• Essential Gear: Do You Really Need a C-Stand?

    Written by Eli Landes.

    Photos by Joey Quintero

    What’s in Your Toolbox?

    It’s happened to you before.

    Someone’s talking about light stands. Your mind wanders, your eyes droop, and, before you know it, you’re drifting...off to..yaaaaaawn.

    You’re not alone. Go ask a seasoned photographer what the best camera is, or about the differences between a softbox and a beauty dish. Then ask about light stands, and compare the response. The first is impassioned, energetic, full of excitement and life. The response about light stands? Not so much. It’s a light stand–it goes up, it goes down, and it holds your light source steady. Nothing really exciting to it.

    But the truth is, while the thought of light stands might make your eyes glaze over and have you struggling against another yawn, not knowing the difference between a C-stand and a light stand can end a shoot before it even starts.

    See, a photographer is like a carpenter or builder: you have a toolbox. It’s full of different tools, tools like a C-stand and a light stand. And, just like a carpenter’s or builder’s tools, they each have different uses. A C-stand isn’t a light stand; a hammer isn’t a screwdriver. Sure, you can try hammering in a nail with a screwdriver head or prying out a screw with a hammer. It might work, it might not. Even if it does, it’ll look like a mess.

    If you want to get the job done, you have to know what your tools do and when to use which.

    So, to explain that difference, let’s kick things off with a simple question: what is a light stand?

    The Light Stand: Keeping it Simple

    figure-01-light-stand (2) Figure 1: A traditional light stand, with a light source attached. Here we used the Impact Heavy-Duty Air-Cushioned Light Stand. When not in use, the stand folds up for easy transportation.

    The traditional light stand is really a no-brainer. It’s basically a vertical stick with legs to hold it steady. It’s got what’s called a riser with a 5/8” stud that you mount your light source onto, with knobs that allow you to adjust the light to your desired height. The point of it all is to hold your light source up and keep it steady. Some light stands come with wheels, or casters–depending on how much you like to change your lighting setup, this can be a real asset (casters can also be purchased as a separate accessory).

    If light stands had a theme, it would be portability. They’re much more lightweight than C-stands–the modern trend is to make them out of aluminum with an average weight of about 4-5 lbs–and they can be easily folded up to take with you. This trend towards going light comes at a cost, though. They are nowhere near as stable as C-stands; you can move a light stand just by leaning on it. What’s more, as you extend the riser, you lose even more stability, making a fully extended riser useful only for very specific situations (such as creating a hair light).

    Another big advantage to light stands is that they’re more forgiving to entry-level photographers. They’re inexpensive, they’re very simple to figure out, and, if you buy one that’s air cushioned, they’re user friendly.  Imagine you had a light stand in front of you, with your light source mounted on and the riser fully extended. If you were to loosen the knob and let go, instead of crashing down like you’d expect and completely wrecking your light source, the riser will slowly descend to a comfortable, gradual stop. That gradual descent is caused by air-cushioning and is a lifesaver when you’re still learning the ropes (or if your assistant is having a bad day).

    But it’s their simple, stick-like design that also makes light stands limited. Besides lacking stability (versus something more heavy-duty like a C-Stand...), they also don’t offer a whole lot of options when it comes to moving your light source. You’re basically limited to higher, lower, and 360-degree rotation.

    And that’s where C-stands come in.

    C-Stands: Stability, stability, stability

    A fully assembled light stand without a light source (left) and with a light source (right). In this shot, we used the Impact Turtle Base C-Stand Kit. How many differences can you find between a C-stand and a light stand?

    A C-stand is built like a rock. You can lean on it, hang off it, climb up it (though we sincerely don't recommend it)–the thing won’t budge. To explain why, take a look at figures 2 and 3 (ignoring the extra arm that the light source is perched on for now). You’ll notice some similarities to a regular light stand (three legs, a riser, a stick-like design), but you’ll also see two major differences. First, it’s made of steel. This obviously makes it far sturdier than a light stand’s aluminum. And, it has distinctly different legs.

    These legs–called turtle legs–provide a very low center of gravity for the C-stand and keep it stable. It’s so stable, in fact, that even when you extend the riser to the maximum height, it still doesn’t budge. We still reccomend using sandbags whenever possible for safety (see below). Another cool feature of the turtle legs is that they are staggered–one is lower than the other. This allows you to put two C-stands close together; for example, you could place a heavy light source on one, and a flag (we’ll discuss what that is soon) close by on another. The legs can also be folded for transportation. In fact, the entire C-stand can be dissembled, which is a relief–imagine lugging that huge stand with you wherever you go!

