Six years ago I started making pictures, and I dove right in planning to make a portrait business. The best thing I did was attend David Ziser‘s workshop where he taught me that shadow and light are the most important technical things to learn in photography. He showed image after image of stunning portraits, and they were almost all lit with the same modifier, and I bought one from him that night. Six years later, that Zumbrella is still my most profitable tool, and while it’s seen better days physically, it’s still the fastest and easiest way I have to make great light for portraits.

David Ziser’s Zumbrella is different from any other white shoot through umbrella you can buy in this size. More light goes through it! Other umbrellas have a reflective coating, which is great if you want to reflect light out of the umbrella, not so great if you’re trying to shoot light through it. And shooting through it will give you the soft beautiful light that looks good on everybody.

The Zumbrella is $40. Other shoot through umbrella’s can be found much cheaper. For the pictures in this post I actually used an umbrella from Phottix, which is less expensive, but also less efficient. The difference is that when brightness is important, the Zumbrella lets more of your flash’s power through to light your subjects, which equates to longer battery life, or lower ISO’s, or bigger groups of people lit. I’ve lit as many as twelve people in a family with a single Zumbrella and had great results.

Plus, a double folding umbrella like this literally fits in the pocket of my overcoat. A speedlight drops in another pocket, and a passerby holding these together is a perfect setup for making an impromptu portrait on the sidewalk.

So, spend forty bucks and get a Zumbrella. If you really, truly only have twenty, get a normal white shoot through umbrella (but it’s really money well spent for the Zumbrella).