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How to Shoot with your First Flash

Lesson 24 of 28

Uses of Modifiers: Umbrellas

Mike Hagen

How to Shoot with your First Flash

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

24. Uses of Modifiers: Umbrellas

Lesson Info

Uses of Modifiers: Umbrellas

First thing you gotta consider with an umbrella, is the size. And you already know the answer, before I even ask you the question. The answer is bigger. Bigger is better. There are a number of different sizes of umbrellas. There's some like in the 20 inch range, 32 inch, 45 inch. 60 inch, which is almost 5 feet. And the more years I do photography, flash photography, the bigger my umbrellas get. I started out like everyone else. I'm like, "Oh, I need an umbrella." So you go up on the internet, or, this time it was go to the camera store. You know, back in those days, when they used to exist. And I go to the camera store, and I'm like, "Oh, that one's $30, I think I can afford it. But it's about this big." So I had that umbrella for a number of years, and it was actually a 32 inch umbrella. And then as I kept shooting and kept shooting, I realized I need a bigger umbrella. So I bought a slightly bigger one, I bought like a 45 inch. And now, holy cow, I've got some big honkin' ones. And ...

I'll show those to you in a ... Well, I'll show them to you right now. What the heck, why wait? All right, so there are a number of different styles of umbrellas. Almost all of them are kind of round like that. This is a silver umbrella, okay? So it's silvered on the inside. Silver is very highly reflective. So, if you find over time that your flashes just don't have enough oomph ... For example, maybe you like shooting at F11 to F16, for the specific scenario that you have. You're gonna need more reflection. You want more of the light to actually reflect back onto the subjects. So then you might use a silver umbrella. That said, for most of my portrait work, for a number of years, I've used white umbrellas. I think white is gentler, kinder, softer, takes less skill to use, it's more forgiving. All of those words go into white. This umbrella is made by a company called Profoto. And in the industry, they're kind of the best. You know, Profoto gear ... And I know other professional photographers ... There's lots of other gear out there. I personally use Profoto gear, I like it. It's durable, it's tough. This one has a spring, it's spring-loaded. It's high-end stuff, and it's never gonna break. And even if it does break, they're always gonna back their product. It's not cheap, though, it's not cheap. You can find yourself a good umbrella, that'll work, in the $30 range. Stuff like this from Profoto is more into the $150 to $250 range, okay? We also ... I mentioned big. So this one is a new toy. Actually CreativeLive just got this new toy. So they said, "Hey Mike, you wanna use our new toy?" I'm like, "Yeah, how big is it?" And they said, "Big!" And I said, "I'm in." All right? (sounds of awe) Right? So you look at stuff like this, and you think, "Really? Am I really gonna use this?" And I say, "Yes, yes you are." And you're gonna rock it. You're gonna rock it. Your little flash will work with this big umbrella. And it's gonna be soft. The light's gonna be soft and gentle. It's gonna wrap around your subject. If you're photographing female models or kids, it's just gonna be the nicest, gentlest look. If you're photographing guys, it still looks good. So I like big umbrellas like this. I'm six feet tall, so you can see that this umbrella's about 5 feet or so. So this is like a 60 inch, something like that. And again, it's not cheap. It's pretty expensive. It's made by Profoto. I don't even know the cost of this, 'cause I didn't buy it. But here's one I did buy. I bought this one online, and you'll all be able to find it too. It's made by a company called Impact. And I paid $69 for this one. And it's about the same size, okay? Almost exactly the same, the same size. Oh, actually this one's a little taller. So this one's a little bit bigger. What are the differences? Well, it's just not as strong. The rod here is not as durable. The material's not as thick. You get what you pay for, you all know that. So, if you want the size, you can get something like that for around $70 bucks. Well, because I like Profoto, I'm gonna go back to the Profoto equipment. And I'm gonna use that. And we'll start with the silver umbrella, okay? So here's how the umbrella mounts. It's a very simple set-up here. Okay, so you've got ... This is an umbrella bracket, and it fits on a standard light stand. Now this is like an industrial level light stand. The CreativeLive folks, they just had a bunch of these laying around. I don't have any light stands myself, that are this big. It's hard to be mobile with big light stands like this. So when I travel or when I go on location, my light stands are much smaller. My recommendations for a light stand, make sure your light stand goes to at least eight feet tall. I think that's important. Eight feet. Why eight feet? Well, because you want to photograph men and women, and most adult men are what? 5'10" to 6'3", somewhere in that range and ... You know, you're pretty tall, you're 6'2", 6'3", something like that. And what you