Photography Lighting is supported by readers. When you buy with our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more

This post was most recently updated on November 13th, 2022

Learning photography can be a little overwhelming at times. There are so many settings, and so much information to remember that it can be hard for beginners to get accustomed to the basics. 

Fortunately, we are here with lots of guides to help you, and to answer some of your most burning questions about photography. One of the things we get asked a lot about is photography umbrellas.

What are they for? What do they do? So, let’s find out! 

Why Do Photographers Use Umbrellas?

Photographers will use umbrellas to provide extra lighting for their images. As you probably already know, lighting is one of the most essential parts of setting up an image, and taking photographs. 

Why Do Photographers Use Umbrellas?

Without enough light, your images may not be clear, and not detailed enough. On the other end of the spectrum, with too much lighting, your images can seem too bright, blown or overexposed. 

The key to a great photograph is having just the right light source that works with the subject matter.

Often, photographers will use extra light sources to provide ample brightness for their photographs. Umbrellas are one of these light sources. 

Photographers use umbrellas to provide soft, natural and broad light sources that can emulate or imitate outdoor lighting, or provide extra sharpness to an image if there is not enough natural light available. 

The other reason photographers will use umbrellas is to have total control over the lighting of their images.

With an umbrella, a photographer can manipulate the lighting in a way that works for them, whether it is to fully illuminate a subject, cast shadows and create depth, or to recreate the look of sunlight upon the subject matter.

Using umbrellas for lighting gives the photographer full creative control. 

What Types Of Photography Umbrellas Are There?

In the most basic sense, photography umbrellas are light modifiers. These are typically used for portrait photography, wedding photography or to take photographs of products, as they will be perfectly illuminated.  

As a result, there are many different types of photography umbrellas that you can use. For instance, you can purchase white umbrellas, black umbrellas, shoot through umbrellas, reflective, and many others.

For instance, white umbrellas are often called shoot-through umbrellas, and are some of the most versatile umbrellas you can use. White umbrellas are best for lighting large areas like a group of people, as they spread out the light further than other light sources. 

These types of umbrellas are made from bright, white fabric, which can allow the flash to ‘shoot through’ the fabric, to distribute it over greater subjects. This often reduces the intensity of the light, and diffuses it, so you may have to increase the power of your flash to maintain it.

These white umbrellas can spread all of the light to about 180 degrees and can be placed closer to a subject for detail, or pulled back to illuminate a full group of different subject matters. 

These types of umbrellas spread the light outwards, so you may have to use two or more to maintain the perfect light for a large subject or group of people.

A shoot through umbrella is used in front of the flash, and has a translucent white fabric, that will diffuse and spread the light onto a surface or subject. For example, you can find cost efficient shoot through umbrellas here: 

On the other hand, you have reflective umbrellas, or black umbrellas. These are made with black fabric on the outside, and reflective fabric on the inside, because they are used to reflect light onto a subject. 

For instance, these are used by pointing the light source away from the subject, and into the umbrella to bounce the light towards the subject using the reflection. These umbrellas are typically black, with a sheen or shiny-like surface, like this one: 

You can also get convertible umbrellas, which are white umbrellas with a black cover.

What this means is that you can use the umbrella without the black cover as a shoot through, plain white umbrella, and then add the black cover to turn it into a reflective umbrella.

This is very versatile and convenient for many photographers. You can find one of these photography umbrellas here: 

How Do You Use An Umbrella For A Photographer? 

The good news is that umbrellas are really simple to use, and perfect for beginners as they are efficient, easy, and inexpensive.

What is even better is that they are usually very easy to travel with, meaning that you can take them anywhere and on location shoots, too! 

If you want to soften, spread the light or create shadows, then you will need to know how to use a photography umbrella. 

Umbrellas

To use a shoot through umbrella, you will need to mount the umbrella to the strobe or flash light.

Most flash or strobe lights will have a hole to insert and mount the umbrella, You will then have to use a harsh flash and shoot it through the umbrella, to get softened light. 

In contrast, when using a reflective umbrella to light your images, you will need to place the flash or strobe facing the umbrella, so that the light can fire into it, and be bounced back onto the subject. 

What Are The Benefits Of Using Photography Umbrellas?

The main benefit of using a photography umbrella is that you are able to modify and control the lighting much easier. You can use more than one at a time, to create more light, or diffuse and soften light to add depth to your images. 

You can also change the direction of the light to suit your needs, casting shadows, or fully illuminating the subject matter. With an umbrella, photographers are able to add supplemental lighting to a scene, when there is not enough natural light. 

In addition, they may use the umbrella to create softened light, or to diffuse light produced by the camera with a flash.

By changing the positioning of the photography umbrellas, you are able to manipulate and alter the overall direction of the lighting for your images! 

Summary   

To summarize, photographers use umbrellas in their work to properly illuminate and provide light for their images. With poor lighting conditions, photographs can come out blurry, underexposed, dark, and without much detail.

Instead, you can use natural lighting, or supplemental lighting such as photography umbrellas to bounce light, or properly illuminate your subject matter.