Are you new to the world of product photography and looking for ways to improve your lighting?
Perhaps you have considered using umbrella lights (also called "shoot-through umbrellas") to illuminate your products against a backdrop, but you aren't sure how to properly use and manipulate the light to get the best quality photos possible?
Maybe you’re already an expert in product photography, but you’re looking for advanced lighting techniques that can be used with umbrella lights to get an even crisper final product. Then you have come to the right place.
Umbrella lights are a product photographer’s best friend when it comes to filling large spaces with light and putting full focus on subjects. They mimic outdoor natural light, and they can be easily manipulated to the style of your photography. They are easy to set up and use, not to mention that they are incredibly cheap.
The following guide takes you through everything you need to know about how to use umbrella lights specifically for product photography and which backdrops work best with the lighting environment.
What Type of Umbrella Light Should I Use?
Before you purchase an umbrella light, it’s important to know the three main types and their different sizes, as they deliver different lighting results for different styles of product photography.
White Or Shoot-Through Light Umbrella
If you want a light umbrella that diffuses and softens light over a large surface, then a white umbrella, also called a "shoot-through" umbrella, is what you need. Shoot-through umbrellas act as diffusers to soften the light shining through them, which softens and deceases shadows.
Reflective Light Umbrella
If you’re looking to maximize the light output and make use of direct light to illuminate your subject, then a reflective umbrella is better suited for you. Rather than shining the light through the umbrella to soften it (like with a shoot-through umbrella), a reflective umbrella is turned the other way so that the bare light is pointed directly at your subject and the umbrella acts as a reflector to direct even more light toward the subject.
Reflective umbrellas are ideal for reflecting light directly onto your product to create a crisp and sharper picture, making them a good option for lighting a white background properly.
Convertible Light Umbrella
If it is a combination of both umbrellas that you desire, then a convertible umbrella is the best option. They are a lot more versatile and can be used as a shoot-through and a reflective umbrella. They work exceptionally well for shooting a variety of products.
Convertible umbrellas are an excellent option if you’re unsure of what type of umbrella you need, as they function as both shoot-through and reflective umbrellas. They are the best choice for product photographers who are constantly experimenting with their light on the spot.
Additionally, they allow for some cool advanced lighting techniques like flagging, which you will learn how to use later in this guide.
Once you have successfully narrowed down which umbrella light works best for you, it is important to know how each type is correctly used.
Does Size Matter?
Light umbrellas come in a variety of sizes based on what you need them for. Generally, if you want to soften the light directed at your product then you would go with a larger umbrella size. Choosing an umbrella size depends on what you plan on using it for.
Indoor product photography doesn’t require an overly large light umbrella, especially if you’re photographing small items using Surfaces.
If you plan on taking your photos in an outdoor setting, purchasing a sandbag is important as this will weigh down your light stand and prevent it from tipping over in the wind.
How to use all 3 types of umbrella
Now that we have gone through the basics and you’re aware of the different types of umbrellas, it’s time to start learning how to use all 3 types.
White Or Shoot-Through Umbrella Light For Product Photography
Choosing Your Backdrop
As mentioned above, before you can even begin the setup and use an umbrella light, it is important to choose a pair of backdrops that puts full focus on the products that need to be captured. Choosing a suitable photo background is one of the most important parts of product photography and it can be challenging to decide on which background works best.
Marble backdrops are some of the most versatile and popular products we offer. They are the ideal choice for product photography. They work exceptionally well for keeping your product in focus and creating an incredibly fresh natural look.
While these backdrops are ideal for wedding shoots and food photography, they’re versatile enough that they can be made to fit any need.
Once you have decided on a suitable backdrop, you can then move on to the umbrella setup.
The first thing you need to do before taking some good photos is to attach a good light source to the shaft of the umbrella. This should be firmly mounted to ensure that it doesn’t fall off during the movement of the umbrella.
There are many types of studio light sources, but the best studio lights for product photography are strobes and flashes. These are by the far the best because they are easy to set up and use. Most studio lights will have a hole where the handle of the umbrella fits into and a knob to tighten it.
Once the light source is firmly attached, it is now time to do the actual light arrangement. It is important to set the light source at a reasonable distance from the umbrella so that the light fills the entire underside or shade of the umbrella.
All the light should be contained within the umbrella with no light peaking over the umbrella’s edges. Make sure that the light source is not placed too close to the shade of the umbrella, as this will focus all the incoming light onto a single point and create uneven light coverage.
