The control of light is not always obvious.
Reflectors and other shapers of light make a big difference to the scene. Often photographers go to great lengths to work with reflectors. Here are a few simple tips to bear in mind when you want to shape light – particularly outside.
When you need a reflector
You can use reflectors in any type of environment. They are best used where you need to even out the light on your subject. Remember that if you are using a reflector the source light is the main or key light. The reflection from your reflective surface is in proportion to the power of the key light. This proportionality is important. Often, more than one light is difficult to balance. Using only one light source you can create a natural balance with the reflectors. It is difficult to get reflected light out of proportion. There is always some loss in the reflection. This ensures that the light on your subject will be less intense than the key light but related to it by its proportion. The result looks more natural.
Shade is as important as light
When you are working in the fullness of light it is common to be confronted with strong reflections from the subject itself. Specular highlights, reflections off of curved surfaces and shiny areas are the most difficult to control. However, bright reflections on larger areas like flat areas of glass or even areas of flesh like bare arms can also be really difficult to control.
If you have these sorts of reflections you can reduce the worst of them using a polarising filter. Of course the only sure way is to reduce the intensity of light overall. This means creating shade. Again, the most important issue here is to reduce the light in proportion to the ambient light around you. This helps the light to remain looking natural because it is derived from the main light once again.
Don’t spend a fortune
For most of us expensive reflectors and shade creators are out of reach. As with most things however, the amateur can create the same effects as the professional without the expenditure.
Reflectors can be created from white sheets, curtains, even large pieces of card. These things can be purchased inexpensively and propped up easily to create the effect you want. What is more important than the material that creates the reflection is the way you use the reflections themselves. It is important in very bright light that the reflections are used to infill darker areas of shadow to even out the contrasts. Then your camera can cope and you will see a more controlled light on your subject.
Shade too can be created easily. Use solid card sheets or even blankets on poles. I do quite a lot of car photography. Often specular highlights can be eliminated by hanging a thin white sheet on two poles in the line of the light. The main light – normally the sun – will penetrate a thin sheet so that a proportion of the light will continue to illuminate the subject. Again, the proportionality is important. Things always look more natural if the light is proportional to the surrounding ambient light.
Using Reflectors – Photography & Video Tutorial
In the video J.P. Morgan, a successful photographer, uses lots of resources and equipment to manipulate light in all sorts of ways. First, he looks at how the light is best exposed to the subject. He uses the light to create a rim light. This helps to reduce large, strong areas of reflection and helps to define the body shape.
When he has the light direction right and well controlled he uses a gold reflector to give the light a pleasant colour – an evening sunlight yellow. This lifts the colour of the faces in the shot.
The other thing that J.P. Morgan does is use the shade and reflectors to create fill. The sun provides the main light but the levels of light off the reflectors allows a lower level light intensity creating a natural light. This does not look like it has been deliberately projected at the subjects. It is a soft light that beautifully wraps around the children. It evens out the contrast between the brighter light and the darker areas.
Look at the way the equipment is used in the video. But spend your time afterwards thinking about how you can substitute affordable reflector materials and ways to create shade. Making your own kit can be fun and just as effective brand equipment.
The video is just over six minutes.
The Slanted Lens DSLR Lighting Tutorials
If you want to buy an affordable reflector set, here is the one I use. These reflectors work very well and are flexible in the way they can be used. The whole set also folds away into a great compact bag. The pack contains five effects (silver, gold, white reflector/diffuser, grey and black)…
Ex-Pro 5 -in- 1 Photographic Light Reflector – 42″ (110cm) Silver, Gold, Black, White & Translucent, Collapsible.
This is an excellent reflector set, robust and effective as well as easy to store. I highly recommend this as a standard piece of equipment.
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Photokonnexion Photographic Glossary – Definitions and articles.
Light and Lighting – Resource pages on Photokonnexion
Composition resources on Photokonnexion
Definition: Key Light
Definition: Specular highlight
Definition: Backlighting (also kicker or rim lighting)
Natural light; Sunlight (A ‘Glossary’ entry)