While an umbrella is likely one of the first lighting modifiers a portrait photographer owns, it is often the most underutilized item as you grow. Why is that? Shoot-through umbrellas were some of the first diffusion techniques known to the art form of photography and have slowly become overshadowed by portable softboxes, but I want to examine why it is still one of the superior choices for light modification.  In this video, we’re going to show you the power of an easy one-light setup using a large flash and umbrella to go from boring to beautiful in just a few minutes.

Video: Studio Lighting Made Simple

Gear Used in This Tutorial

As we’ve taught in our recent YouTube tutorials, we are going to be working through this using the C.A.M.P. Framework.

  • Composition: What do we want our scene to look like? Where do we want the camera to be? What’s the angle? What do we want our subjects to be doing?
  • Ambient Light Exposure: Choose the intention of the scene. Do we want a dramatic image (darkening the ambient light and using more flash) or do we want a softer image (brightening the ambient light and using a more natural power of flash)?
  • Modify/Add Light: Are your subjects visible in the frame or do they need to be chiseled out? Do you need to add an additional light source?
  • Pose & Photograph: Take your shot!


2 large flash umbrellaThe composition for this photograph is pretty simple: my goal is to center Chelsea against the backdrop and have her sit on the stool. Now that we’ve figured that out we can move on to the intentional choices we can make to start incorporating flash.

Related Reading: What You Should Check Before Taking a Photograph 

Ambient Light Exposure

1 large flash umbrellaThe first thing I want to do is cut the lights in the room – hang in there, I’ll explain. This obviously makes the room super dark but it’s a choice we are making for later in the C.A.M.P. Framework. My settings for this shot are 1/200th of a second, f/2, and ISO 800. You can see from the screenshot from the video above, you can see just how dark it is. This brings us to our next step: adding and modifying light.

Modify/Add Light

People hate umbrellas because they spill light everywhere, but when used well they can be incredible modifiers. You’ll notice on the other side I have a V-Flat. This will direct the light and bounce it towards Chelsea’s back. This helps us fill the shadows and essentially acts like a two-light setup.


All that’s left to do is pose Chelsea on the stool and take our shot. Take a look at some of the final images:

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