Pros & Cons of Umbrellas
You know, when they called me about this and we talked about the topics of this show and this course, for me, light shaping is a pretty important part of all this overall big picture. And one of the things that is overlooked, omitted, and just never discussed is umbrellas. Nobody ever talks about umbrellas. Probably because they're free. Probably because they're small. Probably because they're cheap. If you have to buy one, they're not very expensive. But, they do something that's very unique. If I want to photograph this group, this class right here, there's a handful of you right there, I would put up an umbrella right here and pull the trigger, and I got you. And you're all gonna be evenly lit. I can't do that with any other tool in my bag, in my arsenal. Umbrellas, and I've talked about this, and this is the best way I can define it, umbrellas send light everywhere. If you're in a small home studio and you're trying to control light, don't use an umbrella. It's your last choice. Bu...
t if you've gotta photograph a group of that are in a choir on stage, you want a couple of umbrellas. That's your best friend, because it will save you time, trouble, energy, problems. I learned a long time ago that umbrellas are the answer to a lot of those kinda things, and I just didn't realize how important it was. I got a job several years ago, and I won't bore you with the details, but I got to shoot the world Millennial Summit meeting at the UN alongside my friend Terry Daglow from Kodak, and Rick Billings, and Bob Goldwell. Got to go in and shoot this job of 185 presidents from around the world. This was big. This is the biggest thing I've ever done. And the only way we could pull off this job was 18 umbrellas. That's how we lit it. There was 18 umbrellas, each with 1000 watt seconds. And it gave us F22 every place in this picture where someone was standing. And it was umbrellas that saved the day. There was no other way to do it. My first real group shot with umbrellas was a small oil company in west Texas, and I shot four rows of 15 people. So, I had 60 people in this group shot at the Petroleum Museum in Midland. It was a small oil company. And right before I started to shoot, I got my twin umbrellas up fairly close to my camera, but up high, and I'm ready to go. And I burned out my sync cord between my camera and the cable that attached to my power pack. And I'm sitting here, and I'm thinking, oh my, oh my, this is where I learned trying to stay calm, trying to be cool, trying not to look effected, and I was screaming inside my head thinking, how am I gonna save this, I can't sync my lights right now. And I didn't have a backup sync cord. So, I knew the umbrellas were the right choice, and I felt that the picture was gonna be okay if I could just get the flash to fire with my camera, and I couldn't. There was nothing I could do. So, my umbrellas, like I say, they were up high. I got all my executives up here. So, I walked up to front row and I'm just walking up to the executives, I'm saying, hey, how you doing, good, let me just, here let me just fix your cuff for you. You guys, give me about a quarter inch of your cuff, gentlemen, just about a quarter inch, that's good. That's what Gentlemen's Quarterly, and your tie should just touch your belt. And I'm just, and I'm talking, and all I'm trying to do is buy myself 30 seconds to think. All I'm doing is I'm just dancing. Hey, how you doing. Good, you look good. Let me just straighten your tie just a bit. You guys, you guys are terrific. You guys look like you've had a little something to drink here for lunch today. And I'm just rambling, and I'm just talking, and I'm just thinking, and I'm just going out of my mind because I can't sync to those lights, and I can't shoot this without the lights. And I'm thinking, I gotta come up with an answer and then I went, oh, wait, I just remembered something. I was taught about a thing called open flash. Now, the open flash means you put your camera on B, for bulb, and when you hit the cable release and open your lens, you just hit the test button and then close it real quick. And the lights will fire while your lens is open. Okay, you with me? Seems reasonable. No problem, it's gonna work. So, I pull my power pack as close as I could get it to my camera, but I couldn't reach the test button and hold cable release. So, I'm like, ah, I was close, but I couldn't do it. So, I set my camera on bulb, I held my cable release with this hand, and with my right foot, I put my foot up on the test button. But the trick was you have to turn off the modeling lights because they'll burn in during the bulb exposure. So, I walked over, I got the focus, I got everything all focused, and then I killed the modeling lights. And then semi darkness. Okay, gentlemen, everybody right here with me. Here we go, here we go, good, good, good. And it was like open my bulb, hit the test, close the bulb, advance the camera. Okay, let's do another one, here we go, good. I did it 12 times. One roll of 12 exposure film in my Hasselblad. 12 times I had to do this stupid, acrobatic thing, right. When the smoke cleared, I had one frame that was sharp. And it was really sharp, and it looked great. So I got the job. I pulled it off. But, as we finished, I'm sweating, I'm passing out. And as everybody's leaving the room, one of the executives walks by and he goes, some sync troubles today? (group laughing) And he walked away. He knew totally what happened, and he busted me. So, you've gotta be resourceful, and you've gotta be able to have some kind of way out of these things. And you gotta troubleshoot. And troubleshooting is not always easy. It's not for the faint of heart sometimes. It's like that, we talked about that shoot with the black pianos. Man, that was a tough gig. It's not easy to do that kinda stuff. Yep?
Just a question about placement of the umbrellas. In a shot like that, my tendency had been to go to the corners and put them behind you sort of center perpendicular to.
Pretty close. What you wanna avoid in any group shot situation, I wanna avoid shadows on the face of one person caused by the face or the head of the other. So, the best way to do that is, listen, the biggest challenge when you do a group shot is getting everybody's eyes open at the same time with them looking at ya. That's the challenge. Don't try to get too cute and try to get too creative with a big group shot, because you're gonna fail anyway. They're gonna be looking everywhere. I just need their attention so they're all looking at me, and I need to flat light this so if you zoomed in, look on anybody's face, their faces are clean, there's no shadows. That's my goal. So, you're right. I do light a big group pretty flat. Some people like to have a main light from one side, not quite 45, but a little bit of a directional, and one big light that camera. Nothing from the other side, so that there is a little bit of directionality, but you really have to be very, very careful about that light. You'll cause a bit of a shadow on Christina. That can be an issue so you have to be, just be aware of it, that's all. But the umbrellas will save you. Umbrellas do some pretty cool things.