Wrestling with Available Light

October 02, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

As photographers, we always struggle and do our best to emulate a specific sort of light in the studio. But sometimes, I think that we really can get away with natural light -- if we bully it around a little bit. ;) 

 

I don't think anyone will argue (actually, I take that back. Someone will argue. But they'd be wrong. -smile-) that using studio light, whether outside or indoors, will give you more CONTROL.

 

"But Andrew," says the young man raising his hand in the back of the room. "Not all photographers have the ability to take light on location through strobes, or the massive vehicle to drive equipment on location."

"Well, Jimmy," I would say, "That's okay, because you don't HAVE to have the strobe light on location!" Andrew shouts, excitedly.

Some of the best portraits I've ever made, clients' favorite shots, and overall the best photography I've done has been with the most inexpensive piece of gear I own.

 

Let me repeat that, one more time for emphasis: The best portraits I have made were with the most inexpensive gear I have.

The secret? Well, there's not really one, but check this out:

This little guy costs a whole $18 on amazon. Another favorite of mine you can find on Amazon is a bigger version, that's about a 6 foot tall reflector. It's seriously giant and helps to have two people wielding it (yes, wielding). 

If you have no assistants that are willing to help you out, go find a cheap light stand for $30 dollars, and a few A-clamps at your local hardware store for $3. 

So, for about 50 bucks of extra equipment, you can do some really amazing stuff. 

But, the key to doing some really amazing stuff is knowing how to use your 50 bucks of extra equipment. 

So, the short of it is this.

DO's and DON'T's for using a reflector:

- DO use the appropriate color for appropriate effects -- white will fill in shadows, silver will be very bright and direct, gold will warm, etc.

- DO be attentive of your subject. Reflectors can be very bright! A trick I always like to use is have the subject close their eyes, while you get your light where you want it. Prefocus. Now, you (the photographer) count, "1, 2, 3, open!" and have the subject open their eyes. Snap a few frames, easy since you're focused. As soon as you finish, tell them to close their eyes again until you get the reflector off. This tip works very well if you're trying to use a silver/gold side, or a white side up close. 

- DO be reasonable with a reflector and your subject. While reflectors are awesome, you have to be reasonable in what you're expecting them to do. They are NOT strobe lights. Always tell your subject what you/your assistant is going to do. Don't charge them with a giant reflector!

- DO use your reflector to your advantage as a "prop". I have kids or seniors sit on a reflector so that it is still out of the frame, but it lets me put them in places such as damp grass. For whatever reason, little kids LOVE playing with a reflector! Buy a cheap one that you don't care about and are willing to scrub. Let the kids jump on it, play around on, stand on it, sit on it, whatever. You get double duty here: A reflector that keeps them occupied and gives you light. Woo hoo!

 

- DON'T reflect light from underneath! This is probably the biggest one I see all the time. When you reflect from below, you get harsh shadows and circles in the subject's eyes, which creates a very unflattering "monster light" (think putting a flashlight under your chin). This can be difficult to catch, but it is so important. This is one reason I use a very big reflector when possible. The bigger the light source, the more wrap and encompassing of the subject you will get. I suggest using the biggest reflector you can for the conditions you shoot (assistants, wind, etc.)

- DON'T not communicate with your subject. A bit of a double negative, but if you are using your reflector and trying to "find" the light (kind of like you used to do as a kid with the sun in the mirror, trying to blind your sibling? Don't pretend you didn't do it -- I know you did.) Not unlike the mirror, when you move your reflector "back and forth" to find the light, tell your subject what you're doing. This has the advantage of a) letting them know you haven't (yet) gone off the deep end and b) letting them prepare and even help you if they see the reflection in your reflector. I tell the subject, "Now let me know when this gets brighter" and it makes it much easier. 

Some natural light w/reflector examples:

Now, get out there with your reflector and make some awesome photos. Share any portraits you've made through e-mail, andrew@a2mphotography.com, as I would love to see all of your guys' photography, and answer any questions you might have. :) 

 

Thanks for reading, as always, and catch you next time...

 

- Andrew.


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