Ten Articles Summarized Into One

I recently wrote a ten article series on photography reflectors for our sister site, LensDiaries.com, but there is no quiz on Lens Diaries, so we’ve decided to summarize some of what was covered in those ten topics, then challenge you with a quiz here on Americano Dream—call it a quick refresher, but only the test results will tell how much information you’ve absorbed, not reflected—don’t you want to know? Well then read on!

Reflectors, California Sunbounce

Heather is illuminated by a California Sunbounce zebra fabric reflector during one of my photography workshops in the Virgin Islands.

Let’s start with the first article, Basics, Fundamentals, And Myths Of Reflectors. Here we covered three myths of reflectors; one, reflectors are for reflecting the sun only; two, reflectors are meant for outdoor use only; three, reflectors only reflect light. We proved those myths wrong because basically reflectors can reflect any type of light including the sun, LED, flash, etc., plus you can use reflectors indoors like a studio and reflectors also absorb light based on the 90% rule of reflection.

In that same article we discussed the different type of reflector surfaces including white, gold, silver and as in the California Sunbounce reflectors, my favorite reflector surface, “zebra.” Basically white reflector surfaces produce soft, subtle light and are used for filling in or softening shadows; zebra is just a doubling of white with a slight increase in contrast and intensity plus added warmth; gold adds a pinch more contrast and warms the light even more and is ideal in open shade and indoor areas; silver provides the most contrast, no added warmth and is the surface that will give you distance when needed as it’s the most powerful reflector.

My second article on photography reflectors was titled Size And Shape Does Matter. OK, get your head out of the gutter, we’ll save that one for a future book, but seriously, that article focused on the “why” rectangular reflectors are more effective than round reflectors. The latter also produce more specular and harsher light quality than larger rectangle reflectors because reflectors can’t reflect more light than they receive plus under the physics Law of Reflectance, a flat reflector can’t increase the size of the reflected light either, though often it appears that way as most fabric reflectors are not polished mirrored surfaces.

Circular, Rectangle Photography Reflector

In this illustration you can see what a 4′x6′ California Sunbounce will cover in comparison to a 3- or 6-foot diameter circle reflector.

Furthermore we discussed how the quality of reflected light is relative to reflector distance and size to your subject, thus greater light intensity at one-foot is softer, than lower light intensity at ten feet, from the same light modifier. Just like large soft boxes, you can have the largest reflector, but the minute you begin moving it away from your subject, it becomes a specular light source relative to your subject based on distance. So as the light modifier, in this case reflector, moves further away from your subject you are defeating the purpose of having a large light modifier.

In my third article, Flash or Reflectors, we mainly focused on how reflectors don’t require shutter speed synchronization like flash does. This becomes important if you’re a photographer that loves a lot of bokeh (low-aperture to create a blurred, moody background) because you’ll need a high shutter-speed on a bright sunny day. This is caused by the “Sunny 16” rule, which basically states that on a bright sunny day if you set your shutter-speed identical to your ISO setting, you’ll have to set your aperture, or f/stop, to 16 on your lens for proper exposure. Thus ISO 200 means that your digital camera’s shutter is set at 1/200th, while your lens aperture is set at f/16. Most cameras synchronize at 1/200th and below, so in order to achieve bokeh effects, you’ll either need neutral density filters or high shutter speeds. Since reflectors don’t require synchronization with your shutter like flash does, reflectors become the solution in these situations.

Keeping it Simple was the fourth article, were we discussed the portability plus speed of use when it comes to reflectors like the California Sunbounce types and also expanded the discussion on battling the Sunny 16 Rule. The key to this type of shooting is to make every attempt to look for “darker” backgrounds behind your subject, thus when you expose for your subject’s skin the overexposed background is not really noticeable to the viewer.

Reflectors From California Sunbounce

Here you can see the differences in reflector fabric when used in a studio combined with flash.

If you decided to photograph your subject in open shade, you’ll still have to battle the Sunny 16 Rule for the background plus “fill” your subject with reflected light and that reflected light can come from the sun itself, or some other source like a portable LED light aimed at the reflector as we discussed in the fifth article, LED Lighting for Black and White. The concept behind the LED light was that it was a continuous light source that allowed you to see what you were trying to achieve with the subject instantly, however, because it was a specular light source, we diffused it’s harshness by pointing it into a California Sunbounce reflector from a short distance, then bouncing the reflected light onto the subject.

We also discussed the benefits of continuous light sources including how they cause your subject’s pupils to get smaller and less dilated, thus this provides for more color and brilliance in your subject’s eyes. The quality of continuous light, such as tungsten light sources, and their wavelengths were covered too before we went on to our sixth article on reflectors, Kicker Lighting.

Many photographers and even videographers think of kick lights as accent or rim lights, but in the case of making a reflector a kick or kicker light, it isn’t meant to act as a prominent light accent, it’s meant to soften the shadows under the chin and sometimes as a soft fill of your subject that adds a brilliance in their eyes.

LED Light, California Sunbounce Reflector

During my Smoky Mountains photography workshop we used an LED light for added light under the cabin porch due to lack of sunlight.

The Kicker Lighting article was followed by how we can use reflectors to recreate the “North Light” found from north faced windows. North light benefits were first recognized centuries back by great Renaissance artists. One of those painters who used north light from a window as his main source of light was Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, known for his photorealistic “provincial” paintings of middle class life.

