Lighting 101: Umbrella Swivel Adapters

To attach your flash to a light stand, you'll need an umbrella swivel adapter. They are also called umbrella adapters, or just "swivels."

This pretty straightforward. These are rugged and cheap at about ($15). Top to bottom, here's how they work.

A. The Cold Shoe

Unlike a hot shoe, this has no electrical connections. It just holds a flash. (Or, in many cases the Universal Translator that would give your flash a sync jack.) Then you put the flash on top of that.

This cold shoe (on the LP633) has an expanding/locking clamp, which makes it sturdy and also lets it fit the foot of some weird flashes whose feet are slightly oversized.

B. The Umbrella Mount

This is a hole and clamp which holds the optical umbrella (more on that in a bit) which you will use to soften your flash's light. Even if you are not using an umbrella (which you will not do all of the time) you need this to attach a flash to a light stand, or anything els that is tipped with a 5/8" male stud.

You put the umbrella shaft into the hole and clamp down the screw. Pretty simple. If you are doing it right (i.e., not backwards) the umbrella shaft should point about ten degrees up (instead of down) to offset the fact that the flash is a little off-center due to the mount.

C. The Tilting Mechanism

I'll bet you can figure this out by yourself. You loosen it, tilt the flash and/or flash/umbrella combo, and tighten it back to lock in place. This model has a toothed grip for an added margin of no-slip safety.

D. The Light Stand Mount

This is the female receptacle and locking knob that holds the whole assembly to the top of your light stand. Or anything else with a male, 5/8" stud.

E. The Extra Stud

Some swivels ship with an extra stud. (The LP633 does.) This has a female, threaded ¼" x 20 hole at one end and a 3/8" hole at the other. With a little ingenuity and a bolt of the right size, you can figure out all kinds of positioning devices and/or brackets that might support a flash in a tight or unusual spot.

This stud will marry your frankenstein lighting creation to the swivel and allow you to connect it all together. Go nuts.

Next: Synching Your Flash to Your Camera


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Anonymous Nick Decker said...

Great site, and I've learned a lot about the small-strobe world.

Concerning the umbrella mount from Adorama that you mentioned, I got one and have to say the shoe mount that comes with it is el cheapo grosso. The threads in the aluminum shoe mount stripped the first time I mounted a flash on it. Finger tight, just snug enough to hold the flash on there, or so I thought. Ordered a different one from B&H (Photoflex, B&H #PHMCUSM). Costs a couple bucks more, but it's worth it, IMO. Looks about the same as the one from Adorama, but the shoe mount seems more substantial (and doesn't strip).


June 12, 2006 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

Does anyone know of a source of the brolly mounts in the UK? I've just about managed everything else.

June 12, 2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

When this mount is mounted on a stand and the umbrella is attached, where should the light from the strobe be focused? Since the SB-800 cannot be lowered beyond -7 degrees, the light is focused on the 1/3 point between the center and the outer edge. Does this affect the performance of the umbrella? Should the strobe focus be pushed all the way out to tele or all the way back in?

June 23, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

Just make sure the strobe is backed out (don't "choke up" on the umbrella shaft. Set your flash to ~24mm throw on the light output, and you'll be fine.

June 23, 2006 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

would this adapter or similar ones screw into a tripod instead of a lighting stand?

June 25, 2006 10:54 AM  
Anonymous Ken Spencer said...

For Stephen: The umbrella shaft hole in my adapter (the B&H one) is not drilled perpendicular to the adapter - it goes up at an angle. And my SB28 head will point up to wherever the umbrella is. In your adapter can your turn the adaper around and then will the umbrella be aimed higher, where the flash can be aimed at it?

June 27, 2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger MagikTrik said...

Just a quick note, make sure you buy the umbrella adapter that has the hole for the umbrella above the elbow! I bought a little kit from B&H & the adapters have the umbrella holes below the elbow which really sucks because they can't be bent in any way.

July 08, 2006 6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For MagikTrik:
I also bought these from B&H, and I had the same problem. But later on (when I was less tired..), I found out that you can turn the whole thing upside down. Just take out the brazen bolts and let them change places, so that the one with the flash shoe is on the other end.

(I'm norwegian, but I hope this made at least some sense...)

August 22, 2006 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After much hunting for a UK cold shoe mount I found this:

Doesn't give much info on it, but it sounds like the the right thing, you can get it from here for £20 (ex P&P):

Look under Lastolite studio kit.

Will be ordering some at the end of the month and will try and post back on my impressions. I probably get a reflector stand and a Manfrotto stand from the same place in one go.

