Testing Out The New 72” Silver Umbrella

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My name is Trevor Sherwin and I’m a boudoir photographer in Toronto, Canada. I also teach a variety of lighting workshops from the basics to advanced techniques. For this series of images, I was working at the Photoflex booth at the Exposure Show in Toronto. The mission was to create some interesting lighting setups for the show attendees to demonstrate what they can do with lighting.

Brainstorming The Setup
For the setup, I wanted something with a little bit of punch. I also wanted to let the attendees take some shots themselves. I felt there needed to be two elements to this setup to really make it interesting: dynamic light and an edgy model with a dramatic wardrobe. I decided on a steampunk look and I called in a few favors to get my hands on this wardrobe. Then I had to find a model. I knew I wanted a girl with tattoos and dark hair because that would provide a great contrast against not only the fashion, but also the background.

The Setup
For the background, I wanted a strong, deep color. I decided on a backdrop called “crimson red”. When you under-light this backdrop by one stop, you get a deep red that really pops.

The Main Light – 72” Silver Umbrella
The main light was a Photoflex® TRITONFLASH™ used with the new Photoflex® 72” Silver Umbrella. As you can see from the picture, it was placed just in front of the model on a boom and was tilted slightly towards her. A light source this big was going to do a few things for me in this shot. Obviously, it was going to light the model, but since the light was coming from the top, it was also going to create texture on the clothes. This was my primary objective. The other thing the 72” Umbrella would do is spill some light onto the background creating a gradient of dark to light. Silver umbrellas are more specular and create more contrast, but for this shot, I was okay with that because I was going for a more edgy effect. For many of the shots, I had the model tilt her head upwards to prevent deep shadows on the face.

Secondary Fill – 39×72” LitePanel with Silver Fabric
By placing the large umbrella so high above my model, I introduced a potential problem with shadows on the face and loss of detail in the black skirt. To compensate, I decided to bounce some light from the Umbrella back into the model and there is no better tool for that than my trusty LitePanel. I attached the silver fabric to get a little extra bounce and had it angled up towards the model at about a 45º angle.

Rim Lights – HalfDomes With GridsTo add the last little punch to this shot, I brought in some rim light from both sides. HalfDomes with Grids are my favourite tools for this job, as they allow me to create controlled, gentle highlights on the model. The critical component to this setup is the use of Grids with the HalfDomes. Most people think that softboxes by themselves offer great light control. This is true when compared to an umbrella, but any softbox, no matter what the shape, will still spread over a large area. Grids channel the light more towards where you point it. WIth rim lights that are pointed back at the camera, Grids will also help minimize or eliminate flare from the lights.

Personally, I like to power rim lights only slightly brighter in exposure than my main light. I generally don’t have brighter than 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop in order to preserve the highlight detail. Placement of the rim lights is equally important because if you have them too much to the side, they will cast a highlight across the front of your model’s face. If placed too far behind, they either end up in your frame or don’t create much of a rim effect. 35º to 45º behind is a pretty good starting point for placement.

Measuring & Setup
This being a 3+1 light setup (3 light sources + 1 reflected), I needed to use my light meter to get accurate settings for the shot. Also, I needed to overpower the lighting from the convention center. I measured the ambient light at 400 ISO, f/2.8, 1/200th of a second. This meant that as long as I was 3 stops brighter than that base reading, the ambient light would have no real impact on my shot. This was pretty important, as the ambient light would not only create a colour cast, but also unwanted light and shadows.

Next, I needed to determine the depth of field. I decided that shooting between f/8 and f/11 would be ideal not only to eliminate the ambient light, but also ensure sharpness from front to back of the model, even if using up to a 200mm lens. Here are the measured values for each light, all at ISO 400 and a shutter/sync speed of 1/200th of a second:

Main Light – 72” Silver Umbrella
• Measured at f/10 at the head which fell off to roughly f/5.6 at the feet
• Light hitting the background ranged from f/5.6 near the top to f/8 near the floor

Fill Light – 39×72” LitePanel With Silver Fabric
• Evened out the exposure from head to toe so that there was only about a half stop variance from head to toe

Rim Lights – Small HalfDomes With Grids
• Measured at f/11 which was 1/3 stop brighter than the main light

Final Thoughts
I really enjoy shooting and setting up for photographers at trade shows. Beginner photographers usually first take a shot with their on-camera flash and then I hand them a wireless transmitter that will trigger the lights and advise them of the optimal camera settings. The look of amazement on their faces when they see what good lighting can produce always brings a smile to my face.

At every trade show, there is a range of camera gear that people carry with them – from entry level DSLRs to Pro bodies with expensive lenses. What’s interesting is that with great lighting, it’s hard to tell the difference between a $4000 camera and a $400 camera when looking at the results. Great lighting levels the playing field and allows modest camera gear to product incredible results. Great light is the key to great images and we as photographers put far too much emphasis on lenses and bodies, when we should be putting it into our lighting equipment!

For further information about the products used in this lesson, click on the logo at the top left of this page.

Written and photographed by Trevor Sherwin.

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