A while back I tested a ton of flash gear from different companies in an effort to find the best gear to recommend to photographers getting a start in flash photography.
Anyone starting out in flash photography needs an umbrella. They are so cheap and easy to use. This Westcott one is a great umbrella. The materials are great and it is really well put together and was more durable than many other umbrellas I have used. I would have no qualms spending a few dollars more on this umbrella to get one that I am confident is going to last a long time (especially when the difference is really only a couple dollars from the cheap brands).
The image below was made with the umbrella placed about two feet from the subject with no reflector. You can see the umbrella spreads the light quite a bit more than other modifiers as the background here is almost as bright as the subject.
This umbrella is currently available on Amazon for $20.
Be sure to check out all of our favorite lighting gear at our Recommended Gear Page.