    Fortunately for anyone who’s not the Hulk, the C-stand can be dissembled for transportation. On the left, you can see the turtle legs folded together, and on the right, you can see a dismantled C-stand being assembled.

    There are two other handy benefits to this difference in construction. Firstly, because the C-stand is more heavy duty, it lasts much longer. This easily balances out the price difference between a light stand and C-stand. It can also carry much heavier weights (your common C-stand can take 30lbs without breaking a sweat).

    But the C-stand is far more than just the heavyweight cousin to the light stand. It offers a world of opportunities that your light stand can’t. While the light stand is a one-piece lightweight tool, the C-stand is a stronger, heavier, and more flexible solution to fit multiple needs. You can mount your light source onto the extension arm (another term we’re about to get to), the riser, or even straight onto the turtle legs (though you’ll have to purchase a junior to baby pin adapter to do that). You can also use the C-stand to mount flags and dots. Without diving into a lengthy topic, flags and dots are light modifiers that can block, soften, or diffuse the light. You can mount them straight onto the main grip head, or onto the extension arm if you want them out of the shot.

    Here you see two other ways you can use a C-stand: you can mount a flag on one (left), or mount the light source right onto the legs (right).

    If the C-stand hasn’t impressed you yet, it’s still got one more trick up its sleeve. The third way the C-stand differs from a light stand is by offering what’s called articulation of light.

    Remember that arm the light source is mounted to? That’s called an extension arm. Often confused with a boom, the extension arm allows you to control (articulate) your light source to move it in any direction.

    The way it works is as follows. The extension arm consists of the arm, grip head, and collar pin. You mount your light source onto the collar pin, which is on the end of the arm. Then, you use the knuckles on the grip head to turn the arm to shine your light wherever you want it. (Just remember that if you are using an extension arm, it’s recommended not to load more than 20lbs on it).

    But while the C-stand is definitely a more versatile and dependable tool than the traditional light stand, it’s also a far more daunting one. It’s more expensive, harder to travel with (on average, it weighs around 19-20 lbs), and has a steep learning curve. Besides the fact that it takes some practice to figure it out, you also have to have a good grasp of gripology when lowering the C-stand. There’s no air-cushioning to catch your light source–if you drop the riser too quickly, it will come down fast and hard. The more dangerous possibilties include having your fingers in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the light's more sensitive parts coudl get damaged, so pay attention when unlocking and adjusting C-stands.

    A Sandbag a Day

    figure-08-sandbag-on-c-stand (2) Figure 8: A sandbag is a simple and practical way to add extra stability to your chosen stand. Plus, they’re great for building muscle if you don’t have weights!

    One thing to remember, especially when in the field, is that you can always add a little stability to either stand by placing a sandbag on it. This is great for light stands; even though a light stand will never be as stable as a C-stand, a sandbag can stop it from being knocked over in the wind. Likewise, don’t assume that just because a C-stand is stronger than a light stand, it can stand up to anything. If you’re a little nervous about the weather conditions, or are shooting in a busy street with lots of passersby, a sandbag or two is an easy way to buy yourself some extra stability. The greatest security is to always have someone holding your stand, or standing very near and watching them.

    To C-Stand or Not to C-Stand?

    C-stand, light stand. Portability, stability. Which should you choose? When should you use which?

    There are many advantages to the C-stand, but if we were to sum it up in a few words, it would be this: C-stands offer you peace of mind. Unless you’re shooting in a perfectly controlled environment, you never really know what’s going to happen. Will it be windy? Will people bump into your light stands? Will you need your light source at different angles? C-stands offer you peace of mind by assuring you both stability and versatility; you can position your light source wherever you want and it will stay there.

    Do you need that? Is it necessary to dole out the extra cash for that peace of mind? If you are shooting in a perfectly controlled environment, like a studio where no one’s bumping into anything and you just need to shine your light straight, you can probably get away with a light stand. Even if you’re not, light stands are just so much easier for traveling photographers. Although, bear in mind that you can always rent a C-stand from the place you’re traveling to.

    But, if you’re shooting in any sort of environment where things can go wrong, relying on a light stand and hoping for the best can be a risky gamble. The versatility and stability of a C-stand are perfect for uncontrolled situations.

