Using Umbrellas to Help Imitate Natural Lighting for Portrait Photography

Umbrellas are great lighting tools for beginners and pros alike. They’re not too hard to figure out, and they give you great light coverage that you didn’t have before. A more advanced technique with umbrellas is using them to imitate natural light. In this tutorial, Jay P Morgan shows you how to use umbrellas to create a natural daylight look:

One factor that Morgan doesn’t address is the color temperature of your light. There is little that will make your strobes look more like artificial lights than if they don’t match the color of the rest of the natural light in the image. Here are some ways to control your lights’ color:

  • Color or Finish of Material – Umbrellas, and other lighting tools like reflectors, come in many different finishes: gold, silver, white, etc. These finishes will affect the color of the light reflected off of them. For example, gold provides a much warmer light.
  • Colored Gels – This is the easiest and quickest way to modify your light color. Gels come in varying colors and levels of influence. The most common gels are orange and blue as they will make your lights warmer or cooler. The different levels of influence refer to how much the color will change by. For instance, there are very translucent blue gels and almost opaque blue gels, the latter of which will make your lights much cooler than the former.
  • Light Bulbs – If you’re using a flash, you can’t change out the bulb. You’re stuck with one color temperature, and you’ll have to resort to gels or other materials to change it. However, if you’re shooting with continuous lights, you can often change out the bulbs. Light bulbs range from florescent to incandescent and their color temperatures will be different. Most light bulb packaging will tell you what the color temp. is. If you want yours to match a sunny day, go with daylight bulbs that are rated at about 5200K.
shooting with umbrellas natural lighting

For this shot, Morgan made large movements with the camera at slow shutter speeds and used the strobe to freeze most of the action

Don’t forget to take into account the angle of your light. Daylight never comes from below. Keep your light up high, or move it down a little if you’re trying to imitate window lighting.

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