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Profoto Umbrella XL silver x2

Profoto Umbrella XL Silver x2. Studio Portrait. Photographer Stefan Tell

My latest investments in light modifiers are two Profoto Umbrella XL, silver. I also bought two Front Diffusers, but haven’t had the time to test them yet.

2x-Umbrella-XL-silver_Studio_Portrait_Lighting_SetupI have been looking for an easy way to set up simple portraits on-location without having to bring too much heavy equipment, but still be able to get good, big light that I can control. For that, I usually bring softboxes and/or diffusion panels together with a Profoto AcuteB 600R or my Profoto D1 (if they have electrical outlets).

The weight of the monoblocs or the battery generator is nothing I can reduce (until Profoto figures out how to cut the AcuteB in half), but the other bag would be nice to make both smaller and lighter. Many assignments would be easy to do with just two lights, two stands and two umbrellas. But small umbrellas are not that fun, I think.

A versatile 2-light umbrella setup


This might seem like the most boring light setup ever, one light 45 degrees from the left and one light 45 degrees from the right. But it is easy to modify and has a natural feel that I like. Just adjust the light ratio to change the feel of it.


I used two Profoto D1 250 Air and two silver Umbrella XL, both at the same height, and both pointing down at about chest level. Just to see how they behaved.


This was not a scientific test in any way, but interesting as it produced good results, I think. The first photo (here in black and white for easier comparison) had a 1:1 light ratio, both Profoto D1 on either side had the same effect settings (4 I think).

As I started with the lowest output, I had to adjust the aperture for later test shots, which makes the background a little darker. I started with f/5.6 (above).


The next shot is done with a little more light from the left, which adds a little more shadow in the right side of the portrait. My aperture here was f/9.


The last test used f/11, and there is much more contrast with darker shadows. But still details in the shadows from the fill light camera right.

Quick light ratio comparison


Nothing spectacular in any way, but I am sure it will be very convenient to have two identical light modifiers to use in the studio and on location. I like the first one as it feels very natural in some way, but adding a little three-dimensionality to it is easily done with just a turn of the knob.

catchlights-eyes-profoto-umbrella-xl-silver-x2Nice catch lights

As the umbrella is a large light source, there will be big catch lights in the subject’s eyes. I guess they can be modified just by moving the umbrella closer to the light or more far away, but I haven’t tried it yet. The main thing is a lot of light in the eyes.

Another bonus with having two large light modifiers is that the unavoidable group shot will be easier to set up and do.

Just place one Umbrella XL on either side of the camera stand and everything will be fine. Adding two umbrellas to the equipment bag doesn’t make it that much bigger or heavier, and adding front diffusers will make the light even softer.

Why I bought the silver umbrella

I already own the Profoto 5-foot Octa and use it for almost everything I do, I really try not to, but it works every time and produces great light for great portraits. At least when I am hired to shoot a lot of people in a short amount of time.

profoto-umbrella-xl-silver-smallThe Octa has two diffusers, one inner and one outer. I use mine with just the inner diffuser, I think that gives the best combination of soft, big light, but with a little contrast thrown into the mix.

So, I already have a light modifier that can be made very soft if I want to, buying the white Umbrella XL would just be more of the same (in some way).

Using silver gives you a lot harder light, with more contrast, and it is a lot less forgiving on people without professional make-up.

But using fill light to even out the contrast, and having the front diffusers to be able to switch it into a very much softer light makes the silver version a better complement to my other modifiers than buying just another soft and large thing. Adding a diffusion panel is always a solution if the light needs to be even softer.

Not cheap, but cheaper

Compared to the Profoto Giant, or the Octa, this light modifier is cheap. I could maybe afford buying one large parabolic super-umbrella, but I don’t think I could justify the cost right now. There are so many other investments in equipment that would make more sense. Making on-location shots simpler is one thing (which this just have made), now I just need to find a better equipment bag.

And maybe upgrading my lights so I don’t have to use a mix of Profoto D1 and the older Compact. Using ND-filters is a simple solution, but having everything on the same level and compatible with the Air system would make my life a lot easier.

The quest for the perfect combination of stuff continues…

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Ryan February 22, 2012, 21:57

    Great post Stefan. Confirmed a few ideas I had for my own future setups. Thanks! Simple setup producing great results just by changing the ratio. I like it.

  • Stefan Tell February 25, 2012, 00:47

    Thanks, I have tried it on a couple of more sessions, and it grows on me. Will be interesting to use in on-location sometime, or just use it as a base and add some kickers or a key light for different results.

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