    As to which is better? It depends on what you’re looking for. If your main requirement is portability, and you’re not so concerned about unexpected situations, go with a light stand. It’s just so simple to travel with. But if you need to know that your shot will work out no matter what, regardless of what it takes, then we recommend the peace of mind gained from a C-stand.

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  • The Secrets of Lighting: Four Ways to Bring Your Photos to Life with a Snoot

    Written by Eli Landes.

    Photographs by Joey Quintero

    It’s Alive!

    There’s nothing more terrifying than that moment. That moment when you wrap up your first photo shoot, look over the images, and come to a terrifying realization.

    They’re flat.

    What went wrong? You had the lighting down pat. You practically burnt a hole in your pocket buying a light source powerful enough to suit your needs. You heard something about soft light and wrap-around quality, so you went and got yourself a diffuser. Even the model was flawless.

    But there’s just no life in the shots

    That’s where a snoot comes in.

    The snoot isn’t the most impressive looking of tools. It’s kinda short and stout, and it has a weird, cone-like shape. It looks more like the kind of thing you’d put to your mouth to create echoes with than a versatile tool you'd use to create light. But, while the snoot might not impress in stature, it has the ability to transform a photo shoot.

    How? To explain, let’s start with the basics: what on earth is a snoot?

    A Spot of Light

    Figure 1: Snoot on C-Stand Figure 1: Here, you see the Impact Snoot attached to the Impact Astral 400. While appearing unassuming and simple, the snoot creates dramatic effects by narrowing the light into a tight spot.

    A snoot is a small, cone-like piece that attaches to your light source. Some snoots are universal models, which go onto any light source, while others are brand-specific models. You can even make your own makeshift snoot out of a roll of Cinefoil, craft paper, or even a coffee can if you’re feeling inventive–though it will lack the convenience and consistency of a store-bought one.

    A snoot effectively does one thing: it gives you what’s called directional quality. Meaning, instead of your light bouncing all over the place, it directs the light in a specific, forward-only manner. In the snoot’s case, it narrows and funnels the light into a spot of hard light.

    By narrowing your light down to a spot, you can add layers of drama and intrigue to your shot. To demonstrate this, let’s talk about the first way of using the snoot–as a key light.

    1: Key Light – Playing with Shadows

    Many light modifiers let you play with light. What makes the snoot stand out is that it lets you play with shadows.

    Let’s put this into perspective. You get a phone call; Count Dracula wants a portrait shot done. You head down to Transylvania (with a pocket full of garlic and stakes for protection, of course), and set up. He’s going to wear his favorite black cape and sit on his blood-red throne. So you start going through your light modifiers. You could shoot bare-bulb on him, but you want a more dramatic effect. Something that would really focus on his face–the red eyes, the pale skin, the oh-so-sharp fangs–while leaving the rest in shadow.

    Dracula lit by a Snoot Figure 2

    You use a snoot.

    The first way of using the snoot is simple. You attach it to your light source and aim it straight at your subject as a key light (a main light source). Like we explained, what you’ll get is a narrow spot of hard light. Why do you want less light? Because, by narrowing the light into a spot, you create an immediate and drastic falloff of light (the moment when light turns into shadows.) Take a look at the photo we took with Annette to get an idea of what this looks like.

    Figure 3: Annette Lit by Snoot Figure 3: We called in a model, Annette, to demonstrate how a snoot can be used as a key light. See how the falloff of light carves her cheekbone with sharp shadows?

    You can use this for a very dramatic effect, like making Dracula’s face incredibly pronounced while the rest of him is cast in shadows. You can add more light sources to create something far more subtle; a gentle touch of light that is just what you need to turn your photo into a captivating story. Whatever approach you take, the snoot will add a compelling layer to your photos.

    Figure 4: Annette lit by snoot with a fill light Figure 4: For this shot, we added a second light source – the Impact VC 500 with the Impact Silver Folding Beauty Dish – to create a far more subtle effect.

    2: Hair Light – Fire in Your Hair

    Now, take your snoot (carefully! these things get hot) and aim it above your subject and directly behind him to create a hair light. A hair light is exactly what it sounds like: light on the hair of the subject. It’s an effect found mainly in fashion or portrait photography, though it’s also used in still photography. Besides looking cool, a hair light serves to separate your subject from the background.

    To illustrate this, let’s take a very extreme example. You’re about to shoot, and your model turns up wearing only black with no change of clothing. Her hair is also black, and the background is–you guessed it–black. Now, if you just shoot, you’re not going to see much. Depending on how pale her skin is, her face might pop out like a ghost–which is great for Halloween–but you won’t see the difference between her body and the background. To separate her from the background, you shine a hair light right onto her hair.

