Reflective Umbrella VS Shoot Through
Before buying my first studio lighting kit I was using my Nikon SB-800 Flash and a shoot through umbrella for “studio like” portraits. This is really simple setup and in most cases you get great results. What I like in this kind of lighting is that you get really nice soft light and very pleasing looking portraits.
When I bought my studio lighting kit the first thing I tried was a shot with one strobe and just one reflective umbrella. To be honest, I thought that now, with so much more powerful strobe I’ll get better results. However, the light was not better – I could see that it was a bit harder and I got a little bit more “dramatic” portraits compared to the portraits taken with the shoot through umbrella. I talked with a friend of mine and he explained me why this happens. With a shoot through umbrella you point your light to the subject and usually your light source is much closer to the subject. This makes the light source relatively big to the subject and thus you get nice soft light. On the other hand, when you use reflective umbrella your light source is far from the subject and so it is relatively small. This is why you get harsher light. Also the shape of the umbrella is very important. When you use shoot through umbrella the light from the flash spreads more evenly to the subject, whereas with a reflective umbrella the light is more concentrated into one point.
In general it is important to know how the light modifiers affect the quality of light. It is up to you to decide what kind umbrella you want to use. I personally prefer soft light, and so I use shoot through umbrella or softbox sometimes. But in some cases, when I want more dramatic look, I use reflective umbrella.