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I am contemplating between shoot-through umbrella and reflective umbrella for product photography. From my research shoot-throughs diffuse light more producing softer light but less focused than reflective umbrellas giving more contrast. Reflective umbrellas provide more focused light that "wraps" around object's sides and reduces shadows.

I am talking about shoot-through umbrella with white fabric inside and reflective umbrella with white fabric inside and black fabric on top. And while both have their uses I want to know what is more preferable for product photography.

Should I get 2 33" umbrellas or 1 43" umbrella? Maybe I get one 43" hybrid that has black removable fabric and serving either as shoot-through or reflective umbrella to see what works better? I also did not mention that I have 160 LEDs 5400K video light and another video light with 5400K. Would having them and 1 43" umbrella be enough for this?

Finally light bulbs. If I choose to go with 2 33" umbrellas, would 45W bulbs be enough? If I choose 43" umbrella I have notion that at least 65W bulb should be bought for it.

Thanks for help

  • Which type of umbrella would be "more preferable" would entirely depend on what you wanted the final images to look like. As such it is entirely a subjective decision. In either case I think you are going to find that you need a lot more than 45W or 65W bulbs. – Michael C Jan 25 '16 at 19:27
  • I wonder why lighting kits that have 33" umbrellas are sold with 45W bulbs. – Boris_yo Jan 25 '16 at 20:11
  • If I will get 2 umbrellas I will not need as strong lights as you mentioned? I mean the more there are umbrellas the less need to have powerful bulbs? – Boris_yo Jan 25 '16 at 20:12
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    The 45W CFL bulbs sold in these Continuous Lighting kits are equivalent to 200W. A 65W CFL is equivalent to 275W. – Mike Sowsun Jan 25 '16 at 20:36
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    I would go with the larger 65W for a 43" umbrella. – Mike Sowsun Jan 25 '16 at 21:15
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White shoot through or white with a black reflective back are both good choices. The quality of light is going to be similar and the much of the differences will be due to other factors such as distance to the subject, room size, and reflective surfaces in the room.

Reflective umbrellas concentrate more light forward so they are more efficient but shoot through umbrellas can be placed closer to the subject which is like having a "larger" light source. Because they are closer it can make up for the loss of the spilled light out the back. The spilled light might also be good for lighting the overall photo, but only you can decide which is better for your application.

In my experience 33" umbrellas are rather small for portraits but might be just the right size for small product photography. If you plan to only do product photography then get the 33" umbrellas, but I would advise getting 2 43" "hybrid" umbrellas and 2 65W (275W equivalent) CFL bulbs so you can use them for other projects. With the "hybrid" umbrellas you can then experiment with shoot through and reflective and decide which you like better.

I have no experience with LED lighting but they might come in handy as fill lighting in addition to the main umbrella lighting.

  • So 1 33" umbrella should be enough to light product? Actually the shoot will be "lifestyle" kind of with props. Not only background but with surrounding objects. – Boris_yo Jan 26 '16 at 3:54
  • How large is the product, how large is the background, and how large are the props and surrounding objects? – Mike Sowsun Jan 26 '16 at 11:45
  • Product is 4" x 7" photographed on a map that has matte coating with small objects surrounding. All this lies on a table in living room. I am planning on getting between 36" to 40" one convertible umbrella and 85W bulb. I could even get 105W since there is only 1 umbrella will be used. I have also 160 LEDs video light from Neewer which I can use to lighten the other side where there's no umbrella. – Boris_yo Jan 26 '16 at 20:33
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    That is a pretty big set to light. I would go with the larger umbrella. – Mike Sowsun Jan 26 '16 at 20:41
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I have used both types of umbrella lighting. I prefer using flash over regular flood lighting. One change I made that had a big difference, I purchased some white silk 36-inches wide. I made a several frames of different sizes out of wood, and put flood lights behind it to make it into one large light source. One is square, the other is six feet long. If required, I place two of them side by side for a larger light source. Or move them opposite for a change in lighting. I like these better than my umbrellas. I have 6 umbrellas of different sizes, and a Novatron 1500 Watt Second power source with 4 heads as my primary flash.

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