    Figure 5: Snoot used as a hair light Figure 5: Here, we used the snoot as a hair light on Annette. Notice how the hair light practically pulls Annette away from the background.

    Sure, that’s an extreme example–most shoots will be planned a little better. But even if you can tell the difference between the subject and the background, that separating light can help show details on your subject that you wouldn’t normally see, or add an extra dimension to the photo. Try it out–you might like the effect.

    Figure 6: Snoot used as hair light with a fill light Figure 6: We then added another light source to the scene. As you can see, even though the effect is not as obvious, the hair light still separates her from the background.

    3: Background Light – Stand in the Light

    Notice how the background light makes Annette stand out, and how the effect varies when we add another light source. As you can see, we used a colored gel here because our background was white.

    Another way to create separation and add depth to the photo is to take your snoot and aim it at the background behind your subject. This might seem counter-intuitive–after all, you didn’t hire a model just to shine your light source at the wall. But when you take your shot, you’ll notice a fascinating effect. By shining the light at the background, you create a sense of dimension that actually makes the subject stick out. As with all the methods here, you can vary this effect from a dramatic mood to a subtle accent.

    One thing to remember–if your background is white, like ours was, you probably won’t be able to discern the background light on it. For it to stand out, we suggest that you use colored gels.

    Speaking of which…

    4: Colored Gels – Going Theatrical

    Looking to create a theatrical element to your shoot? Perhaps your subject is looking up at an alien mothership as they shine their beam down on her, or maybe you’re shooting a man possessed by an evil spirit. Or you might just want to add a colorful accent or dramatic mood to the scene. To create all of these effects, you can use colored gels.

    Colored gels are simply colored pieces of acetate you stick onto the end of your snoot. They can be purchased separately from your snoot or together as a kit. What they do is simple: they turn your light into the color of the gel, be it blue, red, orange, etc.

    Colored gels let you add a stylish flair to the first three methods of using the snoot. You can place the gel over your snoot and use it as a key light to cast your subject’s entire face in a brilliant blue or red. The effect may be extreme and even a little corny, but if you’re lighting a comedy show or doing a skit, that might be exactly what you’re looking for. Or you can dial it back a bit and add it to a hair light to create a little pop and visual flair to the photo. You can even make the effect slightly more subdued by using warming gels. The choice is yours.

    On the left, we added gels to a hair light for a stylish shot that you might see in a fashion magazine. On the right, we used them to create a diabolical glow to Annette’s face. Scary!

    Tips and Tricks to Using the Snoot

    But the snoot isn’t limited to only four uses. You can vary the effect of each adding or removing light sources. If you decide to shine the snoot as the main light source, you can create a very dramatic scene–think Dracula’s face lit while the rest of him is cast in shadows, or a dark photo with a hair light as the only illumination. When you add a second light source–called a 2-point lighting setup – the snoot adds a subtle flavor to the mood.

    You can modify the effect of the snoot further by placing a grid on the snoot (you can buy a grid together with the snoot or as a separate accessory). A grid refines the light that comes through the snoot–take a look at the pictures to compare. Or you could increase the light coming through the snoot by simply upping the power on your light source.

    Until now, we shot everything with a grid on the end. We then took it off to take two shots without a grid. Compare the effect of the key light with a grid (Figure 11) to when we shot without a grid (Figure 12), and the effect of the hair light with a grid (Figure 13) to when we didn’t use a grid (Figure 14). See how the light becomes less refined than when we used a grid?

    And, when you start adding a second subject to your shoot, your options widen further. For example, you can use a snoot to shine a narrow light on one and keep the other in the shadows.

    You can also use a snoot to draw the viewer’s attention to a specific point. Imagine a table cluttered with various products. By shining the snoot on just one of those products, you immediately draw attention to that one product. In the hands of a skilled photographer, this can be a powerful effect.

    A snoot doesn’t even have to be a hard light source. Want to meddle with all the effects we discussed but as a soft light instead? Just add a diffuser on the end of the snoot!

    If Snoots Could Talk

    And that’s a wrap! As you can see, the snoot is a very versatile tool that offers you a lot of options. If you’re looking to take your photo from a dry picture to a compelling piece of art, the snoot is definitely worth experimenting with.

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  • Umbrella Shootout: A Great Starting Four

    Written by .