Most artists (painters) recognize north light as “reflected light or indirect light,” not direct light coming through the window. It’s light already diffused before it enters the window. Note, this is based on Northern Hemisphere shooting whereas in the Southern Hemisphere, south light is the better beauty light.

No, you don’t have to point your reflector from a northern angle to your subject to gain this effect, but it helps to know the mechanics behind north light. Either window, depending on your location on the hemisphere, also allows for the longest amount of time light will enter that window throughout the day since the sun rises from the east and sets in the west.

Now imagine you have access to a portable window with diffused sunlight shining through its glass; no matter where you place that window, it’s your main source of light for your subject. Window light is one of the “beautiful” light sources there is, as it’s natural light (sunlight) “filtered” through glass that creates ambient or existing light paths. We all know that sunlight doesn’t move with a window, hence why many photographers look for studios, or locations, that favor north light.

We also covered how reflectors do not “amplify” light striking its reflective surface, reflectors only redirect light where the photographer wants it to fall and in the case of the white fabric, a reflector slightly diffuses the light in addition to reflecting the original light source. This is a golden rule when using reflectors, and speaking of golden rules, that was the topic of the follow on article, “The Golden Rule.”

There we covered the proper use and overuse of the golden fabric reflector. The gold reflector’s purpose was created to allow photographers to work in the middle of the day while their subjects stood in open-shade areas to keep cool and to avoid harsh, direct, overhead light. These areas also place the subject in light with color temperatures from 6500K to as high as 7500K or more, or cold light.

The gold reflector was designed to add the opposite colors of cold light to properly expose color negative film before the days of digital photography and white-balance for still cameras even existed. Photographer’s assistants would pump-in this more golden, yellow-red light from the gold reflector, thus allowing the subject being photographed to appear normal and not ice-cold blue or cyan. The idea is to make your subjects appear full of life, not dead.

We summarized that article with it’s all about utilizing the right tool for the right job. Gold reflectors were meant to warm up subjects placed in the cold light of open shade while silver reflectors were meant to add contrast and punch with a more neutral colorcast. White reflectors are meant for a softer, north light appearance, but neutral added fill while black (yes, pure black reflects 10-percent of the light that hits it) reflectors are often used to add detail in highlighted areas like a bride’s wedding dress. California Sunbounce black reflectors also subtract light when used in this manner. This lead to the next article, “Subtractive Lighting.”

In that article we covered how black reflectors reflect approximately10 percent of the light that strikes them, or in other words, they subtract up to 90 percent of the light aimed in their direction. Some photographers even use black reflectors to “block” light, known as cutting (cutters) or flagging (flags) light sources. Because of the disproportional imbalance between subtracting and reflecting light, this is also why black reflectors are more commonly called a flag or cutter instead of a reflector.

But it’s important to note that black reflectors do reflect “black tone” back on to an image, which is important when exposing for a subject’s skin tone and that subject either has bright blonde hair or is wearing white clothing. The idea is to keep detail in the hair or clothing with black reflectors similar to using black V-flats in the studio.

Finally this took us to our tenth article on reflectors where we covered their use with not only natural light like sunlight, but their use with artificial light too, like using a flash/reflector combination. In addition, we covered the qualities of light and modification when it comes to ambient, artificial and natural light. Finally that article capped off with the manipulation of light, or directed light, vs. existing non-manipulated light, or ambient light and it’s light qualities.

For example, direct overhead sunlight is horrible as a light source on a bright sunny day, however, if the clouds roll in, it’s now diffused (scrim) and though slightly flat, or lower in contrast, it’s less harsh plus more flattering to your subject. Knowing this fundamental comes in handy when you’re on an outdoor shoot where clouds either exist or don’t exist, especially when you place your subject in a direct or indirect light path.

When there are no clouds and the sky is bright and clear, simply place your subject in open shade (shaded area where direct sunlight is blocked or scrimmed), then fill your subject with redirected sunlight from a reflector like that of a zebra or white fabric California Sunbounce. Now your light quality will provide a bit more “pop” to your subject, but without the harshness of direct overhead sunlight because the light is now diffused.

You can also do this with artificial light, point it into a California Sunbounce reflector, and now redirect the reflected light onto your subject. I’ve done this many times where I’ve taken a Hensel Integra Pro monolight, with a 7-inch metal reflector attached, then pointed the light right into the fabric reflector at a distance of two to five feet. This then creates a reflected light look vs. a direct light look. Reflected light holds a beautiful quality of light vs. direct harsh light when it comes to illuminating your subject.

Regardless whether you choose reflected natural light, ambient light, or diffused artificial light, it’s about the light quality a photographer wants at that given moment. Light quality controls many things including contrast, ease of achieving an image, and even the mood a photographer is trying to create in the final photo.  It’s up to you the photographer and your personal style to decide whether you want natural, reflected or directed diffused light and to understand how it impacts contrast in your images.

So there you have it, ten articles on photography reflectors from LensDiaries.com summarized in one article followed by a quiz—yes, don’t forget to take the quiz. Quizzes are a great way to challenge your mind and keep your photography skills sharp. Don’t worry no one will know the results but you, though feel free to share them with others and this quiz via all your social media networks.

We appreciate that dearly as it’s helping us spread the gospel of photography that will allow us to provide you more useful information and share our fine art photography with you. Oh, and don’t forget, at the end of the quiz you can use the button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers too. So let’s go, take the quiz!

Proceed to the Photography Knowledge Assessment, click the start quiz button below:

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