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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Get The Right Light

Finding and creating soft, flattering light for portraiture

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right lightSilver is very bright and specular, great for adding highlights to your subject. Black will subtract light from your subject, adding shadows. Reflectors also are available in a white translucent fabric. These reflectors are more accurately called diffusers, as they diffuse and soften the light, great for use in harsh, sunny conditions. You can use them to bounce a little light, or place them between your subject and the light source to reduce its intensity.

Most reflectors come in two different colors, one on each side. My favorite combinations are soft gold/white and silver/white. I also always carry a reflector with translucent material to diffuse the light. Another consideration in your choice will be how close you can get to your subject. If you’re using a wide-angle lens, you may need gold or silver to “throw” light a long distance to your subject. When using white, you need to be close to your subject to get much effect.

There are a variety of ways to make your own reflectors. The simplest way is to buy pieces of white and black foam-core board from your local art store. Foam core works great as a reflector, especially if you leave them in a studio. Since they don’t collapse, they’re bulky to carry in the field. To make a silver reflector, find a small piece of cardboard (pizza delivery boxes work great) and tape aluminum foil onto it. I carry a 12x12-inch aluminum foil reflector with me anytime I’m headed out the door.

right light
An important principle to remember is that the larger your light source, the more diffused...
The basic concept is to position the reflector at an angle to the sun (or light source) to redirect the light at your subject. If you’re only using one reflector and you’re close to your subject, you can hold the reflector in one hand and hit the shutter with the other (with your camera on a tripod). If you’re a little further away, try setting your self-timer so you have time to get back to your subject and position the reflector. At some point you’ll need to have a friend hold the reflector, or use stands and clamps.

The simplest way to use reflectors is adding some fill light to the shadowed side of your subject. Choose the color of your reflector, and bounce light back into your subject. Experiment with reflector colors to see what you like. Sometimes I like a hot silver fill on my flower images, and other times soft gold looks really good. With portraits, I like soft gold and white. Reflected light can make people squint, so only reflect the light when you’re taking photos. If your subject is wearing glasses, watch out for the reflector being reflected on the glasses.

The next step in reflector technique is using more than one reflector. A great combination is using one reflector with diffusion material in conjunction with a colored reflector. Position the diffusion panel above your subject to eliminate harsh, contrasty light, then add fill light using a soft gold or silver reflector. You won’t believe the results!

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