• Login
  • No products in the cart.

The magic of PLM (parabolic) umbrella

Please look at the portrait below: do you really think it was shot in front of that lake and mountains, or it was a studio shot and digitally applied background?

plm umbrella on location photography
Digital background?

When I saw this image first time, background looked completely unnatural, like it digitally applied on a studio portrait. However, this is  one shot image…

Here is the story behind it:

During Thanksgiving week we spend 3 relaxed days with our friends at North Georgia Mountains near Hiawassee. (many thanks to Doug and Beckie for their beautiful home) I had my new Einsteins units with few umbrellas and stands with me, just to test and play around if we’ll have time and desire to do so:-)

The house we rent was on a steep hill, facing North, with a huge all-around house deck. The view was so beautiful that I had no chance to skip my semi-planned on-location test of Einsteins. So, somewhere around 4PM (sun was going down, creating amazing scenic look on the lake and mountains) I’ve unload my stuff and got 2 PCB stands (with sandbags) on the house deck.
The lighting setup was very simple: two strobes with 64” umbrellas on both corners of the U-shaped deck. PLM silver umbrella on the left, behind the photographer served as a main light, and white umbrella on the right approximately 2 times far away from the model spot then main light as a filler.

I’ve planed to have  the shooting area as wide as possible to have more room to catch running kids, etc. Here is the setup, the right and left side images was joined together:

lighting setup for outdoors strobe photography using plm umbrella
Lighting setup with 2 umbrellas on both sides

Sun was low, behind the house, so all the shooting area was in a deep shadow. To show you the lighting conditions, here is the composition of the whole area done with 14º ultra-wide lens:

plm umbrella 2 lights on-location setup for outdoors photography
Shooting composition through wide angle lens

Look at the difference of light spread:
Positioned at the same angle, PLM umbrella has spot-like beam of light (PLM is behind the photographer, focused on a “model’s place”). In opposite, white umbrella was spreading soft light everywhere around,  highlighting right part of the deck.

Kids refused to pose or run through the deck, so I’ve started from portrait-like photos. From the very first image I was surprised how “detached” background looked! Behind the model everything was blurred (I’ve used 24-70mm F2.8L canon lens at 50-70mm  F8) and combination of strong directional light on a model with no other things on a background affected by strobe light did the trick. Personally I can’t say that I love this effect (especially from the beginning), but it was very interesting to explore it further: I do not shoot much on location, so there are still many things to explore for me:-).
Plus, both girls loved this, so I continued with the same setup and light ratio:

on location shot using parabolic umbrella
Genia enjoyed the view:-)

Notice how a light beam from parabolic umbrella “paint” the skin: bright area in the middle with nice fall-off on the edges. Also, the power of the main light was high enough to give the skin that glow which I usually see on  a bright fashion photos (and I like it:-).

When I’ve asked to shoot our friends to snap few pictures of our little happy family,  focal length was set to 40mm which, with a slight increase of a shooting distance made background look less blurred. This immediately “attached” it back to a stage:

environmental portrait strobes with  parabolic umbrella
environmental portrait strobes with parabolic umbrella: 40mm focal length

BTW, regarding Einstein units: I’ve already tested them in the liquid action shots in  studio with great results, and now used for this quick on-location test shoot. No complains, everything seems to work great, I do not even bothered a lot by that “broken” fixtures for light modifiers they have on current models.

The weather was constantly changing: from sunny day to a rainy night with foggy morning, and then back to a sun. I could not resist and snapped few landscape views with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS telephoto lens:

Hiawassee scenic view mountains
Hiawassee scenic view mountains

Hiawassee mountains scenic view by photigy

The same view next morning, after the rain:

atlanta photographer Hiawassee scenic view clouds
After a rain, clouds at the lake


Update: There are more landscapes on our post production blog: Great vacation and awesome pictures.

Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/30-1/80 sec, F8-13, ISO 100


21 responses on "The magic of PLM (parabolic) umbrella"

  1. Hi Alex,

    Your entire web site, works and experience shares are wonderful. You are very talented.

    Just wanted to say thanks and congratulations


  2. Dear Alex

    Thanks for the nice sharing of the PLM review as well as the beautiful photos.

    I seek your advice on whether to get the silver or the white umbrella for the following shoot:

    One Large group photo of 200 people in 6 rows stacked up one on top of the other.
    About 30 persons side by side per row. Each row will be standing on a step higher than the previous row.
    This is done indoor with a v high ceiling and with ambient light from outside.

    Camera will be about 10metres away from the first row.
    3 umbrellas using Elinchrom D Lite 4 (400ws) and PLM on. left, centre and right placement.

    Should I use the extreme silver PLM or the white PLM (with black spill cover)?

    • I was using silver reflectors for such shots, as you’ll need a lot of the lighting, and silver will add few stops to effective power comparing to white.
      PLM provides you a spot light, so you may consider to use a regular PCB reflectors to cover the entire area, if PLM won’t give you wide enough spread.

  3. Such a Great photos Love it…
    PS: Awesome that i found such a great blog

  4. i freely admit that i’m not as skilled or experienced as you are, so i may be waaaay off base here. but anyway, do you think the first pic looked “detached” because the flash has a different color tone? i’ve been reading that balancing the color of you flash to that of the background environment using plastic gels would give it a more natural look. is this right?

    • I think you are right: the color balancing may be a “detaching” factor as well . Especially if it was not a middle of the day, where sun color temp is close to ma strobe. At the evening, when ambient color temps drops significantly, unbalanced strobe with it “daylight” will look unnatural… Our shot was done about 1.5 prior the sunset.

  5. Nice, seems like you had some nice time with your family. It’s beautiful there!

  6. Thanks for sharing Alex!
    Great work as usual!

  7. Really enjoyed your landscapes!! Thanks for the info too :)

  8. Alex,

    the output from the lights – was it full power?

    have you experimented with the Chinese imports of the same design, I’m really interested in purchasing two units.


    • Rob,
      White umbrella (backlight) was almost at full power, and PLM was at about 3/4 of its maximum power output.

      No, I did not try anything else similar to PCB PLM. For last 5 years I’ve learned quite expencive lesson:
      I better buy more expensive, but reliable stuff rather then cheap stuff and deal with all its “features”.
      At the end I would have to pay twice, buying more expensive thing in addition to a broken replicas.

      But like i said, i do not have any experience with those Chinese umbrellas, may be they are as good as PCB thing: his products is far from the “most reliable on the market” in any case, but the best from price/quality standpoint.


  9. Nice going, Alex ! Don’t you think you should relax a day or two ? :-)

    I like the vertical scenic shot (third from bottom). The colors, composition and overall quality appear to be almost like laser-painted postcard. It reminds me the scenic view of So.Bavaria I saw from one of the towers of the Neuschweistein Castle. Unforgettable and almost unreal… Thanks for sharing !

    • @Milan, I was thinking to relax.. But can’t just lay down and do nothing for more then few hours:-)Such test shots is really good way to fill up my time with something valuable and interesting.
      Yes, that vertical view had very nice lighting: clouds and sun shinning through the holes in a sky.
      One day we’ll be on a long trip in Europe, I could only imagine a beauty of the views there.
      Thank you, my friend!

  10. Great work , very inspiring, thank you

  11. Congratulation, very nice picks and very nice family.

  12. I must say I enjoyed the last picture the most. A bit mysterious actually, as when I look at it without reading what you describe it for, the impression I get is that it’d be some kind of waterfall, or even worse, tsunami.

  13. Very nice scenery. I’ve enjoyed.

Leave a Message

Copyright © Photigy Studio Photography All Rights Reserved
ATTENTION! This is the old website. Ver 2.0 is here:  Login to Photigy 2.0