I am relatively new to strobe photography and have recently selected some speedlight/umbrella holders. My speedlights have some internal capacity to change how wide the light is dispersed in relation to the FOV of common focal lengths of lenses. This makes perfect sense in the context of an on camera flash, but becomes a bit confusing with the flash off camera and pointed into an umbrella.

What focal length setting is common to use with umbrellas, and is it different when using reflection or shoot through umbrellas?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It is highly dependent upon what you want the result to look like. See strobist.blogspot.com/2008/02/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 6:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark This article really helps a lot. As with all photography some experimentation will be required, but now I know where to start! Thank you! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 6:42

3 Answers 3


Use focal length that will not throw light past the umbrella. There are lots of different umbrella sizes, some very large.

I think 50 or 70mm would be fine. As advised above just try and see what works. The only thing you don't want is for light to shoot past.


Do a test. Lower your camera aperture because your test subject is your umbrella.

Setup your umbrella to hold the light at the proper distance and shoot some photos to it. You also need to see the back wall on the shoot.

You will see that if you use a large focal length you will have a small spot at the center.

If you use a small focal there is a chance that at some point, depending on the size of the umbrella and the distance from the head, you will have a spill out of it.

The focal lenght you want is just before any splill occurs.


Umbrellas are normally used to modify light outputs(light modifiers) as light diffuser. The wider the umbrella in diameter, the more diffused and wider coverage it will produced.

The farther the distance from your speedlight, the wider your speedlight will produce on to the umbrella. The smaller the focal length setting, the wider your speedlight will produce on to the umbrella.

The beauty of off camera strobe lighting is having an enormous control of light for your subjects. Not all umbrellas are the same, ie white, gold and silver. Umbrellas were designed primarily for non speedlight type of flashes. They were designed for those strobelights with all type of reflectors attached to them but only a couple or maybe three designed for umbrella use.

The standard reflector is about equivalent to have and angle of about 60-80 degrees, probably about a focal length of 50mm on the flash. You can experiment and try wide, 28mm, normal,50mm and tele-100mm. The larger focal length you use the stronger your speedlight output will be.

Shooting thru the umbrella will produce harsher lights and most time its only a 1 stop different in strength. But again the wider or smaller focal length the softer. Most portraitures requires umbrella feathering, (using the outer edge of the umbrella) to light the face. Direct light is more for dramatic lighting.

Then there is the question of Umbrella height angle position as well as distance in relation to the subjects as well as single or two umbrellas. The use of reflectors come to play using only one umbrella. Hope this answer a little bit.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That is an interesting answer... and could be even more interesting with paragraphs in it :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Olivier
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 21:43

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