The “Umbrella Light” Controversy

Black Sky White Soul © Benjamin Kananrek

The “Umbrella Light” (Brolly) Controversy

I never would have expected that sharing my “GENERALIST” view of a lighting technique could cause such a stir. In fact it was based on a personal preference only and was NOT written for any other reason but to challenge you to think about the why and how one might consider the tool they wish to employ for a certain effect.

Now in reading many of the responses to my essay, it seems that I could perhaps give greater clarification to what I stated.

When ever there are adverts for lighting kits, they are generally shown sold with a soft box and an umbrella or two. So I can understand where the “Got it with the kit. May as well use it…” conditioning comes from. Personally, I find that rather unfortunate,as this inadvertently sets up a mind set about what studio lighting is and in my opinion falsely represents. I would prefer if flash heads, continuous lighting kits and mono blocks were just sold as is and the client could then be informed of the optional accessories available and what they can produce as a result of using them.

An umbrella is in fact a very interesting utility if understood and applied creatively. Like all light modifiers, they create an ambiance that is unique to the manner it diffuses light.  I recently saw an illustration that made me laugh. It was showing how to set up an umbrella and the distance from the light source. It showed the light source close to the center of the umbrella with a “No No” sign next to it and then another far from the center of the light source with another “No No” sign next to it. Finally they showed what they considered the proper placement of the light source within the umbrella. That was a “Yes Yes” sign. All of that is utter nonsense, as there is NO proper placement. It all depends on how concentrated the light source you want will be.

Lighting is a very complex art form and to master it takes several life times in my opinion. There are absolutely “ZERO” rules about how to light and what is correct or incorrect. If what you are attempting to do or NOT works out as desired or as a pleasant surprise, that is what it is all about. Hopefully you will have logged how you attained that pleasant mistake, so that you can replicate it again.

What is more important than the umbrella, light-box, snoot, bowl, opalite, kino light etc., is the capturing of an image that is poignant, powerful and meaningful. The tool you captured it with is meaningless if what you captured leaves a lasting impression on those viewing it.

About Benjamin Kanarek
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Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…

  • Emily Schein

    You have chosen to disappoint me greatly by creating drama in the Photography forum with your original inflammatory post and then linking to this in a so-called “apology” and “clarification,” just to get more blog readers.

    You should be ashamed, playing off of people that way just for more traffic.

  • Steve Ayers

    I find it a breath of fresh air when I read someone, who quite obviously knows whereof they speak, state that it’s not about how you did it as much as it is, what you did. I believe the image is everything and that sometimes too much attention is given to the technical aspects.

    Thank you, this helps.

  • Martyn Lyon

    Hey, first of all I think your work is great, I’d love to have the chance to be on a set like yours someday. I love your use of lighting, it always adds to the scene, rather than detracting from it like it does with some photographers.

    I think your last paragraph summed it up fantastically, far too often photographers forget that all that matters is the final image!