A Closer Look At The Profoto Umbrella Deep

One of my old D1’s shot with my new B2, white umbrella and another head gelled.

When it comes to what most would consider large light modifiers there are a couple of common misunderstandings. How big a modifier you need, how far away it should be, what shape it should be, the list goes on. I’m not going to try and clear up all of that in one post, instead I want to take on one of the most misunderstood and typically the most underrated large light modifiers out there. Yep, the umbrella. I’m going to use the Profoto umbrella Deep L (52in) in silver as the baseline for a few illustrations that compare a couple of umbrellas that run the gamut from quite a bit larger to quite a bit smaller as well as white vs silver. I specifically chose the silver variety in deep because it’s such a different beast and I hear all sorts of things regarding it’s shape, interior, and how it behaves compared to other modifiers.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way that are debated, stated, and argued about in the interwebs first in no particular order:

  • Deep silver umbrellas behave a lot like a Broncolor para or the like. Generally no they don’t but they can produce similar results to a true parabolic within a narrow spectrum. They have nowhere near the range of effects.
  • You absolutely need the dome (in reference to the accessory dome for the flat-front Profoto lights vs the traditional Pro heads). Not really with the caveat that it makes the most difference with the silver deep umbrellas (actually in makes the most difference with a lot of the hard reflectors offered by Profoto like the magnum, tele-zooms, wide zoom, etc).
  • The Silver deep umbrellas are crap because they just act like a smaller umbrella since blah, blah, blah pseudo-math crap and a demonstration picture of how only the center lights up looking at it strait on with a flat-front light. No they look completely different than a smaller modifier (IE smaller white or silver umbrella, small box, etc) They don’t at all look like or act like that.

Okay with that out of the way I’ll move on to some illustrations and other comments. I used a super boring and simple setup for these illustrations. The stupid hat was about 3ft in front of the background which was an off-white wall with some crap hanging on it right above the hat. My stand/boom was 5ft away from the hat and as high as I could go in a room with 8ft ceilings. That put the Umbrella Large center point about 2.5ft above the hat and the very bottom edge level with it (Note: in Profoto speak L is 52in in diameter, NOT across the arc of the back as most umbrella sizes are listed so the L is quite large). For this test I left the stand in place and slid the shaft in and out to compare various positions and effects. This effectively change the distance of the back of the umbrella about 1.5ft in total from all the way extended to as close as the head could get to the back. Obviously this changes the relative angle of the light just a hair as well but not much, you will see that clearly though.

For the first illustration let’s look at a flat-fronted D2 without the glass dome as far away from the back of the umbrella as well as almost all the way in closer to the rods.

As far away from the head as possible and quite a bit farther into the umbrella without dome.

The biggest question of any Profoto D1, D2, B1, or B2 user is probably “what about the dome”. Okay let’s look at that next. The following is with and without the glass dome with the D2 head as far away from the umbrella as it can get.

As far away from the head as possible without dome and with dome. You decide, is it worth $200? Then again it is different.

I’ll let you be the judge as to the difference with and without the dome when the umbrella is as far away from the head as it can get. In the first illustration I specifically mentioned almost all the way in close to the rods. The silver umbrella deep does something very strange when you move the light all the way in as close to the rods as the head will go. Close as in about 1mm away. The first is without the dome, the second is with the dome. Take a look below.

All the way inside as close to the ribs as you can get without dome and with dome.

Well gee, that’s unexpected isn’t it? Why does it do this? Don’t know mathematically but it’s behavior is way different than a para FB or the like. I guess here’s the point, forget what things are supposed to do when it comes to lighting. You really really have to play with your lights and especially your modifiers. Armchair quarterbacking and postulation and theorization only takes you so far which by the way is not really that far since it’s all in the details and tiny little changes. On that note there are two kinds of photographers if we divide them up in a broad stroke. Those that just want easy and those that relish in all of the variations. Big, soft, white modifiers are definitely easy. You don’t have to pay a lot of attention. Close rations between key lights and shadow/fill are easy. Again you don’t even have to pay any attention.

Let’s compare that silver umbrella to a few things that are a bit more mainstream or not quite as twitchy. First up let’s add the front diffuser to the umbrella deep L and compare it to without the dome all the way out on the shaft.

Without diffuser and with diffuser. Looks a hell of a lot like a 3 or 4 ft octa-box to me with the diffuser.

