I received a Photek Umbrella – Softlighter II 60” for Christmas. I asked for it as I wanted a reflective umbrella larger than what I had, larger than my current Rotalux softboxes & Octabank, and finally, easy to set up. The goal was to get a modifier at least 60” wide. I did a fair amount of research and learned there are multiple options from Wescott, Impact, Profoto, Broncolor & others. I ended up selecting the Photek mainly because of the cost (under $100), came with a diffuser sock.
I tested the Softlighter with model Emily Gregory. Emily volunteered to help out, and the basic plan was to use the Softlighter at different distances from the background and from the model. My goal was to get a diffused light softer than a beauty dish and with a larger area of cover than my other softboxes.
The shoot was done in studio and I didn’t bother to set up a seamless backdrop. I simply used the one of the studio’s grey walls. I mounted the Photek Umbrella on an Elinchrom D-Lite 4 studio strobe, which was mounted on a Kupo Master C-Stand. The entire setup was fairly light (the umbrella weighs no more than an equivalent sized softbox. Even with the arm ¾ extended with the light & umbrella at the end the Kupo C-Stand was stable. Even though, I added a sandbag on the leg.
The umbrella is intuitive to use. It simply opens up like a regular umbrella. You slide the central rod into the umbrella hole in the studio light. The tricky part to remember is you need to put the diffuser panel / sock on the light first, and then put the umbrella on the strobe. You then put the diffuser sock on the little pegs at the end of the umbrella. Really intuitive.
The only problem I had was the central pole of the umbrella is in 2 parts. The idea is that once you put the umbrella on your light about ½ of the central rod sticks out the back of your strobe. You can unscrew the central rod in ½ so nothing sticks out back to jab you. The problem is that the 2nd part of the central pole is thicker than the first part and it didn’t fit the hole in the Elinchrom. I couldn’t pull it through far enough to unscrew the 2 parts. It was a pain. I know, I know you have no clue what I’m talking about…you’d have to see it. Also, the umbrella is large so it is a bit of manhandling to hold it straight so it can be mounted on the studio strobe. Not to self, use an assistant.
Anyway, the umbrella worked as plan. It is a reflective umbrella, not a shoot through. You can use it without the diffuser sock (I didn’t) for a punchier look. I used a Nikon D600 with an AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens for all photos. I started off at ISO 200 & speed at 1/160. I metered the light between f/7.1 to f/10 during the shoot.
For the first set I had Emily stand about 4 feet away from the wall and the umbrella was about 5 feet away from her. Light was metered at f/10. I had the umbrella straight on from Emily. The results were a pleasing diffused lighting on Emily fairly uniform from her knees to her face. The light fell off very quickly so the background was dark. Very little shadowing.
The next set I moved Emily to lean against the wall and set the light about 6 feet away. For this shot I metered my lights at f/7.1. The effect was to again give Emily an even diffused lighting from knees to face, but this time the background was also well lite. The challenge with this if not done correctly is that the model will look flat against the wall. This of course can be minimized with clothing colors and angling the light off center axis.
Throughout the shoot I moved the umbrella up & back to the wall and model. Like any large diffuser, the larger the light source the softer the light. And this is what I found worked. Also, because it is a large diffuser the field of cover is larger than most studio modifiers.
I’m happy with the Photek Umbrella based on the first test, and I plan to use it much more.