If you have never used an umbrella adapter to put a flash and umbrella or softbox on a tripod or light stand, the steps below will show you exactly what is involved. If you have already used an umbrella adapter, setting up a Halo softbox will be ridiculously simple for you. Skip to the Halo section below.
The Basic Equipment
To use an off camera flash with an umbrella/softbox, you will need a light stand or tripod to hold the flash, an umbrella or softbox to soften the light, and an umbrella adapter to mount the flash and umbrella/softbox on the tripod or light stand. You will also need a transmitter or another compatible flash on the camera to fire the off camera flash.
You can use either an infrared or radio controlled system with an umbrella.
If you are using a Halo softbox you will need a radio controlled system. The flash is inside the softbox so it can’t see an infrared signal. In two of the examples below I am using the Yongnuo radio controlled system (which is remarkably inexpensive compared to other radio speedlite systems).
The examples below use Canon and Canon compatible Yongnuo gear, but will work with the appropriate Nikon gear and other systems.
Using an Umbrella Adapter
This is an umbrella adapter (some manufacturers use other names). This one comes comes with a tripod adapter which is important if you want to use it with a tripod. When used with a light stand, the bottom of the umbrella adapter goes over the top post of the light stand and is tightened in place with knob E.
To use an umbrella adapter on a tripod, the gold tripod adapter goes in the bottom of the umbrella adapter and the tripod adapter is held in place by tightening knob E. The threads of the tripod head are screwed into the tripod adapter. The tripod adapter has a set of threads at each end, one measuring 3/8 inch (shown above) and the other 1/4 inch. You use the thread size that match the threads on your tripod head. 3/8 inch is the most common.
If you are using an Arca-Swiss type quick release system on your tripod head, you can screw an Arca-Swiss style mounting plate (from Really Right Stuff or Kirk enterprises) into the tripod adapter so the umbrella adapter drops nicely into your quick release system.
In the three examples below I show you all three options: tripod head with screw mount, light stand, and Arca-Swiss style quick release.
Setting Up an Umbrella with an Off Camera Speedlite
This umbrella adapter is in between the speedlite and the tripod. Knob E on the umbrella adapter holds a threaded tripod adapter inside so it can be can be mounted on the tripod head. The knurled knob and ring (F) under the tripod head are used to screw the tripod head into the tripod adapter, holding the umbrella adapter in place. The shoe mount on the bottom of the Canon 550EX speedlite is placed in the jaws on top of the umbrella adapter. Thumb screw A is tightened enough for the jaws to securely hold the flash in place. Thumb wheel B on the flash is tightened down against the jaws for additional security, just like if the flash was on the hotshoe of a camera. Finally, the umbrella is opened and the umbrella shaft is placed through the hole of the umbrella adapter. Thumb screw C is tightened enough to hold the umbrella shaft in place without bending the umbrella shaft. To angle the umbrella up and down, with one hand grab the umbrella shaft so the umbrella doesn’t drop. Loosen angle knob D with the other hand, change the angle of the shaft, then re-tighten knob D.
This is a slightly different style of umbrella adapter mounted on a light stand, and a different speedlite (which is radio controlled), but everything goes together in much the same way. The umbrella adapter is put on the light stand and knob E is tightened to hold it in place. The speedlite is put in the jaws on top of the umbrella adapter and thumb screw A is tightened enough for the jaws to securely hold the flash in place. Lever B on the flash is moved to the right to tighten against the jaws for added security. Thumb screw C holds the umbrella shaft in place and knob D is loosened to change the angle of the umbrella.
Setting Up a Halo Softbox with an Off Camera Speedlite
This is my Halo setup, minus a tripod or light stand. I prefer using the Halo on a tripod that has a quick release system, to there is a quick release plate on the bottom of the umbrella adapter. This is the Westcott 2025 Round Halo umbrella/softbox and the umbrella adapter linked above.
The bottom of this umbrella adapter has an adapter plate to fit in the Arca-Swiss style quick release system on the tripod head. Mounting the flash is exactly the same as in the examples above this one, using thumb screw A and turning lever B to the right. Turn on the flash and adjust the flash settings so they are like you want them before adding the Halo softbox. It is much easier to get to your speedlite before it is inside the Halo. Don’t forget to pull out the diffuser on the head of the flash to spread out the light across the whole interior surface of the Halo (photo below).
The Halo softbox/umbrella is opened just like any other umbrella. Now for the additional wrinkles. Carefully open the Velcro opening in the black fabric. Insert the Halo shaft through the hole in the umbrella adapter (just like any other umbrella) and hold it in place with thumb screw C. Gently take metal cap F at the end of the black fabric and pull it up and over the speedlite (being very careful not to dislodge the speedlite or rip the fabric) and pull the cap over the end of the Halo shaft, G. The flash and umbrella adapter are now entirely inside the Halo softbox.
If you look up through the Velcro opening you should see something like the image immediately above. Shooting through the translucent fabric will give you a slightly more directional, specular light. Close the Velcro opening. You are ready to go! All controls on the speedlite inside the Halo are controlled by an on camera speedlite or an on camera radio transmitter (links below).
To vary the light you can also push the Halo shaft through the umbrella adapter from the opposite direction so the flash head faces the shiny metallic surface on the inside of the black fabric. This will give you a little softer light than aiming the flash head at the translucent fabric.
Using an off camera flash in a softbox is a great way to do portrait photography when you are out and about. Be sure to read using a Halo softbox and Yongnuo speedlite on a photo shoot.
Article Links: Off-Camera Flash Series
“How To” Series: Off-Camera Flash – Series Introduction
Putting Together a “Studio in a Backpack”. Everything you need to take a small, portable portrait studio on the road. And you may have some of the items already.
All these links are to Amazon.com via my photography store. You get the same great Amazon prices, service and guarantee, plus you help support my web sites. Thanks.
The Yongnuo radio controlled transmitter and speedlite for Canon are here.
Canon’s radio controlled transmitter and speedlite are here.
The umbrella, Westcott Halo, umbrella adapter and Canon infrared transmitter and speedlite are all on this page.
The Yongnuo radio transmitter and speedlites for Nikon are here.
To learn more about flash, off-camera flash, studio lights and a whole lot more, read Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies, one of the highest rated photography books at Amazon.com. Learn more here and order it here.
Read the article Excellent “How To Photograph People” Books for the best books on people and portrait photography.