What would be the best studio setup using two white umbrellas with lights, one silver umbrella with a light and canon 430ex ii? My goal is to take sharp pictures of people without shadows. I am not looking to create any special lightning effect, i.e. Rembrandt lightning.

I have spend an enormous amount of time experimenting with different setups. I get nice pictures but I think I could do better. I am just wondering if somebody could suggest the best setup for this simple studio. I get the best results using the bounce mode (pointing behind me to the white ceiling), however I find the pictures seem a bit underexposed and sometimes out of office.

I actually like using direct flash but having problems with the shadows. I tried using the slave flash to light up the backdrop with poor results. I'd appreciate if somebody could suggest the optimal setup using the equipment I have. Thanks in advance.

I have the following equipment: T3i canon 430ex ii canon 50mm f.18 lenses two white umbrellas one silver umbrella tripod backdrop stand with 4 different backdrops. mainly white walls and white ceiling.

  • I don't think there's one best setup, as it depends on the loo you are trying to achieve. For some possibilities, see the series of posts under lighting-basics. Or, if there's something specific you'd like to be better in those nice pictures, maybe explain what that is? (An example of what you're currently doing would be great.)
    – mattdm
    Jan 16, 2013 at 4:01
  • What is "out of office", by the way?
    – mattdm
    Apr 25, 2013 at 15:44

5 Answers 5


It doesn't matter if you're using canon, nikon or monolights. Correct positioning of your source of light can produce results you want to achieve. In your case, to get rid of shadows behind the person, you may want to invest into a second source of light, which will can be placed behind the person. Here's an example I shot with 2 lights (strobes): http://500px.com/photo/20408789?from=set/535071

  • Thanks! Great photo. Technically, I already have two flashes: one is the build-in flash and the other one is 430ex which can function as the slave. thanks again
    – Max C
    Jan 17, 2013 at 15:41

Probably the best source of free information on shooting with a Speedlite and umbrellas is David Hobby's Strobist site. http://strobist.blogspot.com/

Do you have two 430s? If not, how are you using the three umbrellas? Most folks put a flash in each umbrella (that they are using) and shoot though the white, so that it diffuses the light.

Typical sets have one umbrella on each side, next to the camera, at a 45 degree to the side and 30 to 45 degree down angle.

Or you can go "clamshell" and have one umbrella under the camera position, and one above.

  • thank you! I did notice that most setups involve using two flashes - one for each white umbrellas. I only have 1 430 ex flash. This is why I am asking this question - I can't figure out how to use two white umbrellas and one silver umbrella with only one flash togethe . maybe they are not supposed to be used together.
    – Max C
    Jan 16, 2013 at 16:15
  • 1
    I can't think of any use for three umbrellas and only one flash. You might be able to use them as a reflector, but they are really the wrong shape for that. If you are willing to give up iTTL, you can get an inexpensive second flash to slave, say a LumoPro LP160, or even some of the nameless Chinese clones. And the 430 is not that expensive, you could just add a second. Not like the 600, which is really expensive. Jan 16, 2013 at 17:25
  • Thanks! I can't get any setup to produce "perfect" pictures but I thought it was simply due to my lack of skills.
    – Max C
    Jan 16, 2013 at 18:54
  • 1
    Here is a shot that I took simply with two flashes shoot-thru two umbrellas on either side of the camera. flickr.com/photos/the_old_curmudgeon/6067858531/in/… Jan 16, 2013 at 18:56
  • thanks! I am not sure I would want to get an extra flash at this point although it is certainly worth considering... Additionally, I am noticing a very slight shadow on the picture. Is there any way to avoid that in this specific setup?
    – Max C
    Jan 16, 2013 at 20:13

Shadowless lighting requires a broad light source directly in front of the subject or a high enough volume of (omnidirectional) light coming from all around the subject to wash out any shadows. A speedlite and on camera flash combination is unlikely to be made sufficiently broad or produce the volume of light necessary to get the shadowless effect you desire.

In your case, using your speedlite shooting thru a white umbrella is a start toward broadening the source but the light is still going to be directional as opposed to omnidirectional and that means its going to cast some shadows. If you had other white reflector material you could try surrounding your subject with it to bounce light back into the shadows.

Keep in mind that shadowless lighting is not generally the most flattering lighting for portraiture, but hey, try it anyway and see if you can get pleasing results.


There are two different kinds of shadows that you will care about with portraiture. One kind of shadow is shadows of facial features on the face itself. These shadows are often consdiered desirable, as they give shape and dimentionality to an otherwise 2D picture.

Typically there will be one major light source that is away from the camera and pointed towards the subject. The further away from the camera the camera, the longer the shadows will appear. Typical placement is at about a 45 degree angle away from the camera. If the light is on the same axis as the camera, located on or very close to the camera, therre will be few or no shadows on the subject.

Another way that the quality of shadows is controlled is by the use of lighting modifiers such as umbrellas to increase the apparent size of the light source with respect to the subject. A small light source like a bare speedlight will create shadows with very sharp edges. A large light source like a flash shoot through an umbrella placed close to the subject will create shadows with very indistinct, diffuse borders.

If an off axis main flash is used a second flash placed near the camera, with a lower power setting than the main flash, will make the shadows less dark. Alternative, a large white card can be used to reflect the main flash into the shadows to make them less dark.

A second kind of shadow that may appear in portraits is the shadow of the subject onto the background. This is typically considered undesirable and is controlled or eliminated in a number of ways. One way is to increase the distance between the subject and the background, so that any shadow falls in a place that isn't seen by the camera. Using a large light source like an flash with umbrella will make any shadows on the background less distinct and thus less objectionable. Finally, a light source may be pointed at the background to illuminate it, and if the light source is bright enough, it will eliminate any shadows.

So to achieve a completely shadowless portrait given the equipment in the original question, the best option would probably be to set up the speedlight using one of the white umbrellas (either bounce or flash through) immediately behind and slightly above the camera.


maybe a reflector ? .. If you cant get your hands on one you could always go to the store and buy some large white poster board. Don't be scared of shadows work with them.

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