September 07, 2006 4:35 AM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

I'm concerned about the tape. Can you just put it on the flat inner part of the shoe - where the contacts on the bottom of the strobe are - or do you need to make sure there is no metal on metal contact between the two? I've tried taping up the whole thing basically but it becomes very difficult to get the flash on/off.

November 19, 2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger David said...


One little pices to cover the flat inner part - where the flash's contact pins would touch - will be fine. It should not effect the tightness of the fit.


November 19, 2006 11:24 PM  
Anonymous Gareth said...

In regards to availability in the UK, check out this guy studioplus2007 on ebay. Got 2 including postage from the states for £15.


January 24, 2007 11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any reason why the shoe would be so tight that my perfectly good SB-600 won't go further than even 2mm in? And that's with too much force in the first place, any more will surely bend something.

And there's definitely no room for tape!

March 17, 2007 1:41 AM  
Blogger Andy T said...

Is the SB-600's locking pin in the down position? Try unlocking and then it should slide in fine.

April 10, 2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger Tommy Huynh said...

I made one that can hold 2 flashes which would be good for more output. Instructions here:

August 05, 2007 9:49 PM  
Blogger nunya bisnas said...

instead of using electrical tape, clear nail polish is excellent at killing conductivity and it doesn't add much to the thickness (or the ugly factor) of the shoe mount =-)

August 17, 2007 12:08 PM  
Anonymous Blurt said...

The main thing is to be sure the adaptors (or adapters!) have that little thumb screw to tighten the flash. You are guaranteed to loose a flash unit to gravity without it.

August 23, 2007 6:54 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Why on earth would they invent something so cool for a specific use, and not put a plastic insert in the shoe? I have to now go back to the shop I bought it off and inform the sales guy that you cannot screw your SB-800's directly into it without shorting the strobe :-(

November 03, 2007 11:49 PM  
Blogger Hector said...

I got this adapter: Bogen / Manfrotto 2905 - Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite)

Manfrotto 2905 @ BH

Now, what I'm a bit confused about, is the shoe mount. The adapter does not come with one. I've read around a bit and in reading comments, I found that the following one was suggested for my flash (the speedlite 580ex ii, which has a lever locking mechanism): Stroboframe Shoe @ BH I don't really see how that would attach to the adapter, though.

Any suggestions? Thanks!

December 27, 2007 6:00 PM  
Anonymous turk said...

so, that's how i managed to screw up one SB800, one sb600 and one sb24 flash...

January 25, 2008 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While searching for a new tripod ballhead mount, came across these FA-CS2 cold-shoes from Really Right Stuff that I like.

Granted, at $30 they are rather pricey, but they are very beefy and are actually insulated! I attach them to my Manfrotto Swivel Umbrella Adapter.

(What I really want is one of these with a Manfrotto adapter spigot welded to it!)

February 25, 2008 12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, didn't get the above link right. Try here for the FA-CS2 from Really Right Stuff.

BTW, It has a 1/4" socket in its base for attachment.

February 25, 2008 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding a UK place to find these, I just found this at Jessops for £17.99

Portaflash series 3 tilt bracket

February 29, 2008 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just received my umbrella adapters from today. They are the smaller version, only 4 inches, but have the hot shoe adapter already attached. It is the clamp type, the same as my Stroboframe flash bracket. Only $16.99 each. I thought that was a pretty good deal. By the way, I am new to Strobist but I am learning a lot. I have never spent so much time in front of the computer as I am now learning all there is to learn. Thank you for all the help.

April 02, 2008 3:31 PM  
Anonymous LaMishia said...

could you possibly take a photo of where you put the black electrical tape?? just want to make sure ive done it correctly. i have a shoot sunday and dont want to short my flash out lol

June 05, 2008 9:46 PM  
Anonymous maker said...

I just got my strobist kit from MPEX and am trying to set up my umbrella adapter. I am pretty sure everything is set up correctly, but it's not working. When I put the umbrella into the shaft hole, the weight of the umbrella causes the joint to flex so that the flash and umbrella point to the ground (and then the umbrella slips out of the hole and falls on the floor). I have tightened the screw as far as I comfortably can. The handle on the side of the adapter moves back and forth, but does not move the joint. Am I making any sense? Am I doing something wrong? Or did I get a defective umbrella adapter?

June 16, 2008 10:46 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I took the metal shoe off my umbrella adapter and screwed on the plastic stand that came with my SB-800. Seems to hold better than the thumbscrew on the metal shoe.

July 15, 2008 9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a Nikon SB-600, which I didn't want to have falling off of its mount (on an umbrella tripod adapter), -- Looking back on this thread, I searched around some more and found a nice site (USA based, in CT) for adapters, flashes and such:

I am going to get their flash umbrella mount-- it has an additional thread mount, which ought to hold my SB-600 if placed on the AS-19 holder that comes with the flash..
good luck!