Umbrellas and diffusers are particularly useful if you’re using a ring light for your product photography. Ring lights are great for portraits, but they can cast harsh shadows and cause hotspots, so diffusing the light through a sheet is the best way to go.
Using ring lights for food shoots is equally problematic as they tend to make food look unappealing and synthetic.
Multiple light set-ups are common, so experiment and combine different light sources to illuminate the subject and improve the quality of the final product.
Finally, you need to play around with the angle of the light hitting your product. Photography is all about experimentation, so don’t be afraid of being creative and changing angles. Adjust the angle until you are satisfied with the lighting pattern. Adjusting the angle will help with hiding shadows behind the product and creating a crisper final image.
Once you have completed all the steps above and you’re happy with the lighting hitting your product, it’s time to take some photos.
Reflective Umbrella Light
As mentioned above, you need to choose a backdrop before you do anything else. Ensure that you select a backdrop that is in line with your style of product photography and that matches the type of umbrella you use. Slate and darker Surfaces work well with a reflective umbrella since reflective umbrellas create hard, defined shadows that look great with dark scenes.
Again, it’s important to get creative and experiment with different backdrops, so don’t be shy about trying different Surface combinations. Once you’ve chosen your starting Surface combination, you can get to using the reflective umbrella light.
Unlike the shoot-through umbrella, the shade of the reflective umbrella needs to be pointed away from your product. This will take full advantage of your continuous lights, which are the best LED lights for product photography.
Mount the light source tightly to the shaft and open the umbrella so that the top of it is facing away from your product. Again, make sure that there is enough space between your product and the light source.
The light source should be between your product and the underside of the umbrella. Aim the light source directly towards the shade of the umbrella.
The light should fill the entire reflective underside of the umbrella. If you notice any unevenness in the spread of light, play around with the distance between the light source and the shade of the umbrella.
If you desire a more intense light, move the light source closer to the underside of the umbrella. Move it further away to reduce the light intensity and create a softer light environment with less intensive shadows. Continuously play around with the position and angle of the umbrella to create all kinds of amazing effects.
You should also experiment with the height of the light source. Increase the height of the light source to shorten shadows. Lower the height to create longer shadows.
If you own a Replica Studio, you can also adjust its height to create your favorite distances between scene and light.
When all of this is done and you are happy with the light environment, you are ready to capture some amazing photos of your products.
How To Use Convertible Umbrella Light
Convertible umbrella lights follow the same setup and usage as the two types mentioned above, but they are much more versatile when it comes to their actual usage.
They are essentially shoot-through umbrellas with a black reflective cover. This allows you to use the two different light umbrella types interchangeably.
If you want to utilize the abilities of the shoot-through umbrella, all you need to do is remove the black cover. If you think that having a reflective umbrella (and therefore intense, hard shadows) would work better for your specific product, then all you have to do is add the reflective cover back.
For beginners who are unsure whether to use a shoot-through or reflective light umbrella, then a convertible umbrella is the best option. This will allow you to experiment with lights angles. They also don’t cost much more than the other two types of umbrella lights.
Convertible umbrella lights also make it much easier to choose between a variety of backdrops because of their versatility and advanced lighting techniques.
Using A Convertible Umbrella For Flagging
In addition to their versatility, convertible umbrellas allow you to make use of an advanced lighting technique called "flagging."
To use this amazing light manipulation technique, you will need to add the black cover back onto the umbrella in such a way so that it only covers half of the light source. Then you will use the umbrella in the same way you would use a shoot-through umbrella. It will function as a half-shoot-through umbrella that lights part of your scene while shrouding the other part in deep shadow.
This technique can be used to create amazing light environments by blocking out light from certain areas of your product.
Light umbrellas are excellent for expert and beginner photographers. They are inexpensive, portable and they work great with a variety of backdrops.
This article shows just how easy they are to use and manipulate to create amazing lighting patterns. Just take note of what umbrella is more suited to your style of product photography.
Now that you know how to use a light umbrella for product photography, it’s time to take out your camera, fiddle with the settings, and take a gorgeous shot.
Did you find our blog helpful? Then consider checking:
- Whats The Best Backdrop Material For Photography
- What Color Backdrop Is Best For Photography?
- Best Size Backdrop For Photography
- Control the Background in Photography
- How To Get Good Lighting For Product Photos
- Photo Compositions to Know
- Natural Lighting
- Depth Perfection
- Light + Airy Photography
- Dark + Moody Photography
- Food Styling
- Product + Flat Lay Styling
- Clothing Photography
- Drink Photography: The Splash Technique
- Your Ultimate Photo Resource