I have long said that if I had to choose one light to use for the rest of my life, it’d be a huge white umbrella, like the Paul C. Buff 86″ PLM (parabolic light modifier). I’ve made a living with that modifier for the last several years. It’s been dynamic for both huge groups of people and individuals. I can make bland, all-encompassing-get-it-done light, or I can make dramatic sculpted light. I’ve loved it.
The PLM’s weakness
However, there’s one place where the PLM falls short — literally. In rooms with normal 8-foot ceilings, the center of the 86-inch circular light is 43 inches from the ceiling. My own face is only 23 inches from the ceiling, so It makes lighting anyone as tall as me or taller problematic because the center of the light is lower than their eyes. It looks less natural to have the light that low on a person.
Angler’s perfect solution
Angler has created the perfect solution, and I’m in love. Their ParaSail Parabolic Umbrella has the same features I love in the PLM. You can shine a light through it, or put the cover on and bounce out of it, and it collapses down to a slim shape that stows easily.
Incredibly, they’ve improved the shape of the umbrella. Instead of being a huge circle, they’ve cut it to create sides on the circle. These two sides mean that you can raise the light stand much higher to the ceiling and bring the center of the light higher in a small space.
It’s wonderful that this simple change makes the light so much easier to use. Not only does it go up to the ceiling easily, but it’s also just much easier to maneuver and set up since it’s actually so much smaller. It goes close to walls and it’s easier for subjects to walk around and get into position.
It’s exciting that Angler also includes the reflective cover with each size, which makes it comparably priced to the PLM, and I thought the PLM was the best value on the market.
There are three sizes of ParaSail: 88, 60, and 45 inches. I bought the 88-inch first, and if I had to choose only one it’d still be the 88 inches. B&H also sent me two 60-inch ParaSails for review, and I think the three of them together are the perfect kit.
If you saw me getting kicked in the face a few weeks ago, you saw the 88″ in action. Here’s the video one more time. I don’t mind if you laugh, really.
Why is the light pointing away from the subject? I’m glad you asked. I learned this idea from Tony Corbel. Rather than blasting the subject with light straight on, I’ve turned the light away. But if the subject looked toward the light, she would see the white edge of the ParaSail. If the subject sees white, then light is being reflected onto her. So she gets the brightest light on herself from that portion of the ParaSail.
The rest of the light pouring out of the ParaSail is filling the room and reflecting off the white walls to reduce the contrast and give fill light. Of course, if you click the shutter after the ball hits you in the face it doesn’t matter how good the light is.
Direct reflected light
The ParaSail is surprisingly good as a directly reflected modifier. By that, I mean using it mall-photo-studio-style and putting the flash inside, pointed away from the subject so it shines into the umbrella and reflects back onto the subject. Just like you may remember from your photo sessions at the shopping mall, except they usually had two umbrellas that were silver inside. This is much better with white because it’s softer and less specular.
I use it this way to cover a large specific area with light. For these sports portraits, I needed to photograph the whole team without changing anything between shots. The light gave a very similar look to people who were 5 feet tall and to people who were over 6 feet tall without moving the light up and down.
Direct diffused light
My favorite way to use this light, however, is to remove the cover and point it directly at the subject. The flash shines through the white material and becomes very soft. The light is so large that it seems to wrap around the subject and falls off to darkness subtly.
I use it this way for more dramatic pictures like these.
But I also use it this way for headshots. I do move it up and down for each person to place the light above their eye line, and the parasail shape (like the rectangular parachutes people use) allows me to lift it toward the ceiling even in small office spaces.
I will also use it to diffuse the sun outdoors. Just mount it to an umbrella holder on a light stand and place your subjects in its shadow. Be sure to use sandbags, or you’ll find out why it’s called a ParaSail.
An excellent tool
I still see a few times when I might prefer the PLM to the ParaSail. If I was using it horizontally over a group in a lantern style, I might prefer the full circle coverage of the PLM. But I’ve only done that three times in the last 10 years, and I think in two of the cases the ParaSail would have worked as well. I love my PLMs, and I’m not throwing them away.
But if you asked me today, “Which one light modifier would you recommend to any photographer?” my immediate answer would be, “Angler’s ParaSail.”
Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.
Angler ParaSail Parabolic Umbrella (White with Removable Black/Silver, 88″)
The 88″ White with Removable Black/Silver ParaSail Parabolic Umbrella from Angler has a wing-like, rounded rectangular shape that makes it a unique addition to the light-shapers available to spark and give voice to the photographer’s creative expression. Especially useful in home studios, tight spaces or rooms with low ceilings, the ParaSail can be used horizontally for a wraparound quality of light with maximum space-saving. Used vertically, the modifier has an initial wraparound look with a dramatic falloff, especially when feathered, that facilitates creation of lighting ratios.