It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with options when you first get started on artificial lighting. There seem to be so many tutorials out there for four or five light setups. But many of us begin shooting with natural light, and often from a single light source (ie. a window). It stands to reason then, that the easiest way to learn to shoot strobes is to begin with just one light.
In this video, photographer Emily Teague shows us five different setups using just one umbrella light. There’s no shame in only using one light if you know what you’re doing to manipulate it. Often the results are incredibly beautiful, and if you’re on location there’s something to be said for bringing less gear with you!
Emily says that she loves to use umbrella modifiers for a number of reasons. They are generally cheap and don’t break the bank if they get broken, they’re light and easy to carry around, and they can be very versatile allowing you to create beautiful light.
Umbrellas come in two basic forms: shoot-through translucent umbrellas, and reflective umbrellas where the light bounces into it and back out at the subject. Then you can choose either deep or shallow umbrellas. A shallow umbrella will have a broader spread of light meaning that more of your scene will be lit. A deeper umbrella will give you a narrower spread of light and ultimately give you more control over what the light hits.
A reflective umbrella will often have the option of either a silver or a white lining. The white option will generally give softer shadow transitions than the silver which will typically give greater contrast and more intense lighting. Reflective umbrellas will often come with a diffusion sock on the front as well to further diffuse the light.
In the video, Emily uses a medium-sized Photek Soft-lighter with a silver reflective interior and diffusion sock. She shows us five different ways to use this umbrella to create different lighting scenarios. The first is to have the light in front and above the model and slightly to either the right or left of the camera. This gives nicely placed catchlights in the eyes and lights up the face in a flattering way.
Of course, using just one light doesn’t mean that things are necessarily simple. Emily shows you how to add a white reflector or v-flat to one side of the model to bring up the shadows a little.
Emily walks us through the other lighting options: directly above the model, feathered to the side, light behind and above the subject, and finally, a clamshell set up with the light in front plus a reflector underneath. The great thing about this video is that Emily doesn’t just show you the setups, she shows you the images and compares them to each other, telling you the advantages and differences between each setup. For example, how the light on the background varies and how much of the face is in shadow.
These are all fabulous setups to try even for more experienced shooters with strobes. There’s something quite empowering about knowing how to create a beautiful portrait using just one light, an umbrella and a reflector. As you can see from the video, you can easily create lots of different looks with very minimal equipment.