Shoot Thru Umbrella and Bounce Umbrella – a Comparison

Shot-Thru and Bounce Umbrella on same shot. A comparison.

There is so much talk on some forums about the ‘softness’ of shoot-thru umbrellas and how much it works to provide a soft light. And there is certainly some truth to that statement… especially with umbrellas at a distance.

But finessed lighting that is done close to the subject finds that the shoot-thru umbrella has no ‘wrap’ to it, instead it scatters the light from the source instead of focusing the light. And those of you who know me, know that I don’t usually run in a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ mode on lighting. I only want the lighting to be what you want it to be… and learning lighting from someone who tells you to always do ‘a’ to get ‘b’ will do you no good.

You must get out and work with the tools, see the results, tweak and repeat. And repeat. Learn what the light does, then reconstruct it to provide the light you want.

We are going to examine a couple of shots we did with both in the same light. I also shot the setup so you can see how simple it is, and what I am referring to with the light.

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I hope you are aware of our new Lighting Diagram tool. It is awesome and really can help with sharing the diagrams with friends. Treat the grid as 1 foot square and be precise about placement.

Now, let’s go look at some shots with shoot-thru and bounce umbrellas.

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First I took a reading of the ambient bright light by walking over to camera right to get some sunlight on the meter. I wanted around 1/1oo of a second for ambient sharpness, and it is well within the sync-speed of the camera. At 1/100, the ambient light was around f-8. I moved it to f-6.3 for the exposure because the f-8 rendered the background light too dark. I wanted a feeling of sky back there and I wanted the feeling that Bri was being lit by that sky light.

I set the flash to a distance of about 6feet from Briana and changed the power from my starting point of 1/8 power to 1/16 power, then moved the stand in toward her about a foot. At 6ft, 1/16 power I would have gotten f-8. I wanted it to match so lowering the power took the light down one full stop – f-5.6. That is not enough light, so I moved the light toward Briana a foot or so and that would increase the power of the light by 1/3 stop – f-6.3.

Now my backlight and my strobe created backlight match. NOTE: the sun is actually behind the building and setting much farther south – we are looking West here.

Here is the shot we did without the front light firing:
Showing mix of backlight and ambient backlight for the shot of Briana with a bounce umbrella.

You can see that the backlight is even all around her. Speedlight is matched to the ambient backlight from the lit sky.

Here is the shot with a bounced umbrella:
Briana with the Bounced Umbrella in position

You can see how the light wraps all around her and creates a lot of light on her arm. That is because the light from the edge of the umbrella is lighting her arm farthest away… it is the wrap effect.

Here is the set-up shot:
Briana and the bounce umbrella shot

Notice how much light is hitting that bounce card on the stand next to her.

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Now, compare that shot with this one with a shoot-thru umbrella. Here’s the setup shot.
Briana and the shoot-thru umbrella.

Here is the shot:
Shoot thu umbrella shot: Notice the quicker fall off and the deeper shadows on the face and neck.

You can see that the image is more contrasty, with her arm going darker and the shadows under her neck and the dark side of her face being more defined.

Let’s get one thing straight, though. Neither one is better or not so good. They are both good representiations of the subject. It becomes a matter of choice… what do you want YOUR shots to look like. I can certainly see me using the shoot-thru umbrella and get the slightly deeper shadow when I want it. It is all about you creating the light you want and now you have another way of doing the shots.

A couple of things to see:
The diagram shows a couple of things. The light from a shoot thru falls away from the subject. And although it creates a soft light from size and diffusion, there is a dispersion AWAY from the subject.

Additionally you will see that the sides of the face and arms are not visible to that light source, so there is no light being thrown on them. There is some ambient, but in contrasty scenes, it will be less than what we see with naked eye.

The bounce umbrella, a parabolic in shape, keeps the light closer to the same distance from the subject. It also forms a light that can be seen from the side of the subject (wrap). While it is less diffused than the shoot thru umbrella, the bounce creates a more even light with the added wrap for cutting contrast.

The diagram shows how differently the light works with the shoot thru and bounce side umbrella.

I will point out though, that lighting for me happens close to the subject. Finessed lighting anyway. I want my lights to be as close to the subject as I can get them because there I can manipulate to results that can range from subtle to dramatic. Finesse.

Once the light moves out farther from the subject, it becomes a little less possible to finesse on that level, instead the addition of spots, grids and such are more useful for creating finesse.

Here is one last setup shot. I wanted to create something that seemed backlit by the sun, but in actuality was lit by a speedlight behind Bri.
Creating a faux natural backlight for a portrait on Lighting Essentials

I wanted the backlight to very much match the front light and set them so. The difference is that the backlight is a hard light, and creating speculars as it hits shoulders and hair, and the front light is an umbrella giving soft, all over light. The resulting portrait is natural looking and inviting.

Briana with a speedlight for backlight and umbrella for front light

I love the look of this shot. It seems natural, and yet has a contemporary look to it that makes it a little sexy.

Look for our contests to be announced soon, with some great prizes and fun awards. For now, I am off to help pull wardrobe for a large shoot on Monday. See you on this Friday for another tutorial.

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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