September 05, 2008 9:54 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Great series, took some of the fear factor away.

Just got all my kit... the umbrella has a hexagonal shape to the stem and the hole in the Clamp seems too big, so when I tighten the screw, the umbrella is off at an angle.

Am I doing something wrong? They just don't seem like they are "going" together as planned.


September 13, 2008 10:56 AM  
Blogger tieugau said...

hello, with umbrella adapter and flash mounted on its show, where do I attach the pocket wizard?


November 30, 2008 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Alan said...

I've been using a couple of umbrella adapters from ebay. They work fine, although I had some concerns with putting a SB900 on them. I tighten it up with a screwdriver and I'm happy with the result. Just don't forget the screwdriver.

As for the insulation tape idea, I put two layers on, of markedly different colours. Think I've got a striped yellow and green on top and a bright red underneath. The idea being that I'll see the red tape showing through before the flash makes contact with the metal underneath. At least, then I'll know I'll need to replace the top layer.

January 25, 2009 1:37 PM  
Blogger Glen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 09, 2009 1:35 AM  
Blogger GlenV said...

For those needing a shoe mount for the SB-600/800, I found the right solution on ebay. It is similar to the Nikon AS-10, but much cheaper. Like the AS-10, it has 3 sync connectors, but, you won't need them.
This works well because the unit itself is very well built, it has a bottom socket to thread onto the umbrella mount, it has no shorting issues (no need for taping the contacts) and it holds the SB-800 perfectly. It is designed like the AS-10 with a hole near the contacts to allow locking via the flash own locking lever. That's the way Nikon designed their lock system, so, I was reluctant to use a unit where you would be fumbling with tightening screws. Besides, just locking your Nikon flash with it's own lever is much faster. I mounted this unit on my Photoflex Heavy-Duty Swivel, which is attached to my Manfrotto 366B light stand. The package was made complete with a Wescott 45" umbrella. On assignment, this unit worked perfectly.

March 09, 2009 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Nikolay said...

After searching for weeks I finally found very well made adapters:

Actually these are the only ones in Bulgaria!:)
Now I have 2 of these and I am very happy with them.


April 16, 2009 3:07 AM  
Anonymous Jolly Joker said...

I regret that I didn't read this post before yesterday.
I had a photo shooting session yesterday, and I fried my favorite and only flash, a 540EZ, just because I tried to mount it to the metal adapter. I didn't use AA batteries, instead, I used my DIY SLA battery pack, and it just made things worse. A few seconds after I mounted the flash to the adapter, I can smell burning plastics, and I see smoke :(
Now I don't know if my beloved 540EZ can still be repaired or not. If somebody has the same problem, please share your experience, I need to revive this flash. Thanks.

June 21, 2009 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Jolly Joker said...

I forgot to note that I didn't even TURN ON my flash, it still BURNS.
So, be aware when you mount your flash directly to the adapter!!!

June 21, 2009 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Jean said...

Hello, I´m a newb and have been following the thread, but am a little confused by the comments about the hotshoe and using tape to avoid burning the flash...... (i´ve read it over and over again!)

I have the Manfrotto swivel umbrella adaptor 2905, would this be the right piece to secure the adaptor to my tripod?

My tripod head is a Manfrotto 3265.

Thank you!

June 29, 2009 7:49 AM  
Blogger Jeroen said...

Over here in the netherlands it's hard to find a cheap umbrella adapter. It's either order via the internet or get the rather expensive manfrotto one. I finally found the Hama 6079 which sells for 18 euros at camex.

August 24, 2009 3:25 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

At the moment I am using my old Nikon film camera mounted on a tripod as a stand, to use my SB 600 flash off camera...this won't damage any inner workings of my flash will it?

November 11, 2009 5:13 PM  
Blogger barryt said...

rather than trust tape to insulate the flash shoe mount (which can slip and generally is a pain) just drill the shoe under where the the pin rests with about a 1/4 in drill. You only need a very shallow hole.

March 02, 2010 10:26 PM  
Blogger Jak said...

What I would like to see here is an article (or many) written about the myriad of spigots/studs available. Surely enough with some common sense (read: "ask the clerk") you can't go wrong, but it would be cool to see some more detail about these little brass tidbits.

Also - in reply to someone who was concerned about shooting into a shoot-through brolly.. if your strobe has a sto-fen sort of diffused, put it on and crank up the power to compensate for the slight light loss. the light will become much softer and won't result in harder/spottier reflections on the surfaces it would be seen on.

September 01, 2010 4:12 PM  

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