    Does the vast selection of studio umbrellas in the world have you wondering where to start? Here we narrow the list down to four umbrellas that can benefit any photographer, exploring the practical differences and the kinds of results you can expect.

    Lighting For a Rainy Day

    The earliest recorded account of a collapsible umbrella is from China in 21 A.D., when an emperor reportedly used one in a ceremonial carriage. These days, of course, as a standard household item for protection against rain and sun, umbrellas are no longer reserved for royalty. Silver-screen stars have danced with them, pop stars have dedicated songs to them, and miniature parasols have been used to decorate mai tais.

    Somewhere along the way, some resourceful guy-with-a-camera needed something—anything—to soften his light source, so he reached for a common umbrella he had lying around. Maybe it was a white parasol that he pinched from his wife’s closet. Whatever the circumstances were, he rigged the umbrella in front of his light source, popped the flash, and voila! His light source was suddenly larger, softer, and thus more flattering to the young lady sitting in his studio. And everyone lived happily ever after. (Of particular interest is a 1907 U.S. patent application by a certain North Losey of Indianapolis. His description of a “photographic light-diffusing apparatus” sounds suspiciously like that of a collapsible umbrella.)

    Of course the practice of using umbrellas in photography is now commonplace. Portable, inexpensive, and versatile, they’re often photographers’ default option when it comes to modifying their light. The difficulty, however (and probably the reason you’re reading this article), is that the basic photographic umbrella has proliferated into many permutations of size, shape, and color to serve photographers’ varying needs and preferences. Impact alone offers over a dozen styles, not including our many size options for each. So, assuming you don’t want to buy every umbrella at once, how do you know where to start?

    To simplify things, we’re narrowing our discussion to just four distinct umbrellas that do a good job of achieving some of the various kinds of light you can create. While the differences in results between umbrellas can be somewhat difficult to define, we’ll show some concrete examples of images and do our best to summarize what makes each umbrella distinct.

    At risk of bad luck from opening all these umbrellas indoors, let’s get to it!

    43″ White Translucent Umbrella

    White Translucent Umbrella

    Versatile, very soft, non-directional. Great for portraits.

    Let’s start with the most common umbrella out there: the white translucent. This umbrella is especially popular because of its versatility. With its white translucent surface, it creates a broad, generous, soft light source for very flattering portraits. Because it actually allows the light to pass right through its material, this is a very inefficient (read: soft) modifier, throwing the light around in every which direction. Unlike other umbrellas, it can also be used in two ways: by  shooting directly through the umbrella as a diffuser, or by turning it around and using it as a reflector for a smooth wraparound effect.

    The most common way to use a white translucent umbrella is by shooting through it. In the example below, you can get a sense of the softness of the shadows created by the light. The umbrella is set at a good distance from the light, allowing the light to fill up the entire umbrella for a very broad light source.

    White Shoot Thru 1

    Now watch what happens when we choke up on the umbrella, positioning it closer to the light.

    White Shoot Thru 2

    Because we’ve effectively reduced the size of the light source here, you can see that the light is just a drop harder, meaning a little more contrast and faster falloff from highlight to shadow.

    What happens when you turn the umbrella around and use it reflectively? Because you’re now bouncing the light, and because the translucence of this particular umbrella makes it quite inefficient as a reflector, you now have an even more inefficient light source than before. Observe:

    White Bounce 1

    As you can see, the inefficiency of the light makes it significantly softer. Not only is it bouncing off the interior of the umbrella onto the subject, it’s diffusing through the umbrella and bouncing off the surrounding walls onto our subject for a much broader light source. As a result, the light has more of a wraparound quality, with generous illumination and subdued shadows. Notice that the background is better lit due to the wide, omnidirectional throw of light.

    43″ Silver Beaded Umbrella

    Silver Beaded Umbrella

    Highly efficient and directional with a touch of diffusion. Great for dramatic portraits and product photography.

    If the white translucent umbrella is extremely inefficient, the silver beaded umbrella is its polar opposite. Think of it as close to 100-percent reflective efficiency. One of the giveaways is its black exterior: If an umbrella has a black top, it doesn’t lose light; instead it catches the light and throws all of it right back at you. The other giveaway is the silver interior, which maximizes the reflectivity. The combined result is a fairly hard, dramatic light with strong shadows. Compared to the wide throw of the white translucent umbrella, the silver beaded umbrella has the directionality of a lighthouse.

