Umbrellas – The Forgotten Modifier – Use #2 Executive Portraits

Hello, Today I am continuing with the series of using the Umbrella as your modifier. You can read the previous post, Use #1 for table top photography here. Specifically, using it on-location for executive portraits in your client’s place of business. Umbrellas come in many sizes and types. In today’s post I will be using an “Umbrella Box” which is essentially a white bounce umbrella with a front diffusion panel. The modifier looks and acts like an umbrella but with a softer more directional light quality. The ease at which this can be set up and travel with makes it a great choice for this type of portraiture.

When working with executives, like this high-profile attorney, it is important that you as the photographer can get the shot quickly and successfully. The more efficient you are with this type of work will be greatly rewarded. The client wants to come in, click, and go out. For this firm, we used a board room and I set up my umbrella box on the table. I used the table because I wanted to get the light as close to the subject as I could to create a softer light quality and to reduce the spill on the background. The umbrella box is mounted to my Profoto D1 monolight. I used two speedlites, Canon 600EX-RT,  behind the subject. One is pointed toward the background with a tungsten gel. The gel is used to warm up the color of the wall and to keep it from going too dark. The second speedlite was pointed back toward the subject to add a subtle separation light. The BG light was set 1 stop below my main and the separation light was set 2.5 stops below my main. The speedlites were mounted to  the multiple head bracket I built and discussed in a previous post. 

learn lighting with CjDuncan

One more issue I had to get around was that my speedlites and monolight use different triggering devices. On camera was my Canon ST-E3 transmitter to trigger the two 600EX-RT flashes and my monolight was set to fire via optical slave.

Below is another executive portrait I did of a chef with an umbrella as well. You can watch a video of the session here.

ppa edu executive portrait with Cris Duncan


It seems we have been trained to think that the kit is not the best. While the kit is the basics to get started, it sufficient to handle many task and lighting scenarios. The umbrella seems top be the forgotten modifier, the one tossed aside for a soft-box, beauty dish, strip light etc. I am here to tell you that the umbrella can do all of these things. I am not advocating that one does not use other modifiers Not at all, each one has tremendous value, however I am saying that understanding the “science of light” and the “principles of light” you can keep those umbrellas and use them effectively for many lighting situations. In this and future post I will use umbrellas as my only source modifier to demonstrate many different uses. So open you kit, grab those umbrellas and let’s start creating. Here is an older post on umbrellas as well. 

Happy Creating, Cris.

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Bill RamseyJanuary 16, 2015 - 12:01 am

Thanks, Cris. Superbly helpful info, and brilliant about the gel on the background to shift the color.

Keep up the great work.

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