Off camera flash


Reflex umbrella

In this blog I talk about my work and not that of other photographers, but there are exceptions that confirm the rule. Annie Leibovitz is a photographer I admire and in my Portraiture and Fashion classes I teach her work quite often. As a fan of his, a teacher of lighting techniques and a portrait professional, I couldn’t help but study his lighting technique and it is there that I discovered that he works with great frequency with a fixture that is not a window or an umbrella … it is the Photek “reflex umbrella”. I have been using it for more than 7 years and with it I photographed Dani Álves, Brazilian national team player, former Barça player and current Juventus player.

Dani Alves

Dani Álves

I was commissioned by Gentleman magazine, for which I have worked frequently for many years. The photographs were taken at Barça’s sports city and the session was very brief, perhaps 30 minutes in total. We were looking for an elegant photo for the cover and a more informal one for the interview. The first photo was taken in natural light on the soccer field. The day was sunny so I looked for a shady spot so as not to have too much light contrast. I didn’t care about showing the field either, so I decided to use a very shallow depth of field and a lens with a focal length somewhat longer than a normal 70 mm. The wall behind one of the goals had a stretched tarp with some holes in it and it seemed like the right background.

Dani Alves

Dani Álves

But back to the flash light and the magazine cover photo, I had to make a quick decision. There was little time and place, and I had to take the photos in a small room, with a sofa, a table, a translucent wall and little else. I decided to place a large poster glued on a rigid and light base and use its back side as a white wall since the walls of the room were full of glass framed photos, which distracted the attention and produced reflections.

off camera flash

The shots were short, medium and American shots since the cover did not allow a full body shot, due to design issues. I placed a Lastolite 2×1 reflector to the right of Álves to reduce the contrast produced by the main light and started shooting.

off camera flash

Lastolite reflector 2×1

As seen in the photograph above, I used Photek’s “reflex umbrella”. The particularity of this fixture is that the light is softer than that of an Octa window of the same size. The light from a window is direct, although it passes through two diffusers that disperse the light, helping in the final softness. But this fixture first works as a reflection umbrella so the light is indirect and goes to the bottom of the umbrella. By bouncing on the parabolic shape of the accessory, after placing the flash on the geometric axis of the parabola, we obtain a uniform bounce. However, the light does not emanate from the umbrella broadly, but the front diffuser finally produces a wraparound light.

off camera flash

Parabola versus hemisphere

The most effective test to understand whether a fixture actually produces a soft, enveloping light would be to use a hand-held photometer and make measurements against the diffusing front surface of the fixture. If the light distribution is homogeneous, it should give the same diaphragm over its entire surface. With the old fiberglass light boxes, this was the case, and in the still lifes of specular objects, their quality could be seen.

Hazyligh Broncolor

Hazylight from Broncolor

The advantage that these boxes had over today’s demountable windows is that they were designed with a perfect parabolic curve which allowed a homogeneous distribution of light. Nowadays if the reflection is not homogeneous it can be retouched, but the light will not be as diffuse as we would like. Photek’s “reflex umbrella” solves this problem, without rigidity of shape and with a very simple assembly. Now I understand why Annie Leibovitz uses it!

Annie Leibovitz

© Annie Leibovitz

Parabolas are “conic” geometric figures in analytic geometry. Its shape has the geometric property that if the parabola were a mirror and beams of light were to reach it parallel to its axis, all these rays would be reflected and would meet at a single point known as the “focus”.

off camera flash

Parabola focus

On the contrary, if we put a light bulb in its “geometric focus”, it would reflect the light in a parallel way, achieving a homogeneous light distribution. But the texture of the diffuser surface is also important. In this regard I remember the famous diffusers that Gary Regester developed and patented in his Wafer windows for Bowens. and patented in his Wafer windows for Bowens.n. Diffusion was excellent in folding windows and reached a level of response very close to that of rigid windows that are no longer manufactured.

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Mylar filter for Wafer windows

I was excited about this fixture when I saw it work. Since then we use it in the lighting classes I teach in several schools and universities in Spain and Latin America.

off camera flash

Class at Top Studios

In the case of the photograph at hand, I used a Bowens 750 W/s flash. These are the flashes I have been using for many years and for the work I usually do they have never let me down. They have a power that solves almost every professional situation I find myself in and I have never had to send them in for repair.

Bowens Gemini

Bowens Gemini 750

Since a few years ago, Profoto has also designed a “reflex umbrella” similar to Photek’s, but I haven’t tried it yet. The litmus test will be the homogeneous distribution of light with measurements made on its surface. I am almost certain that I will not be disappointed.

Profoto umbrella shallow

Profoto Umbrella shallow

Lighting scheme


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No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the author.

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