What you need on the beach

…is an umbrella, and an off-camera flash in that umbrella, as I said the other day. Some of you have asked “why” – so here’s why.

Bride and dad, with no flash:

Same, but with flash in an umbrella:

As you see, the first example is terrible. Now, I could have increased exposure (higher ISO, slower shutter or lower “f-number”), but that would have also lost the background: it would have become all white.

Two more examples:

Both cases show why you need flash, no? Without my flashes, I would have done little of value in Jamaica.

And on-camera flash would have looked flat und uninteresting.

Here’s a typical setup – and the yellow flash and ghost hand (if you look carefully) belong to a person I have removed here for clarity 🙂

And I did not need a lot:

  1. Camera, of course
  2. Wide angle lens.
  3. Two pocketwizards.
  4. PW to flash cable from flashzebra.com.
  5. Flash, with spare batteries.
  6. Lightstand.
  7. Bracket for mounting umbrella and flash on lightstand.
  8. Optional: second flash with pocketwizard and cable, fitted with 1/4″ Honlphoto grid and Egg Yolk Yellow gel.

Easy once you have the knowledge… which brings me to my courses. Have a look at www.cameratraining.ca under “Schedule” and see what I can help you achieve – then sign up now.


Size matters.

…the size of your umbrella, anyway.

I am using a big Photoflex umbrella today. How big? Here’s how big:

Big Photoflex Umbrella

Big Photoflex Umbrella

This umbrella, which can be used to shoot into, as I am doing here, or to shoot through, is huge. Which makes the light softer.

It is also very reflective, more than most. And that helps: I was able to overpower daylight on an overcast day with the single Bowens 400 Ws light set to 3 (out of 5), somewhat close to the subject. With my regular, smaller and less reflective umbrellas, I would have used a setting of 4 to 5 for that shot.

So, all this amounts to:

  • Softer light (since the source is larger),
  • Greater distance I can bridge,
  • Less spillover behind the umbrella (which in a studio is important)
  • A lot more shots out of my battery pack,
  • Faster recharge time between shots.

Here is that battery pack:

Bowens battery pack

Bowens battery pack

At full power, I get 150 shots out of a small battery (attached at the bottom); at power level 3, it is closer to 300 shots.

So by using a nice umbrella, metering to minus two stops ambient (minus three if metering off the dark garden), then setting the flash to the aperture thus achieved, which was f/5.6), I get this shot:

Nancy, photo by Michael Willems

In the back yard, lit by flash

As you can probably see, I am also using a speedlite on the camera left, to separate the hair from the background and to give some edge lighting interest. That speedlite is fitted with a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid to avoid the lens flare I would otherwise get.

Time for this snap: couple of minutes.

If all that is confusing, as it will be to beginners, then just take one of the flash courses and learn how to do this. It is fun, and well within reach of amateurs – not just for pros!

Michael’s Quick Judgment:

  • Photoflex large reflective umbrella: recommended.
  • Bowens Travelpak power pack: recommended.