Working alone in the studio
This may be old news to all of you out there, but I have seen some people (including myself!) struggle to attach the diffusion cloth to a 7-foot umbrella. The first few times I tried to set one up I opened the umbrella and then tried to stretch the fabric onto the open umbrella. My arms weren't quite long enough to reach across the umbrella and I wished I had a third arm and hand to hold the cloth in one spot while my other hands stretched the fabric over the umbrella.
My next attempt was to attach the diffuser to the flash head, insert the open umbrella into the head, and then try to stretch the diffuser over the umbrella. Again, I couldn't quite reach to hold the fabric to the umbrella on one edge while trying to stretch the fabric across to the other side of the umbrella.
Then one day I figured out that there was a better and faster way. Below you can see a video of me attaching the diffuser. I start with the collapsed umbrella, then I pick up the diffuser and pull it up my arm with my hand going through the center opening. Then I pick up the umbrella and stand it up with its point on the ground. I then start opening the umbrella, then pick it up and put both hands through the center opening to fully spread the umbrella out with the diffuser attached. Done in just a few seconds without the need for a third arm or another person.
Getting all the modifier that you paid for
While talking about the 7-foot umbrella and diffuser, let's take a refresher look at how some different lights interact with the big umbrellas. Even though the umbrella is big, it doesn't mean that the light coming out of it is as big as you might think.
This is especially an issue with speed lights. Here I am going to compare the coverage of a spedlight vs an Einstein studio light without the diffuser.
You can see that the speed light concentrates its output and leaves a lot of the umbrella relatively unlit. This happens even with speed lights that let you adjust the spread of the light. It is still too concentrated. The first reaction to this might be to add additional speed lights into the umbrella. But that will just make the output brighter, the light is still concentrated. The answer is to use a diffusion dome on the speed light. I believe that Nikon flashes come with the detachable dome. Canon and other flash users will probably need to get something like the Stofen diffuser to spread the light to fill the umbrella (or beauty dish or softbox or octa).
Even with studio strobe units you need to know how well they fill your modifiers. Here is a series of images of a 7-foot umbrella with an Interfit S1 battery powered strobe with and without a standard 7-inch dish reflector and with and without the diffuser.
You can see that the 7-inch dish reflector blocks a lot of light from filling the umbrella. Removing the reflector exposes the protruding flash tube and glass dome to fill the umbrella better. Adding the diffusion panel goes another step further in improving the coverage, even with the 7-inch reflector in place. Removing the reflector will give a hot spot in the middle of the diffuser that some portrait photographers might prefer.
Shiny silver umbrellas are even harder to fill with light from a small source as you can see here.
The studio strobe head used here is a Speedotron 202VF which has a very large and protruding flash tube.
What is your experience with using large umbrellas? Do you have another way to attach the diffuser? Let me know in the comments!
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