Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reflecting on Reflectors

There's so much written about lighting with artificial light, whether it's small strobes, big strobes, or hot lights, the sun must sometimes feel like a photographic red-headed step-child.

Plenty of photographers, of course, use the sun as their primary source of light. Many of them use it as their only source of light. So why don't I see more written on the subject of natural lighting in my day-to-day perusing of photography-related articles and how-to tutorials? (Actually, I've already begun writing and shooting custom photos for an ebook on this very subject so, at some point in the not-too-distant future, there will be more available on lighting models with natural light only, using the many tools available.)

Back to my question about why I don't see more about lighting exclusively with natural light: Could it be that, despite the incredible results photographers often achieve when only using that natural, "light of the world," it's simply not sexy enough to write more about? Betcha if photographic equipment manufacturers were making lots more money off of gear that requires no more than sunlight to light up a subject, there would be substantially more written about it. Just sayin', you know?

Personally, I feel the best approach to lighting models is in using the best lighting tools for the job. If shooting locations and environment or other factors dictate natural light, and those "best tools" are reflectors or other sunlight modifiers employed to bounce, reduce, diffuse or flag sunlight on my subject, that's what I'm going with. It's all part of the "keep it simple, stupid" mantra that my ebook, "Guerrilla Glamour," revolves around.

In addition to owning enough artificial lights to, most-always, get the job done whenever they're called upon to get the job done, I also have plenty of reflectors and other sunlight modifying gear. I'll bet it's no surprise when I tell you my total investment in that kind of gear is about equal to the cost of a couple of high-end small-flash instruments or decent monolights. In fact, it's more than likely less.

I probably have a half-dozen reflectors of the collapsible kind. They are mostly in the 3' to 5' diameter range. A few of them have up to 5 different surfaces I can call upon: white, silver, gold, black, translucent. One of my collapsible reflectors, a small Photoflex Lite Disk, is only 12" in diameter and comes in handy when I want to bounce some fill that only covers a small area, you know, like just the model's face. I also have a LumoPro Lite Panel I often use.

Beyond my store-bought reflectors, I have a couple of DIY reflectors made from PCV pipe (for the frames) onto which I attach various materials to reflect, flag, or diffuse light. (Note: When I use these modifiers to diffuse light, they're scrims, not reflectors.) One of my DIY reflectors is about 3'x 4' and the other is even bigger. I forget exactly how big, but it's bigger! Quite a bit bigger.

Besides my trusty reflectors -- they're very trusty since they have no moving parts and don't require a power source other than solar power -- I have a number of scrims. As already mentioned, a couple of my collapsible reflectors double as scrims as do my two, DIY modifiers. As for store-bought scrims, I own a Westcott Scrim Jim which can be used as a scrim, a reflector, or a flag, depending on the material I attach to it.

With all these reflectors, scrims, and flags, are you getting the feeling I rely heavily on this sort of gear? If you are, you're right. And I should also note that this stuff doesn't just get dragged out when I'm shooting models using natural light only. It's all part of my overall "bag of tricks," also coming into play when I'm using artificial light or when I'm combining natural and artificial light. Again, it's all about the best tools for the job and keeping it simple. Or, as Albert Einstein once said: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Smart guy that Einstein fella.

The biggest reflector/scrim I own is a 12' by 12' China silk. I'll admit it doesn't come out to play much -- it being a total hassle to rig -- but when I do use it, whether to bounce or diffuse light (I mostly use it to diffuse light.... when I use it, that is) it creates beautifully soft and creamy light spread over a fair amount of area.

Often, I find myself working on video production sets. That usually means a lighting crew and a lighting crew means a grip and lighting truck. Those trucks usually have all kinds of reflectors, scrims, and more on board and, since I generally go out of my way to ingratiate myself to the lighting crews, they are often quite generous in allowing me use of most anything they have on the truck. That includes everything from HMI lighting instruments to shiny boards and other reflectors, scrims, flags, and more.

So, even though using natural light and all the tools that can be used along with it doesn't get as much love in the world of lighting tutorials and such, I suggest you consider using all the many natural light tools, many of them quite inexpensive, that are available to reflect, diffuse, or flag light, whether you're using all natural light, artificial light, or a combination of both.

The pretty girl at the top depicted in a very simple, no-frills image is Daisy. We were in a ravine by a stream in the Santa Monica Mountains. Daisy and I hiked down into the ravine with me carrying only my camera, light meter, and a large, Flexfill, collapsible reflector, one I borrowed from the lighting crew who who were up top, lighting the interior of a small cottage which overlooks the stream and the ravine. Daisy, hiking barefoot, was carrying herself and a pair of heels and that's about it. The Flex-Fill reflector was, as I recall, approximately 3' x 6' oval. I used the silver-side out to fill Daisy's front bouncing some of that hard, bright, sunlight coming in from behind her. Very little post on the image other than cropping and some standard adjustments. I burned the background a bit just to better "pop" Daisy in the image, not that she needs much extra "popping" to get the attention of many viewers.

1 comment:

photoman022 said...

Daisy took my breath away! She is one of the most beautiful women I've seen in a long time!

As to light reflectors, you have set a challenge for me to start carrying a set with me and to start using them! Great job as usual!