wanna do is you ... When you shine your flash onto the subject, you wanna be high enough so that the shadow will go down to the ground behind them. If your light stand is only six feet tall, you can't really get the light above the subject, right? So get a light stand that's at least eight feet. And I think most of the things that are recommended in those free handouts for the R.S.V.P. people, I think most of those are at least eight foot light stands. Okay, so here's the light stand, here's the umbrella bracket. And this little thing here, typically costs $15 bucks. Something like that. You can get them plastic, you get them metal. It just really comes down to how much you wanna spend, how durable do you want it, and how much weight are you willing to carry around? Again, over the years, even though they weigh more, I tend to go with the metal stuff, because it just never breaks. Okay, that slides on there. You tighten that in. Cool, and now we gotta put the umbrella in there, just like this. That screws in like that. A lot of people ask, how close should it be, how far? We're gonna be talking through that all day, for the whole fourth segment here. Every light box and every modifier's slightly different. And back to that zoom question that someone asked online earlier, we're gonna just do this fine-tuning between flash distance and zoom, and filling up the interior with light. Okay, now we have to find a way to mount the flash to that. Okay, so I'm using a cable, and the other end of this basically has a quarter by 20 inch thread in there. So that will screw right onto the stud right there. So that's an easy mounting solution. Okay, that goes there. Now I gotta be careful that I don't pull my camera over, or pull the light stand over. It's an issue, it's a big issue. So be very careful. And now you can start to see why it's important that everything swivels and rotates, right? 'Cause I have to figure out a way to get the cable up to here. I still have to see the LCD screen on the back of my flash, but I have to fill the modifier with the flash head. So whatever flash you end up buying ... I know some of you have already told me you haven't bought a flash yet. Just make sure it's fully controllable, and goes all the way around back, if necessary. Okay, now I have to think, well, how do I aim this thing at my model? Well, typically, you aim the shaft of the umbrella at the model's face. Typically. But I may show you some other fun things you can do. You can skip the light off of them, you can put it behind them. But for a traditional umbrella shot, you basically aim this at the model.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Every photographer encounters situations where the light on their subject is less than ideal. A small flash can have a huge impact on your photos and is easier to use than you think! Photographer Mike Hagen joins CreativeLive to show you how to use your external flash quickly and comfortably. Mike will walk through the different flash options available and how to sync your camera and flash. He’ll walk you through different scenarios and demonstrate how your flash can improve your shots. After this class you’ll walk away knowing: 
  • How to set up your flash with your camera and what to look for when shooting 
  • How to use a flash in scenarios like event photography, portraits, and tabletop photography 
  • Which light shapers work best for your work and how to utilize them 
  • How to use your flash off-camera, working with TTL cables, wireless triggers, and other gear
  • Techniques for using modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes, and reflectors with your off-camera flash 
Don’t get stuck in a low light scenario without the confidence and tools you need to produce an amazing image. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Single Flash Lighting Diagrams

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Single Flash Gear List 100 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 250 dollars

Single Flash Gear List 1000 dollars

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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Yasemin Soyen

First of all I am very happy to discover Creative Live and since then I learned, enjoyed many classes! This week for the first time I was in the live audience and their sincerity, hospitality made the experience even more valuable. About this class, it was a pleasure to meet Mike Hagen. Besides his wide knowledge, creative thinking and information sharing, he was a very humble, nice teacher, with great positive energy. Thanks everyone!


Fantastic course - Mike is an engaging and entertaining teacher and this course was just what I needed to start using my external flash with confidence. I have had my external flash for a few years but have rarely used it as mastering all the settings was daunting and the results I got were inconsistent. This excellent course changed all that and I'm having great fun taking much better shots with my flash. I highly recommend!

Candy Smith

This class was fantastic. Mike is excellent under pressure when things don't go perfectly, love his style and grace and how encouraging he is to his models, great mentor. I learned so much about using flash, and my pictures are so much better.