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I'm new to off-camera flash and looking to buy some gear (stands, umbrellas, etc.). I've seen some umbrellas that have a removable black cover, like this one:

Adorama 60" umbrella

I assume that you add the cover when the umbrella is used as a reflector and remove it when you fire the flash through the umbrella. Is that right? There's not much description to go on...

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You're correct. When the black covering is on, the umbrella is intended to reflect the light. When the black cover is off, you change the orientation of the umbrella so that your light goes through it instead (shoot through). Your linked item describes that in the product description. It's a handy feature to have (I have a couple of the Paul Buff ones) though can be a bit of a pain to put on and take off versus a dedicated umbrella.

A good comparison of the two options can be seen on Lighting Essentials - Umbrella Comparison but in a nutshell, the shoot through is more contrasty and the bounce wraps the subject more. Worth reading the article to get a sense of the result.

  • Doh! I was looking for exactly that somewhere on the page and completely overlooked the product description. Thanks. – Caleb Aug 18 '13 at 16:24
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The ability to remove the umbrella cover gives the umbrella more flexibility. If you are asking why would you shoot through the umbrella, one major benefit is you can put the white surface of the umbrella closer to your subject. Using the umbrella in its reflective mode, the white surface part of the umbrella will be farther from your subject - the difference in distance is about the length of the umbrella's shaft.

This distance matters because the closer the white surface of the umbrella is, the softer the light and the faster it "falls off". That softness is the effect an umbrella user is normally going for. But that fall off may not be desirable.

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