This week we are journeying through various tips to wrangle the best possible light out of a single light source off-camera!  That’s right, it’s all about shooting off-camera flash! To do this, we are employing the assistance of only a light stand and a shoot through umbrella.  As you may recall, on Day 1, we focused (if you’ll pardon the pun) on how to correctly attach the umbrella to the light stand.  On Day 2 (yesterday), we shifted gears to demonstrate how adjusting the umbrella’s proximity to the flash can affect the quality of light (think hot light versus diffused light).  Today, for session 3 – we are now shifting our attention to the little flaps that come with your camera – the built in reflector and diffuser.  The question for today is:  Can/do these little flaps make a difference?  Well, to really tell, let’s take a look at how the light behaves in each of these sequences:

The bare flash

Bare Flash on a Shoot Through

The results are not atypical of what one would expect.  We can see quite a bit more diffusion over a flash fired with no shoot through at all.  The light is cast much wider across the umbrella, and a certain amount of diffusion can be noted.  However, we can also see a hot spot of light in the top half of our umbrella.  Bad?  Not necessarily, considering either shooting with no umbrella, or worse – using the flash on camera!   But can we make it even better?  Let’s try!



An interesting result!  We see the light now is carried through more of the umbrella bu looking at the center point as our frame of reference.  See the light expanding a little further down past that center point?  Cool!  But also, look what happened at the top – the reflector took light from the top and bounced it down to the bottom as we clearly have a shadow line going across there.  Hmmm, not sure I like that, so let’s try another improvement!



Now we’re talking!  Look at that light!  It’s clean and even throughout the umbrella!  No lines from a reflector, and nowhere near as much spill over the edges of the umbrella itself.  This is some nicely diffused light!  But wait – can we take it even further?  Let’s try one last thing, just to see what happens!



Uh oh, we over-thought it!  The light is still pretty evenly diffused and spread across the umbrella, except for that one rectangle area across the top where apparently the reflector blocked the light from getting to – thus creating a shadow.  For me, it looks like #3 was the best choice of flash controls.  Here – take a look at all four side-by-side-by-side:

Flash Comparisons

Side by Side Comparisons

I’ve circled the areas that caught my eye in terms of the quality of light – what I like and what I dislike about each – with labels under each setup.  As noted above – my preference is for #3.  The lesson learned here?

Use the built in diffuser when using a shoot through umbrella for a nice even light source!

As in all things though, it’s not a “my way or the highway” mentality – all thoughts and opinions are welcome!  So, which one(s) did you like best? #1? #2? #3? #4?  Sound off with your own thoughts in the comments or via email – feedback and discussion is always encouraged!


Contest Reminder:  Only a few days left to enter the Image Wizards contest.  No fuss, no muss, just enter your image in the Flickr thread for a chance to win a 16×20″ print from them (as judged by yours truly!).

Be sure to stop back in tomorrow for the fourth installment of how to get the most out of a single light setup!

11 thoughts on “5 Tips for Shooting Off-Camera Flash, Pt. 3

  1. NIce Things says:


    Nice tips man. This gives me an idea what to blog next. I really love canon cameras. I’ve actually written nice things about canon EOS 1200D in my blog. Hope you can visit. Thank you!

  2. razaq vance says:

    sure #3 is better and there is a slight shadow on the right side. sure with more experimentation we can improve. Excellent tutorial and a great idea to analyze off camera light..

  3. Thank god someone is finally teaching all this starry eyed strobist newbies the correct way to use a umbrella with those underpowered not intended for studio use pocket flashes. OMG not to mention when they stick a pocket flash in a softbox directly pointing out the front of the sofbox at that point you might as well just use a shoothru umbrella. All this strobist stuff has literally underminded so many newbie photographers who plainly do not know any better. Creating a whole new generation of completely naive shooters who dont understand how light actually works.

    1. At least some of us pathetic newbies are trying to learn properly. Everyone was a beginner once. Stop being a snob.

      1. Hi Heather – were you talking to me or to the commenter above you? If it’s me, let me apologize if the post seemed snobbish – there is so much that I still don’t know about photography, but in learning what I have over the past 20+ years (on and off), I’ve enjoyed sharing what I do know with the world. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to post your comments…

  4. Jason, in your conclusion in bold you wrote “reflector” but I assume you meant “diffuser” correct? Have read this info many times but you were the first to show the differences in samples. Nice job, thanks!

    1. Did I say reflector? Pretty sure it says “diffuser”, right? 🙂 (I edited to make the correction, 😉 )

      Yes, it is supposed to be diffuser not reflector as originally posted.

  5. In solution #3, what did you use as the diffuser to diffuse the light into the umbrella?

    1. There’s a built in little plastic diffuser for the flash – it just pulls out and down to add a dimension of diffusion. Most folks don’t use this in conjunction with the shoot through, but as you can see, it’s a pretty effective combination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *