Beaded silver Mat Silver White Bl. backing Translucent refl. Translucent Shootthru
Umbrellas are still very common is photography studios, and they come is a vast variety of styles and sizes. A question that I recently asked myself is what impact would different styles of umbrellas have on an image. I set up single strobe kept it at the same power throughout the test. My camera settings were the same, as was my relative camera position. The umbrellas were 33" umbrellas during this test.
The styles I tested were:
The mat silver seemed to produce the highest level of specular highlights in this test; the beaded silver to a much less extent. Interestingly enough, the white backed umbrella caused a slight color shift. The translucent umbrella used as a reflector was the darkest, yet captured most of the actual tone of the image and still stayed within acceptable exposure range according to the on camera histogram.
As you can see, there are some subtle and not so subtle differences between each umbrella. In a real life situation of course, power and camera settings would be adjusted to provide the best results. Which is 'better' is really a subjective response depending upon what the actual purpose of the shoot may be intended to produce.
Umbrellas are probably here to stay, even though photography vendors are marketing an expanding variety of light modifiers. Umbrellas are relatively inexpensive, travel well when folded down, and setup quickly. Strobes and even speedlight stands continue to have slots to position these modifiers. In addition to those tested above, a variety of shapes and sizes are available for most styles. Shoot through umbrellas can often be close to your subject if you like the soft wrap around lighting for many female subjects.
Umbrellas can be purchased up to 7 feet in diameter, which would be ideal for group shots. A softbox of that size would be VERY expensive. Softboxes tend to be a little more focused with the light that they produce, especially when used with a fabric grid. Of course softboxes take longer to setup, and in some cases can be difficult to assemble correctly. When used outside the umbrella almost always needs to be weighted down since even a gentle breeze will often send it tipping over.
In the end, the choice is yours and your creative concepts!
Bob Barford is a published photographer out of Southern PA