Thingamajig Thursday: Parabolic Umbrellas


(above, product photo, all other photos by Joe Howell) This is the first of a new occasional series of UPAA blog articles called “Thingamajig Thursday” where we'll get a quick review of gadgets and gizmos that make our work more convenient. Why "Thingamajig Thursday?" Because I have an affinity for alliteration…and my 2nd-grader watches “Cat in the Hat” on PBS Kids. Do you have a gadget or product that you find useful and want others to know about? Share with group! Email me at In the first of the series, Vanderbilt Photographer Joe Howell writes about parabolic umbrellas:


One of my favorite items in my roller bag is a 7ft parabolic umbrella. I use two brands – Westcott and Impact – with almost identical results. I always use a front panel diffuser, because I feel like the spread of light is more even. Whether you choose to use it as an umbrella or a massive softbox the quality of light is stunning. Another amazing thing is the cost. You can find the Impact for approximately $60.00 and the Westcott for roughly $100.

This large light source breaks down into a relatively small package that is very portable and lightweight. There is a learning curve on how to manage this 7ft monster in small spaces, but once mastered the results are impressive. The biggest knock is the structural quality – over time they will break.  Cost, functionality and results make the 7ft parabolic umbrella indispensable.


1). The light source is to the left of the camera and is used to create beautiful light, but also to block the sun. Wind can be a major problem, so properly anchor your light with sandbags. Westcott Umbrella.


2). Majority of the 7ft umbrella (with front panel) is to the front of the subject and down low, left of camera. Impact Umbrella.


3). I am top lighting the subject in a small room with the light slightly tilted toward the subject. The light spread hits the subject, background and wraps around under her chin. Impact Umbrella.


4). I needed to fill this lab with a lot of light, so that all of the faces were evenly illuminated, plus I need to make sure that the I held the highlight on the white coats. The 7footer allowed me to accomplish both goals. There is a second light bouncing off the ceiling to provide light on the background and create a subtle hair light. Westcott Umbrella.


5). Here is a photo showing the front panel of the softbox, which I used as a background. Westcott Umbrella.


6). The subject was wearing glasses with a large surface, which would show my light source and potentially make the photos unusable. The solution was to move the light source back about seven feet. This allow the modifier not to be visible in her glasses, but the quality of light was maintained. Impact Umbrella.


"What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet? Supplies!!" Suggestions, submissions and feedback always welcome, email editor Matt Cashore at Follow UPAA on Instagram!