering portraits with a strobe or flash in a light modifier like a softbox, umbrella, etc.
Having your subject face the light source:
- Makes the light look softer
- Makes the light more flattering
- Eliminates shadows on their face and sometimes body that may otherwise be unflattering
- Gives them what I like to call the flattering spotlight effect.
When they’re facing the light source and the light source is shining directly down onto them, they’re illuminated to a certain point where they’re clearly made to be the main point of the photo. However, the light source isn’t as harsh as a spotlight, so it’s naturally more flattering.
As an extra tip: place the modifier so that the actual source of light is slightly above eye-level of the subject.
Also note: It doesn’t need to be direct; the light source can be slightly off to the left or right too.
As my portraiture has evolved over the years, the mainstay of my kit remains to be large umbrellas. The light modifiers are incredibly adaptable, give off a beautiful look, and are very portable in addition to being useful for creative applications. Umbrellas are so versatile that they’re used be a variety of photographers: fashion, wedding, studio portrait, food, etc. After softboxes, they’re probably the ones with the most versatility and popularity overall.
Part of their popularity has to do with how they work and just how effective they can be at delivering a variety of looks.
Octabanks are one of the more recent light modifiers to hit the scene. They’re an interesting and odd combination of an umbrella, softbox and beauty dish. Most popular amongst fashion photographers, they’ve been growing in popularity with many other types of shooters.
In fact, they’re one of my favorite light modifers.
Many photographers just getting into working with light specifically are often very confused about what light modifiers to use. But they’re also never quite sure what they should use for the type of work that they’re doing. The true answer is that everyone is making good stuff these days and that very few people will be able to look at an image and immediately tell what light modifiers you’re using in the same way that they won’t be able to tell your camera, lens, etc for the most part.
Instead, it’s all about the type of photo that you’re trying to create.
What do you get when you cross an umbrella, a parabolic umbrella, a softbox, a beauty dish, and an octabank together? You get pretty much every well marketed light modifier that have been coming out in the past couple of years. Yes, there are some traditional softboxes or beauty dish, but they’re not looked at as the best of the best. Those modifiers instead are a cross between so many things.
This makes it so much tougher for the introductory strobists trying to understand how light works and how it falls, but it makes the understanding of it confusing for the experienced shooter too. Many of the more experienced strobists probably have an arsenal of light modifiers–umbrellas, softboxes, etc. They work well and have for years, but there is a very new generation of light modifiers out there that almost promise to be an all-in-one solution.
And for serious lack of better terminology, we’re going to call it the Light Source.
One of the absolutely most underrated light modifiers is the Umbrella Reflector. Typically used to hold an umbrella in place and provide more stability when attached to a monolight, they can also take the light output from strobes and monolights, give it a specific conical direction and soften it. For many years, however, these flash modifiers were limited to monolights and hot shoe flashes couldn’t really enjoy the benefits. But for what it’s worth, many hot shoe flashes have been designed with radio transmission as of late and were primarily intended for off-camera use.
Using a bit of tinkering at home combined with some inspiration from a beauty dish hack I did along with the Impact Strobos, I created an umbrella reflector that works well with a hot shoe flash.