Tools for Modifying Existing Light

Today's post comes from the book Existing Light, Techniques for Wedding and Portrait Photography by Bill Hurter. The book is available from and other retailers.

Reflectors. Reflectors are devices used to bounce light into the shadow areas of a subject. A wide variety of reflectors are commercially available, including the kind that are collapsible and store in a small pouch. The surface of the reflector determines the quality of the reflected light. White reflectors provide soft, gentle fill, while silver- and gold-foil reflectors provide more light than white surfaces (so much that you can sometimes even overpower the ambient light, creating a pleasing and flattering lighting pattern). Gold reflectors also warm up the reflected light, making them ideal for working in shaded areas where a warm tone in the fill light is desirable. The size of the reflector should be fairly large; the larger it is the more effective it will be. (Note: Keep in mind that, many times, nature provides its own reflectors. Patches of sandy soil, a white floor, or a nearby building may supply all the fill-in you’ll need.)

When using a reflector it should be placed slightly in front of the subject’s face. Properly placed, the reflector picks up some of the main light and wraps it around onto the shadow side of the face, opening up detail even in even the deepest shadows. Be careful not to position the reflector beside the subject’s face, where it may resemble a secondary light source coming from the opposite direction as the main light. Be careful about bouncing light in from beneath your subjects, as well; lighting coming from below the eye–nose axis is generally unflattering. Also note that reflecting bright sunlight onto the subject may make the subject uncomfortable and cause them to squint.

The effects of a silver-foil-covered reflector are dramatically illustrated here. Note that the original image without a reflector is totally unusable.

Excerpted from the book "Existing Light -Techniques for Wedding and Portrait Photography" by Bill Hurter.

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1 comment:

  1. very well done. i used a reflector yesterday for the first time and it saved the day!