Photographic Umbrellas: Why Size Matters

by | May 26, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains”—Mark Twain

In my workshop “The Magic of Umbrellas” one of the topics that I discuss is that it’s not just the size of the umbrella’s fabric that matters, there’s also a question about the diameter of the umbrella’s shaft. And while that may not seem significant, shaft size can affect the umbrellas you may already own and any lighting system you may be planning on purchasing in the future.

History lesson: Back in the day, the de facto standard umbrella shaft was 3/8-inch or 10mm because that was the shaft size used by the Larson Reflectasol which was widely used by many shooters, including Mary and I.

In photography like everything else, nothing lasts forever and over time most umbrella and lighting equipment manufacturers standardized on 8mm as the shaft size. But some people just have to do things their own way and one European manufacturer decided to use a spring loaded shaft that would accept a 7mm umbrella shaft and then some, but not all, European manufacturers followed suit. Now, all those 8mm umbrellas you owned wouldn’t fit these lights. The umbrella slot in some European lamp heads or monolights is actually larger than 7mm because there had to be room for the spring-loaded clip and occasionally you could push in an umbrella with an 8mm shaft onto a light head.

FJ Westcott who’s been making all kinds of umbrellas for 100 years decided one way to make a more or less universal solution was to use a tapered 7mm umbrella tip on their 8mm umbrellas that would let you push past the clip and fit these Euro-spec lights.

Westcott’s Apollo Deep Umbrella is available in 43-inch or 53-inch versions with white or silver interior. It’s a focusable light source that has an interior umbrella shaft and 16 fiberglass ribs. It also has dual-wall shaft rods for extra support. I hope to get one of these light to test real soon now.

How I made this shot: I made this portrait of Anastasia in my home studio using a 62-inch translucent  parabolic umbrella in shoot-through attached to an Elinchrom  D-Lite RX One that was placed at camera right. A 30-inch Westcott Basic 5-in-1 Sunlight reflector was placed at camera left serving as fill. A Lastolite Distressed Paper/Graffiti Art collapsible background was used as backdrop and was leaned up against a background already hanging from my falling-apart JTL background stand. Camera used was my old but dependable Canon EOS 60D with EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (at 63mm.) Exposure was 1/100 sec at f/11 and ISO 200.


If you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere, which is available from with, as I write this, new  copies selling for $32.60 with used copies starting at $13.49 as I write this. The Kindle version is $19.99 for those preferring a digital format.