If you've used strobes for even a few years there's a good chance you've had and have a slew of umbrellas. I certainly have more than I'd like to admit. If I count all of the umbrellas owned, ever it's an embarrassing number. Photographic umbrellas are a lot like pliers. You don't remember seeking them out, buying them, shopping for them, comparing the various offerings, and sweating the decision. Like pliers they just sort of show up and find their way into various junk drawers, boxes, pretty much everywhere you might look for a tool you are likely to find pliers. Not particularly good at anything but in a pinch can be used on everything. You're prototypical blunt instrument.
How I Settled In On The Profoto Umbrella Deep Sliver Large
Without rehashing the history of my ever evolving perfect travel lighting kit I'll just list the things that are primary drivers of my holy grail.
- Enough power. What's enough? As much as I can get while maintaining what follows.
- The entire kit has to be small. Small enough for me to carry by myself along with my camera, laptop, clothing, and all the other shit for an actual trip on a train or a plane. That's a really tall order trust me.
- Versatility. It has to be versatile enough to produce many different looks, in different conditions, and differing environments.
- It cannot absolutely depend on some sort of real or makeshift assistant. Of course if there happens to be some sort of assistant great but it cannot depend on one.
- Quick, easy, and reliable to setup and break down.
- Needs to function without access to mains power. IE can rum on batteries.
I've tried everything at one point. I spent a ton of money switching the core of the system out. Speedlights, various battery powered studio lights, etc, etc. I finally settled on the [Profoto B2]. I'll not go into the why of that today but the [Profoto B2 was the perfect sweet spot].
That third bullet point above. The versatility point is the key to the size large (vs small, medium, and XL), interior color (white v. Silver) and of course the whole deep vs traditional or shallow. Yep, I have the XL which is truly extra large. I have smaller umbrellas, I have white ones. In fact the Large and XL I have in both silver and white. My typical choice for versatility all things being equal is my beloved Profoto 4ft Octabox. Too bad it's not optimal with the B2 head, is not even remotely easy setup/break down compared to an umbrella, and yes -- it works with the B2 but has efficiency compromises and guess what, even on the B2 requires a far beefier stand than the nano stand that's only about a foot long folded up I use.
Here's a super shitty exposure test picture without a subject chucked in. For discussion purposes let's take a look at just chucking the unmodified B2 and Profoto deep silver large up on that tiny stand and firing the very first shot.
Well gee, that's not what you want when using a light shaping tool thats over 4ft across. Or is it...? Typically when you are using a big modifier like a 4ft or 5ft ocatabox or umbrella you want a soft, smoooooooth, even, broad, easy to use light, right? Well sure you do, sometimes but if that's all it does it's not very versatile either. Versatile not meaning what subject you can use it on, more what kinds of looks you can get out of it. As you can see this large modifier can be very focused with a pronounced hot spot and fairly rapid fall off. Look ma, it keeps light off of a lot of stuff for something that big. That's the silver and the deep aspects. This is exactly why you don't see a lot of big silver umbrellas. Most people consider them fairly twitchy and worse they kinda look like a smaller light source.
Chucking a real subject in and fiddling with that hot spot is changes the story a bit. Note the gradation on the wall behind Lauren. For all practical purposes it's white in terms of reflectivity. I used a moronically® high contrast black and white treatment so it's easier to see the effects of the silver umbrella. Yep, it has both hard and soft characteristics. Note the broad specular highlights on the shiny pants as well as the way L.'s skin looks (absolute zero retouch, as in zero nada nothing. Also note how it doesn't light the entire room or even the entire sofa and surrounding areas.
Keeping light off of stuff is harder than dumping light off stuff. In fact this is what most modifiers and grip and flags etc are for. Great if you've got a billion c-stands, a bunch of black and white foam core, grids, etc. But key concept is small, versatile travel kit. Let's change things up a tiny bit and use that ability to keep light off things and put it on things a bit differently.
This time I used pretty much the same setup but a hair closer to Lauren and monkeyed around with the position until I had a bit of the light on Lauren's face/torso but also a bunch aimed past her to camera left where there was a light colored wall and a bunch of furniture. I kind of put a constrain on myself to leave everything where it was in the Air B'n'B I was at. Once I get into moving shit around like furniture it's hard to stop.
In any case check out how dark that wall behind L. is on camera right, how very little light is hitting the floor and the lower part of the frame. Look at the chair between L.'s legs and behind her as well as the side of the chair on camera left. Again note the reflections of light sources on L.'s shiny pants. Remember this is no reflectors but what is provided by the stuff in the room. I decided to ditch the collapsable reflector in my travel kit a while ago but I'm on the fence about that. That little strange brighter stripe on the wall behind Lauren is a reflection coming from some glass surface off camera left, not umbrella spill. I could have "fixed it" but I kind of liked it at the time.
The Profoto Diffusion Sock
So where's this diversity and versatility you ask? Let's chuck on the white diffusion cover and see what we get. One example used fairly close is at the top. This is the one case where ambient light played any role at all. Not much though. It pretty much is limited to right inside the window sill, obviously the outdoors, and a tiny bit of light on the back rim of the chair Sara is reclining on. It was getting dark outside and this took ISO 1600 and 1/100s to make the outside look kinda like daytime. The point is a completely different look.
Same room, same umbrella, same everything with zero ambient contribution. Just moving the light about a foot farther from the main subject and Jehanne closer to the wall where all the bounce back is coming from.
That diffusion sock changes everything, so does position (but that's always the case with moving lights and reflectors around). This is the answer to why the silver is in my travel kit and not the white. Also another aspect of the depth of the umbrella. That diffusion sock on the front completely changes the silver umbrella into something very close to a 4ft octabox. Especially used mourned 4 to 6 feet away from the subject.
Is there a difference between the white and silver when using the front diffusion? Maybe a tiny bit if you do scientific side by side tests, maybe. In practice the difference is negligible between the two. Moving the light a few inches is a bigger change than the interior surface with the diffusion. What's more is that the B2 in my tests is far more efficient in it's output with the silver and diffusion than the white with diffusion. The silver umbrella with diffusion is also more efficient than the 4ft octa with the B2 but it doesn't look much different.
Combine these factors and it's easy to see why the silver and a diffusion sock is in my travel kit and the white isn't. Does the diffusion make a big difference on the white deep umbrellas? Sure just not as dramatic as it does on the silver deep umbrellas. Again once that diffusion is on it's much harder to see the differences in practical circumstances. Change the room around, change the position of the light around, even a minor distance change and it's moot.
A few random variations in a small location using only the Profoto Umbrella Deep Silver L with and without the diffusion panel. Obviously there's even more variations with the rest of my travel kit that fits into a tiny little bag that actually smaller than my camera/laptop bag. More on those other options bare head, grids, bounce, and OCF beauty dish some other day.
All photos un-retouched shot with the Canon 5DsR and 24-105 f/4 L (version 1). Processed via Capture One Pro 11 with a quick and dirty black and white treatment slapped on, not particularly optimized for any individual photo.
And this is what happens when you happen to stop by for dinner and a few drinks and I have a camera and a light.