​Ring Lighting with Silver Umbrellas

3 D Flat Light Edited


We are Jeff Scott and Aaron Schaldecker and we shoot senior and family portraits in the Cedar Rapids/Marion, Iowa area. We also love to create different light setups using random lights and modifiers we have on hand to create interesting lighting for our seniors and families. We have found that our clients (especially seniors) want a look that not everyone else has and that is why we have many creative sessions to come up with new and different lighting looks. Jeff came up with the concept for this ring lighting look and we were excited to see the outcome this setup gave us.

In this lesson, we will walk you through the setup and adjustments and final outcome to create a ring light effect using silver umbrellas. We refer to this technique as 3D Flat Light. We find that it works especially well for individual portraits.

To get started we went big by using a 72” silver umbrella for the outside of the ring light and a 45” silver umbrella for the inside of the ring. This setup creates a similar effect as a ring light without having to purchase more equipment than we already had.


We used a simple gray crushed muslin backdrop so we wouldn’t have any distraction from the model. We used large, sturdy light stands for stability and didn’t need to add a second light to illuminate the backdrop as the key light with this technique is usually bright enough to light both the subject and background.

Our first shots were done using just the 72” umbrella as a test to see how the one modifier setup looks.

This was the straight out of the camera photo with only using the 72” silver umbrella.

As you can see there is a slight shadow behind the subject and it seems fairly flat as there is not much separation between the subject and the background.

3D Flat Light

We set up the 72” umbrella with a LiteStand: Large and an AlienBees 800, facing both towards the subject. Next we attached a 45” silver adjustable umbrella to a second stand and faced this one towards the 72” umbrella so the silver sides were facing each other. It’s important to get them as close as possible to avoid light spill. Both umbrellas should be centered on the subject’s chest.

Unlike normal ring lights you will not be able to shoot through the middle of this umbrella so you will be placing your camera on a tripod in front of the middle of the small umbrella and using a remote to trigger the shutter release.

Here is a summary of how we setup for this shot:

  1. Nikon D810 on tripod about 8 feet away from the backdrop
  2. 45” silver umbrella directly behind the camera – facing away from subject
  3. 72” silver umbrella directly behind the 45” umbrella facing the subject

After this was setup we metered the camera and set the strobe to ⅜ power. We shot at f8 with shutter speed 1/200 at ISO 100.

Here are the images straight out of camera using our 3D Flat Light setup.

We really like the look this setup creates as it creates a ring shaped catch-light in the subjects’ eyes as well a dark to light vignette behind and around the subject. This is where this setup excels as it gives you great dimension and separation between the background and subject.

We found that Photoflex silver umbrellas are great to use for creating different lighting set-ups as they are cost effective and come in multiple versatile sizes.

Written and photographed by Aaron Schaldecker and Jeff Scott.

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