How to Use a Reflective Umbrella for Studio Portrait Lighting Setups

Reflective umbrellas don’t usually get much air time in photography courses or Youtube tutorials, yet they have a number of applications and can be quite versatile. How versatile? Well, here’s a quick clip from photographer Jeff Rojas demonstrating three different looks using a single reflective umbrella:

Investing in lighting equipment for a portrait studio can seem daunting at best, especially when it seems like there are a million-and-one lighting modifiers to choose from. Thankfully you don’t really need to invest in more than one or two if you learn how to use them correctly. Take the reflective umbrella, for example. They’re often underrated, yet in the hands of someone who knows how to use them they’re actually quite effective.

Here are Rojas’s favorite umbrella setups:

1. 45 Degree Lighting

45 degree angle lighting

45 Degree Lighting

2. Overhead Lighting

using umbrellas for portrait photography

Overhead Lighting

3. Split Lighting

Split Light

For a split light effect, the light source is placed at 90 degrees to the subject’s face.

Things to Remember

  • The larger your modifier relative to your subject, the softer the light.
  • Make sure to buy a reflective umbrella that allows for a diffusor (here Rojas is using 1-stop diffusion)
  • To accentuate the cheekbones and/or jaw line, go for a 45 degree angle.
  • You don’t need super-expensive lenses to get a great shot. (The photo below was taken with a Tamron 90mm, which retails for less than $400.)

Gear List

using reflective umbrellas for portrait photography

Split Lighting

“One of the most valuable skills a photographer can learn is versatility.”

Want to buy the light modifier with the most options? Easy. Whatever you invest in, be it a reflective umbrella, a beauty dish, or just a simple reflector, get to know it inside and out. That’s not only the easiest way to get the most for your money, it’s also one of the things that’ll set you on the road to being a pro.

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