Understanding Different Types of Photography Umbrellas

Photography Umbrella Basics

Umbrellas are the most basic type of light modifier and can be used with any type of strobe or flash. Generally the light source is placed a bit far from the umbrella shade to ensure that it’s not focusing all of the incoming light on one area.

A long shafted umbrella will distribute the light more evenly along the umbrella skin. This will reduce contrast in the shadows and produce a more ambient light.


One of the most basic umbrellas is a shoot-through. It is often the first one that people purchase for their studio lighting setups, as it is cheap and relatively easy to use.

Shoot-through umbrellas are designed to be positioned between the subject and the light source, and they diffuse and soften the light that is being used on the subject. This helps to reduce the harshness of the light and can help to make it more natural-looking.

These types of umbrellas can also come in different colors, including silver (which usually causes the least amount of light to be lost), gold, and white. Each color has its own unique qualities and can create different types of lighting. For example, using a white shoot-through umbrella with a low power flash can create a very warm and natural-looking glow on your subjects. This is a great trick for portrait photography when you want to eliminate shadows and make your subjects glow.


A reflective umbrella focuses light in one direction and saves light output compared to translucent. If you’re shooting on slate or darker Surfaces, this kind of photography umbrella is a great option.

With a reflective umbrella, photographers point their light source into the inside of the umbrella to bounce it directly at their subject. They can also place a shoot-through umbrella behind the subject and reflect it back to illuminate them from a different angle. This is a common way for studio photographers to create 3-point lighting designs.

When using a reflective umbrella, you want your light source to be close enough that it fills up the interior of the umbrella without spilling over the edges. Increasing the distance between your light source and the umbrella will produce less intense shadows and a softer overall look. Keep experimenting with the positioning of your light to achieve the desired effect. You’ll quickly learn which positions work best with your backdrops and specific subjects.


Depending on the size of your softbox, it can produce a different quality of light. For example, a small soft box produces softer lighting than an umbrella of the same size. The difference in light quality can be significant.

Another advantage of softboxes is that they create less glare on reflective products. This can save you time and money in post-production.

Photographers often use a collapsible umbrella as a makeshift softbox. These umbrellas fold and open up like regular umbrellas, but they have a silvered interior that softens the light. This type of umbrella can work well for directional lighting, especially if the subject is close to the light source.

Some photographers also use a circular softbox, which looks much like an octabox and works great for studio portraits. The round shape of the softbox can create a more natural catchlight in the eyes, which is often preferred over spiky, rectangular catchlights. The shape of the softbox also creates a more even light distribution than an umbrella.


Feathering is a technique used in lighting that softens the edges of an image. This can help make a newly added element blend in better with the existing pixels of the image, or it can be used to reduce the contrast between light and dark areas.

Both softboxes and umbrellas can be feathered. However, the advantage of a softbox over an umbrella is that it can be closer to the subject. It also doesn’t pick up the coloring of the walls and ceilings like an umbrella can (although a good rule of thumb is that the distance from fabric to subject should be roughly the same).

To feather a shoot-through umbrella, you place it with your subject in the center, and the light stand pole on one side and the umbrella and shaft on the other. The light then points into the umbrella, reflecting off of the model, and into your camera lens. This is different from a traditional umbrella where the black cover is on top.

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