Rain or Shine It’s Umbrella Time, Part 1

Today’s Post by Barry Staver

Photographic umbrellas were all the rage before softboxes were invented, as photographers began to work with softer light. It was easy to open up the photo umbrella and use it in one of two ways: point the flash into the shiny surface where the light would be softened, reflected back and evenly spread over a large area. Or use a translucent umbrella and aim the light thru it at the subject.

Their popularity waned as softboxes became more prevalent, but I see more of them being advertised, sold, and used again now. Yours truly is one such photographer. I’ve had more than one amused client ask me, “Are you expecting it to rain”, whenever I opened one on a shoot. But have you ever used both on the same photo shoot in rain and shine?


I was part of a four person photo team covering a national Lacrosse Tournament in Denver. My job was to take group portraits of all twenty-four teams within six hours. Expecting the usual sunny Colorado sky, I planned to set up my studio Dynalite flash system with one head to provide enough power to fill shadows in the bright light. The tournament organizers told me they had AC power available but couldn’t answer an equally important question: How far was that power source from my shooting spot? I also asked what the plan was in case of rain. No answer to that either.

I seldom go on a Photo Shoot without Plan B and sometimes even Plan C to use in emergencies. This job required all three plans. It began raining the day before the shoot. It rained overnight, and it was raining when I arrived and set up. That rain changed to a drizzle as the first groups lined up for their photos and the drizzle soon cleared to bright, hot sun.


The AC power I was promised was available inside the white Media Tent in the background. That was also the designated “rain out” group shot location. Neither was much help. I wasn’t comfortable laying a long AC cord across the street. There was no way to secure it to the wet pavement so people wouldn’t trip over it or cars drive over it. The entire Media Tent was occupied by ESPN. They had multiple interview sites underneath, no room for a lonely photographer let alone an entire team of athletes.

I set up under the umbrella and shot the groups in rain and shine. In Part 2 I’ll show you how the job was successfully shot.

Photo A shows my set up for the day, overhead umbrella to keep the rain and/or sun off of the camera and the photo umbrella for my flash fill when the sun came out. Also note the two Speedlites (that’s what Canon calls their EX flashes) wrapped in clear plastic on the light stand at far right (more about that in Part 2.)

Photo B shows one of the early groups being lined up in the drizzle.




For more on lighting techniques, please buy a copy of Barry’s book, Flash Photography: Studio and Location Techniques” that’s available from your favorite book or camera stores as well as including Amazon.com.