From my perspective it’s a very different beast. It’s a lot like a 4ft octabox. More specifically it’s somewhere in between a 4ft ocatbox with only the front diffuser and the inner baffle removed and with the diffuser in place. Namely there is a central hot-spot compared to a double-diffused 4ft octabox but nowhere near that same octabox without the inner diffuser. Truth be told the silver umbrella deep always has a pronounced hot spot that varies in size and fall-off depending on where the head is on the shaft. It acts very different with a flat-front light in that hot-spot changes a lot. With the glass dome it’s a lot less change based on shaft position. So is that good or bad? Umm, neither, it’s like anything else to be used to get whatever look you are after. Certainly not a great idea if you are trying to evenly light a large group with the light 5 feet away (actually that’s a bad idea any way you slice it anyway, wrong tool and probably too close for one light anyway if you want even light). I like the variability myself.

Next up let’s take a look at the silver L with diffuser vs. the Profoto umbrella deep XL in white.

Deep silver L vs Deep white XL

Sorry but I just could not get the same point of view. I also had to lower the light quite a bit. The XL is huge, as in really huge. I would not recommend this beast for any normally sized room with 8ft ceilings, even 9ft ceilings are going to be cramped and you’ll have a really hard time (impossible) getting the light high enough for full length shots or anyone standing up at all. I swear this thing at 65in in diameter across the actual edge linearly is bigger than every umbrella labeled “7ft” but measured around the arc I’ve ever used.

It’s a very very soft light but still very controllable compared to bouncing a light off v-flats or a wall. It’s much more controllable than any shallow umbrella as well. Speaking of bouncy let’s take a look at that huge umbrella vs a small umbrella (The Profoto umbrella S in white) that’s 33in. The stand is in the same place but effectively it’s a couple feet closer from the back of the umbrella to the hat.

Deep white XL vs white S regular umbrella.

Hmmm, yes even the small 33in class umbrellas are useful. The big difference between a shallow umbrella and a deep umbrella is really about control. That’s exactly what Profoto says and that’s exactly what the deep umbrellas do. You want very even spread everywhere, go for the shallow. You want control go for the deep. Here’s a run-down.

  • The deep umbrellas are far more like using a soft box. In a lot of ways they can be more like using a box with a grid. How?? Well the fall off at the edge is actually more than a box with a grid at the very edge but obviously that’s only at one edge and wherever else it’s pointing is not as contained. Don’t write that off, it’s really handy when feathering light from a deep umbrella and using a reflector opposite. Something that’s completely out of control with a shallow umbrella.
  • Speaking of shallow umbrellas, it’s almost impossible to fill them with light and not have hard light spill over the edge. Then again I’ve used that hard strip of light at the edge to very cool effect while using the all over spread as fill in a few cases. Again, use your eyes and creativity instead of looking at everything as a problem.
  • How much more contained are they strait-on compared to a box or shallow umbrella. They are definitely more contained than a box of similar size with no grid but much less than with a grid. As compared to a typical umbrella let’s put it this way. The deep XL is far far more contained than the small shallow umbrella.

Speaking of bounce, yeah that works too but again is completely different in look. I actually like huge bounce to bring up shadows a hair in many cases. Usually with v-flats but below is a comparison of the XL white umbrella to a bare bulb (D2 with dome) bounce with the light at the same position.

Deep white XL vs bounce.

Kind of lifeless but hey, looks a whole lot like diffuse ambient bouncing around doesn’t it. Too bad even in a smallish room of 12ft across and light colored walls you’ll need at least 2stops (4x) the power as the huge XL white to get the same exposure and have the added benefit of crazy random color casts. Actually that aforementioned color problem is why it works so well in many rooms at a very low level to make things look “natural” when using a big box or brolly as a key light. That’s what happens typically anyway. A pure (when corrected) key from a window and a bunch of colored bounce back from the room (it helps a lot in feel if you include the some context for environmental portraiture that doesn’t feel “lit”, especially if the room is green or blue or something).

Summary

I hope a few people find this helpful that are trying to decide on various lighting modifers. Like most things, it’s not the modifier that’s good or bad, it’s a combination for what look you are trying to get and how you use it. I also hope this will help clear some things up as to why I tend to travel with the deep silver large when I am traveling light with only one or two strobe heads. It’s useable in normal rooms, it’s light, compact, and sets up very quickly while giving me a lot of range depending on how I use it.