7 foot umbrella

Setting up the 7-foot umbrella and diffuser by yourself

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.

speed light on the left and Einstein on the right in a medium size umbrella. 

speed light on the left and Einstein on the right in a medium size umbrella. 

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).

Adding a diffuser dome to the speed light helps it fill the modifier.

Adding a diffuser dome to the speed light helps it fill the modifier.

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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It Is More Than Just Size

More than just the size, it is what you put into it

A big rage the past couple of years has been a proliferation of low cost 7' "parabolic" umbrellas from various manufacturers. I'm not going to get into the arguments of who created the first one, or who stole who's design. My concern is more with how they are being used.

By now we should all know that the size of the light relative to the subject determines the quality of the light. Large lights give a softer, less-shadowed look. Smaller lights give a harder, more contrasty look. So, the immediate thought about a 7' umbrella would logically be that it is a very soft light. And it is. Or at least it can be. But it also to depend on what light source you use with the big umbrella.

I see a few kits offered with the 7' umbrella and a  bracket to use your speed light/lite with it. Speed lights are normally a small and hard light source. So, if you bounce it into a gigantic umbrella it should become a big and soft light. Makes sense, no? 

Maybe not!

Below is a set of images of such an umbrella with a speed light attached and bounced into the umbrella. The flash is a Canon 430EX II in manual mode. The three images across the top row were taken with this combo. In the first one, the flash was set to the 105mm zoom position. There is hardly filled any of the umbrella. Yes, the light will be larger and softer than direct flash. But probably not what you were expecting. So, for the second image the flash was zoomed out to the 24mm position. Uh-oh! That isn't all that much wider than the 105mm position when the umbrella is so close to the flash head. Additionally, we see that the flash bracket doesn't come close to pointing the flash into the center of the umbrella. What to do?

The third image was taken with the flash head's built in diffuser panel popped out and over the flash. It does a much better job of filling the umbrella, but I had to open up 3+ stops to get enough light into the umbrella. And it still doesn't quite fill the umbrella evenly, note how dark the bottom portion of the umbrella is.

I imagine that a bracket to hold 3 or 4 speed lights with the umbrella shaft centered around them would be a big help, but also a big expense. Unfortunately, I only have one speed light and a single bracket, so can't test that one out.

Just as a way of comparison, I took two more shots using a studio flash head, a Speedotron 202VF. The first of these images has the standard 7" umbrella reflector. Even with this combination, the umbrella isn't quite filled by light, but overall it is much more efficient. To get the umbrella to fill with light, for the last image I took the reflector off the strobe head. With the bare tube the umbrella is finally filled. It is not quite as bright. And you need to be a lot more careful if using the umbrella rig off to the side that direct light from the bare tube doesn't hit your subject causing very distracting shadows.


Take from this what you may. I just wanted to make sure you understand that just having a super large light modifier doesn't mean that you have a super large light source. I encourage you to do a similar test with your own lighting equipment to see what it is really doing.


PS: I also tested out a silver 7' parabolic. You can see those results in this post.

PPS: I then pulled out all the modifiers I could find around the studio and compared them all in action in a new post.