    Silver Pebbled 2

    You can see here that the light is brighter and harder, leaving a fairly dramatic shadow on the subject’s face. This makes it useful for beauty shots of a model with flawless skin or a dramatic shot of a boxer to emphasize a chiseled physique. It also tends to be great for inanimate subjects, such as car and product photography. Again, it all depends on what you’re shooting and the look you’re going for.

    Because they’re simple, standard-size umbrellas with virtually opposite qualities, the white translucent and silver beaded umbrellas tend to be staples in a studio photographer’s collection. Now that we’ve gotten those covered, let’s talk about a couple of umbrellas that are a bit more specialized.

    65″ White Deep UmbrellaDeep White Umbrella

    Soft, generous wraparound light with directionality. Great for portraits and subtle subject isolation.

    Ready to start climbing up the size ladder? Not only is the width of the white deep umbrella close to the height of the average adult human being, it’s also unusually deep—probably deep enough to take a bath in if you were to fill it with water (not recommended). This is a big umbrella.

    What the diameter (along with the white interior we chose for this umbrella) achieves is a very large, efficient light source, resulting in soft wraparound light that leaves very little shadow. The shadowless effect is especially pronounced when the light is moved close to the subject like this:

    White Deep 1

    With the light angled for a bit more of a head-on illumination, all the dark shadows on the subject have been erased. You’re getting a bright, generous light that bathes the subject in illumination all the way across. Even behind the subject, you can see only faintest amount of shadow.

    Now check out the difference when the light is positioned more to the side. We’re also setting the light slightly off-angle this time, relying on the spill of light for a softer feathering effect.

    White Deep3

    The shadows are back, though they’re still relatively subdued because of the sheer size of the umbrella.

    In both of these shots, you’re also seeing the effect of the umbrella’s increased depth. The extra depth helps to focus the light, giving you a more dramatic sweet spot in the center and faster fall-off everywhere else. In these images, that means the subject, who’s roughly in the center of the illumination, is more generously lit and isolated from the background than he would be with a more traditional umbrella.

    To illustrate the focusing effect of a deep umbrella, here’s a look into the interior of the umbrella.

    White Deep 2

    With the umbrella choked in close to the monolight, notice the way the light pools in the center of the umbrella. While all umbrellas will do this to an extent, the deep umbrella’s extra depth makes this effect especially pronounced.

    7′ Silver Parabolic Umbrella

    Silver Parabolic Umbrella

    Highly efficient with a very wide throw of hard light. Great for dramatic portraits and strong outdoor illumination.

    With a diameter of seven feet, we’re now competing size-wise with some of the tallest NBA players. What makes the silver parabolic umbrella distinct is its unusual shallowness—basically the opposite of a deep umbrella. This gives it a very wide throw of light, resulting in a much larger shooting zone with very little subject isolation.

    When you combine this trait with the ultra-wide diameter, a black top, and a non-beaded silver interior for maximum efficiency, you end up with a wide, powerful light source.

    Silver Parabolic 1

    As you can see, this oversized umbrella provides strong highlights with fairly stark shadows. Unlike the smaller silver beaded umbrella, you also get more-than-ample coverage of your subject, illuminating him from head to toe as well as the background. The high specularity of this light modifier again makes it useful for boxers and beauty queens in the studio. The high efficiency also makes it useful outdoors to light your subject against bright sunlight.

    But let’s say you have this umbrella but find its light too hard for the given situation. Fortunately, Impact offers an optional fabric diffuser.

    Silver Parabolic 3

    Throw that diffuser on the front, and, suddenly, with the help of the umbrella’s reflective interior, you have what amounts to a seven-foot softbox, taming all the harshness and contrast you saw earlier. The shadows are nearly gone, and you’re left with soft, even illumination that flatters any model. It’s a nice two-in-one.

    Understanding the Nuances

    While we’ve tried our best to explain what exactly makes each of these umbrellas tick, the differences aren’t always so clear-cut. With so many variables involved, including hardness, intensity, efficiency, directionality, specularity, and falloff, comparing the results of one umbrella to another is often subjective.

    These samples should help give you a general idea, but truly knowing whether to reach for one umbrella over another in a given situation will ultimately come down to experience, intuition, and personal preference—and even then, experimentation will always be part of your process. So don’t be afraid to test your model’s patience: Pick up an umbrella or two, shoot a lot of frames, and see what happens! Good luck!

    Have anything to add? We’d love to see your umbrella collection, comparisons, test shots, and success stories. Chime in below!