My name is Jeff Rojas and I'm a professional photographer. But I'm also a small business owner. An entrepreneur. It's my responsibility to make smart investments. I'm always considering the best return on my initial investment. Let's face it: photography is expensive, regardless of whether you're a enthusiast or a professional. And after all of your camera costs -- bodies, lenses, batteries, memory cards, tripods, etc. - investing in lighting equipment can seem daunting. But it doesn't have to be!
Natural light, or available light, is by far the cheapest source of light you'll find. In fact, it's FREE. Unfortunately, you cannot control sunlight, but you can do a lot in modifying it, and that's where reflectors come into play. Buying a reflector will not break your budget. At this point in my career, my reflectors, all Photoflex MultiDiscs and LiteDiscs, have paid for themselves many times over. They're indestructible, portable, and versatile. LiteDiscs and MultiDiscs have become an indispensable part of my lighting kit.
Reflectors help guide available light back into shadowed areas of a subject's face. To use a reflector, you'll generally have to be in close proximity to your subject - without entering into the camera frame. Ideally, you'll want your subject to be positioned so that they are more or less backlit (their back to the sun). It's important for me, when using a reflector, to avoid flattening out a subject's features. I don't try to eliminate shadows. Rather, I try to use shadows to my advantage. By holding a reflector overhead - downward toward my subject - I can carve out the cheek bones, jawline and define the face, all of which helps to create depth in the the shot.
If you were to adjust your exposure to compensate for your subject being underexposed, you would likely overexpose the background. In this rooftop situation in Manhattan, I faced this very issue. Here's a shot of my model (both full frame and cropped) where the background and rim exposures are good, but she is dark in shadow. [Figure 1]
SHOOTING WITHOUT A REFLECTOR
One of the best elements of a backlit portrait is the beautiful rim light you get on your subject. They become lit by a thin outline of light, which helps to separate them from the background. And shooting at a wider aperture will give you a beautiful, shallow depth of field, which also helps to separate them from the background. In most available light situations, however, shooting without a reflector will leaves the subject dark in comparison to the background. This is even more pronounced if your background happens to be the sky.
For this shoot, I wanted to create depth in the images by having three elements exposed well: the front of the model, the rim light on the model, and the background. This called for a 42" MultiDisc!
SHOOTING WITH A REFLECTOR FROM UNDERNEATH
It seems natural to want to catch the sun from a low angle and bounce the light back into a subject's face, but the effect you'll get from this approach is more akin to "monster lighting", where the main light comes from below. This quality of light, which works great for telling spooky campfire stories, doesn't generally render attractive results for portraits or fashion work. Here's an example of "monster lighting", full-length and cropped. [Figure 2]
It's important to note that even pulling the reflector up to the height of your subject can create a flat and unflattering result. [Figure 3]
SHOOTING A REFLECTOR OVERHEAD
Shooting with a reflector overhead allows you to create a natural look to the lighting and to carve out your subject's features. Since everyone has different features to their face, you cannot rely on a single predetermined angle. It's best to take some time to study these features and determine the best angle of reflectance. This may take a little practice, but the more you do it, the faster you'll get at arriving at your optimal positioning.
As you can see here, I used the shadows to my advantage and was able to shape the contours of my model's jawline, cheek bones and collar bones to accentuate her profile. [Figure 4]
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the results with and without a reflector being used. [Figure 5]
Finally, here's one of the final images after adding some post-production filters, which gives it the vintage feel I was after. [Figure 6]
Learning how to control the direction of light is a necessary skill to have when photography a subject. Using a reflector is a great way to practice how to manipulate light to your advantage without having to break the bank.
EQUIPMENT AND SETTINGS
Photoflex 32" MultiDisc
Canon 5D Mark II with Sigma 85mm lens, f/1.4
Shutter Speed: 1/2500th of a second