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Umbrella Lighting on One Side

You gotta try it.  Both umbrellas on the same side.  As a lighting accessory the umbrella is small and easy to pack and when open it’s a large soft source.  When on the property of a client it is a concern to not damage property and softboxes can be dangerous if you have to move from area to area to shoot multiple locations.  Consider umbrella lighting.

main-light-only-lightingThink of some very basic concepts when you light your subject. Rarely in a natural light world does light have multiple directions. If the source is the sun then we must relate to the fact that it bounces off different elements in the photograph. Direct sun bouncing off a white wall makes a great soft source for a photograph. The light has one direction. With other sources being secondary and having less strength. So when we artificially light a subject we need to remember this. Learn this and it will affect your lighting in a very positive way.  I’m regularly at events that I see photographers working.  They are lighting from two sides with umbrellas at each 45 degree angle from the subject.  Group shots don’t change the challenge, even these faces can have that gradation of light across the face.

Try it please.  Put both umbrella’s on the same side of the camera. This will give you a lighting quality much like a large softbox but with more versatility. Umbrellas will give you round catchlights in the eyes and they allow you to wrap around the subject. You’ll see that this is very professional in appearance with a very gradual transition from highlight to shadow. See the “Main Light Only” photo.

Position one umbrella near 45

degrees to the subject. With only this light on determine a good exposure for your portrait. Use your camera preview alow-fill-lightingnd histogram in the absence of a light meter.

Now position your second umbrella between the first umbrella and the camera. This can be placed at different positions to control the intensity of the shadow side of the face. Make sure the exposure stays the same or only slightly in need of a tweak. The second light is truly a fill and should not alter the exposure. Be sure for your test to do like I did. With two lights of equal power let your main light be at half power. I have used 2 White Lightning Ultra 600s. Exposures are recorded with the main light only, with fill light at it’s weakest setting, at a middle-power setting and at a full power setting. If you like, other lights can be added to the set. For our illustrations, there are only two lights, the main and the fill. No other lights.

We have created a portrait with lighting from one direction. We have not used cross lighting. The lighting has a nice wraparound look with a smooth transition from highlight to shadow.

medium-fill-lightingCheck the sample shots, the one lit with a full fill light seems that the face is wider than the images with more of a shadow. The flip side of this is the character of the face (wrinkles and bumps) are enhanced by the more contrasty lighting. Think of it this way, for every object whether it’s a face or bumps and wrinkles on the face there is a highlight and shadow. So when you choose to leave the shadow side of the face very dark then you also leave the shadow for each bump and wrinkle. All to be fixed in post.

The photos that illustrate this post were made within a minute or two to maintain consistency. As the fill light gains in power through the series, the overall exposure gets to bright. I’ve tried to balance in Adobe Camera Raw and PhotoShop to keep the highlight side of the face the same so the shadow would be the only difference. By the way, the model is ME, Gary Culley. I am the writer, producer, editor and IT department of TEKeez.com.  The photographs were made by my dear friend Keith Renard at Skipworth.

Give it a try. It doesn’t fit for every situation but works great for a headshot and other portrait situations. Got a question? Leave me a comment.  Tell me what you think and if you’ve lit this way.


What is it that you’d like to know more about. If it’s brain surgery or airplane pilot related then I am not your guy. But I do know photography and I’ll share with you anything that’ll help.



Coming Up:

Natural Light Outdoor Portraits Like a Pro

Dog Photography with a Twist and a Click

Video Showing This Two Umbrella Set-Up


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