Monday, December 7, 2009
Choosing the right reflector—12/07/09
Achieve pro lighting with subtle changes to the fill
White cards are the most common reflector, often made of foamcore or cardboard, or even in fabric. In sizes as large as 4x8 (or bigger for large-scale shoots) white fabric, called a silk, can do double duty to diffuse a light source and to act as a reflector. White reflectors, whether silks or cards, create low-contrast, soft fill light. White fill reduces the contrast between shadows and highlights without obliterating the ratio from light to dark.
Matte silver reflectors produce a slightly contrastier effect than white, kicking in a little more light in the process. Matte silver is somewhat of a split between white and shiny silver, making it quite flexible for a variety of subjects—especially portraits.
Shiny silver reflectors bounce much more light than a white or matte silver fill. Great for situations in which you need a powerful yet neutral fill, they're not ideal for softening the light but they do throw light farther than white or matte silver reflectors. The difference between matte and shiny silver is dramatic enough that store-bought reflectors often are shiny silver on one side and matte on the other.
The ultimate long throw reflector, a common mirror duplicates a light source. A full-length store-bought mirror is an inexpensive way to send light a long way, which many outdoor shooters use to provide a “kicker” or rim light from behind the subject. Because mirrors are, well, mirrors, they’re not ideal for bouncing light into a portrait subject’s face, as they’ll really want to squint when the bright light shines in their eyes. Some studio tabletop photographers even use little mirrors in lieu of additional lights.
Whereas white and silver reflectors are neutral, a gold reflector adds lots of warmth to the light it reflects. This can be ideal in a portrait setting, where the added warmth can do wonders for skin tones. Gold reflectors are often used to mimic warm sunlight, and they're available in both matte and shiny surfaces to produce softer or more powerful fill effects.
MADE FROM SCRATCH
Many store-bought reflectors do great things: they’re collapsible and easily portable, they offer multiple surfaces in a single product, and they are designed to produce very specific results. But you can also make your own reflectors. First, consider where you position your subject for outside shoots; a white wall can become a great fill under the right circumstances. It’s harder to take that white wall into the studio, though, in which case you should probably consider making some reflectors of your own—from foamcore, mat board or any other sturdy white surface you can find. For heavy duty construction, double up the boards and tape them together, creating alternate surfaces on each side. Wrap a white card with aluminum foil for a shiny silver fill, or wrinkle that foil to make it a little softer. Check out the home supply stores for construction products, like house insulation sold in 4x8 sheets and often in colors from white to black, in shiny silver and matte finish too. They're great for indoor shooting if you’ve got room to maneuver, and where no wind will blow them away.