There are a variety of umbrella types used in the studio which fall into two categories. Reflective and Shoot Through (sometimes known as translucent). Umbrellas are often cheaper than other modifiers and are often what most people get started with. They are very convenient use, are easy to put up and can fold away for easy portability or storage.
Reflective umbrellas are used by positioning the lighting head so it fires its light onto a reflective surface inside the umbrella which is then directed back onto the subject. There can be a variety of colours used but white or silver are the most common. Despite being reflective this type of light is quite direct and can and can produce a hard light with harsh shadows.
The above image was taken by Los Angeles based photographer Jay P Morgan for the Photoflex website. He demonstrates the reflective lighting from a 30″ Silver umbrella. As you can see the lighting is quite harsh and there are strong shadows appearing, particularly behind the subject.
Below I have added some images I took in the uni studio using a reflective umbrella.
The lighting is harsher, the shadows compared with the Soft Box image (right) from are more defined at there is greater detail in the skin texture. Harsher light sources such as this work well with male subjects if you are trying to create a masculine image. The harsher lighting and the slightly elevated angle also creates the iconic Rembrandt style.
Rembrandt lighting is a style named after the famous Dutch artist who often painted his subjects with a small triangle of light under the eye the side of the face with the least amount of illumination. This particular style of lighting gives the face a natural and defined style.
The above image is a Rembrandt self-portrait. Painted in 1629 it shows the artist as a young man, you can clearly see the triangle on the cheek.
The next image, over 30 years later shows an older wiser (and fatter) Rembrandt self-portrait. Again the small triangle of light under the eye is clear to see. Even after a lifetime of painting this master artist still used the same technique.
The Rembrandt style has to main uses in the studio. Actors and models are often chosen as they share a similarity within their facial structure. One of these features is high cheekbones and the Rembrandt style is very flattering. This was a technique often used to photograph celebrities (Demain Chas nd). Another good use for this style is on fatter faces, the dark shadows and the triangle of light help to hide, shape and define those with rounder features. (Demain Chas nd).
The set up image and diagram above shows the technique for achieving this design. The light should be set up so that it is slightly above the subject and angled down. It should be placed around 45° to the side of the camera position. In order for the effect to be achieved correctly then the shadow cast by the nose should reach all the way across the face to meet with the other shadow. I feel the best results are achieved when using a harsher lighting modifier as the shadows are more defined.
This will give the triangle of light under the eye. Reflectors and Kickers can be incorporated to enhance to overall effect.
Reflectors are easily portable shiny surfaces that can be held near the subjects face. When the light hits them some of it can be reflected back onto the subject. It is a simple way to change the direction of the lighting when using only one light but the use of a second light will offer more control
Kickers have the reverse effect; these are black and will absorb light preventing any light rebounding back onto the subject
Shoot Through Umbrella
The shoot through umbrellas allow light to pass through them onto the subject. Similar to the Soft Boxes the light will scatter and diffuse. This will create a soft light on the subject reducing harsh shadows and edges and reducing contrast and imperfections in the skin.
Unlike the reflective umbrella of the same size the diffused light is softer. The shadows are spreading and losing their shape and definition. The light is much gentler on the skin and flattering to the model.
Below are some images I took using a shoot through umbrella in the uni studio.
The shoot through umbrella or sometimes called a translucent umbrella works on a similar basis to a soft box. Here the light passes through the white umbrella material where it is dispersed and scattered over the subject. The type of light from this umbrella sits between the Soft Box and the Reflective Umbrella. A larger shoot through will soften the light further and they are light and easy to use. They are also a lot cheaper than Soft Boxes. On this particular shot you can still see a small triangle of light but much softer, the skin texture is still unflattering compared to the soft box at the same angle (right)
The beauty dish is a parabolic reflective modifier that attached directly to a light source and has a cover directly over the flash lamp. Light is bounced off this cover and into the dish which is then reflected onto the subject. The dish comes in a variety of sizes, 16″ to 30″ and in two colours, Silver or White. The light from the dish is harsher than a Soft Box but not as brutal as a reflective umbrella or direct light from an open reflector. Heavily used by portrait and fashion photographers and now being adopted by sports photographers. I tend to use these as a key light direct onto the subject from above as I find it sculpts the features of my subject with forgiving shadows that suit both male and female subjects. I often find the light feels crisper and cleaner with the light easy to direct onto my subject. The pattern has the brightest point at the centre but spread enough to avoid a hotspot with it softening as it moves out. Of all the other modifiers this is usually my first choice to go for.
If after shooting you find the light is still a little too harsh it can be further diffused by placing a honeycomb grid onto the front.
The above image by Joe McNally Photography is using a beauty dish positioned in front and above the subject directing its light down. The main light intensity falls onto the top of the face enhancing the cheekbones and creating soft shadows for definition. The eyes attention is instantly drawn to the face where the photographer wanted to direct his viewer.
Below are some images I created using a beauty dish in the Uni studio.
The first thing that is noticeable is the colour of the light. It is much whiter and I feel has a crisp cleanliness to it. The elevated positioning creates interesting shadows under the eyes, nose and chin. The light is not soft and the shadows and not as feathered as the Soft Box but it is still quite effective and flattering on the skin. I also like the way it creates definition and interest in the face by accentuating the cheekbones. The Soft Box from this same angle (right) was has quite flat lighting by comparison.
A Snoot is a conical-shaped light modifier. When you attach a snoot to the light source then all light is contained and channelled directly towards the subject making a highly focused beam. The snoot is more often employed as a back light, either directly onto the subject or onto the background. Back Lighting is a technique used to illuminate the rear of the subject, most often the hair at the back of the head. This will often give a halo effect and will lift your subject from the background, it is often used to give the subject a feeling of purity and give them an angelic feel. It works with various hair styles but the settings will be different.
Alternatively the light can be directed onto the background but will need a honeycomb grid attaching. Without the grid the light has a very high contrast and will deliver sharp harsh shadows, the grid will help to soften the shadows and there are various types available. This extra light is very effective using a black backdrop and can separate the subject from the background if you find they are starting to blend in. It also can be used to offer a celestial feel with a halo created behind the subject’s head.
The above image by J Meyer photography for Digital camera world magazine neatly demonstrates the use of a snoot as backlighting. You can clearly see the extra light around the hair and the way it brings the subject off the background. This ethereal glow is great for portrait work and fashion.
Below I have added some images I took using a snoot in the uni studio.
Hair Light Snoot
With the light from the snoot aiming at the subjects hair it creates a glow effect. When the subject has dark hair and you are shooting on a dark back ground this is an effective way of making them stand out. When you compare it with this Soft Box image (right) you can see how the persons hair has vanished into the dark. With the rear light everything is brought back. It is important to get the angle and height right, the Snoot helps to direct the light to prevent a lot of flare getting into the shot but it still needs to be placed well out of sight. In addition to hair lighting it can be angled further down to include the shudders and torso if required.
Back Drop Snoot
The other use for the Snoot is to aim it at the back drop. I added a grid go between in order to feather the transition of light to dark and positioned the beam behind the head of my subject. When shot from the front it creates a halo. This method is often used to create an angelic feel to the image and I have used it my self to re-create the madonna with child picture (below)
There are many other types of lighting and modifiers and this just covers a basic range. The uses for these as described is a common practice but in no way restricts them for this alone. By pre visualising what it is you after in a studio then becoming creative with the modifiers will help you achieve your goal. Experimentation is also critical as you never know when you are going to find something new. In the past I have used a Soft Box for a back light and a snoot as a key light.