There’s no doubt that umbrellas are probably the world’s easiest lighting modifiers to set up and use, something that makes them so popular among beginners. But why on earth would someone want one that’s this big? Who would be crazy enough to use an umbrella that’s over seven feet around? I have two and love them. I’m specifically talking about the Flashpoint 86″ Parabolic Umbrella (found here)
There are three main reasons why I love this modifier, the first two go hand in hand. The first is size. How soft the light that a modifier helps produce is related to its relative size – meaning a smaller modifier close up can be softer than a bigger modifier farther away, and if you move one modifier away, it is “smaller” than it was before. By having a modifier this big means:
- We can place it close to our subject and have a very soft light source. I tend to use these modifiers like this when I am shooting in studio, and want more control over the light falloff. Being close to the subject, the shadows on the background become more pronounced sooner, and can lead to a nice dramatic look.
- We can place it farther away, and still maintain a softer spread. For example, if we placed this 86″ parabolic umbrella 20 feet away, we’re producing light that is every bit as soft as a 42″ umbrella from ten feet. Being farther away allows us more control over light falloff, framing options, and more of an area in which our subject is properly exposed (the closer a modifier is, the subject can become under or overexposed by moving a foot or two in either direction.)
Please ignore how very, very, very pale I am. Even though the umbrella was quite far away, it’s still soft.
The second element I love is its shape. By being parabolic in nature, the light is more directional than a standard silver umbrella. The effect this causes does two things:
- Because the light is more “focused” than a standard umbrella, it essentially increases the flash’s power output. There’s no actual increase in power, but because of the shape, less light is wasted through spilling, and it’s all aimed in one direction, it will put out 2-3 stops more than a similar sized modifier. This makes it very useful outdoors, or whenever you’re trying to get more out of smaller flashes.
- The directionality is similar to using a large softbox / octabox with a grid. This narrows the spread of the light, making it easier control, without sacrificing the softness you get from the size.
I said the first two reasons were connected, and this is why: The size lets us use the modifier farther away, while still being a ‘big’ modifier, and therefore soft. But if we move the flash twice as far as we would have used a smaller modifier, we’re getting 1/4 the power (see: Inverse Square Law.) But if the shape of the modifier increases the output 2 times that of a non-parabolic umbrella, it’s putting out 4x the light. 4 times the light output, reduced by 1/4 due to the increased distance….
We’ve got a light twice as far away, that is every bit as powerful, and just as soft as an umbrella or softbox at half the distance! The increased flexibility in distance allows so much more control over composition, positioning of your subjects, framing, set design, etc… and the more control you have over your shot, the better.
Thirdly, but definitely not lastly, is the ease of use / portability.
- It’s a freaking umbrella… you can’t get much easier to use than that. I’ve had mine for a little over a year as of the writing of this article (Jan 2014) and it’s been great, and has survived the abuse I have put it through. For an umbrella, it is very well constructed.
- I bring these to almost every shoot, especially location shoots. Since most of the locations I shoot at are hard to get to, usually with a 30-45 minute hike, I have to choose my kit wisely. I strap a couple of these to my backpack, and I’m good to go. Much easier than hauling my extra large gridded octabox, assembling it, and carrying a duffle bag in which to hold it.
There’s a fourth reason, something about the fact that every guy loves hearing “oh my god, it’s so big” which someone says, without fail, every time I use it, but I’m going to pretend I’m a mature adult.
Joking aside, it has been a fantastic modifier that I have thoroughly enjoyed using. With the shape allowing me to get more juice out of my flashes, I can overpower the sun that much more efficiently than before. See below, where I set up three speedlites in this 86″ parabolic umbrella, and completely obliterated the sun from about seven feet.
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I’ve started a flickr account for Shooting on a Budget, and will be uploading images regularly. To see what else has been shot with this lens, check out the page with the Flashpoint 86inch Silver Parabolic Umbrella tag!
If you’d like to pick one up, please support this blog, and check it out on Amazon with this link: Flashpoint 16-Rib 86″ Parabolic Silver Umbrella -7 Feet. Visit the Support Shooting on a Budget page for more information on how your support helps keep this blog going.