Advanced Reflector Techniques for Outdoor Photography

You’ve probably heard, at some point, someone refer to the “Golden Hour” of photography. There are actually two Golden Hours: the first and last hours of sunlight each day. These are the ideal times to shoot outside, because the sun is low, glowing  red or orange or yellow, and it’s casting shadows that add depth to your pictures. But what about all those other hours in a day, when the sun is high in the sky and everything is bathed in a flat, colorless wash of light? It seems a shame to waste all that free light, and once you know how to work with reflectors, you won’t have to:

As you can tell from this video, there’s a lot of improvisation going on here. This is largely because the sun is constantly moving throughout the sky (ease off, Copernicus, I know that’s not technically true). You’ve got to keep up with it by moving the reflectors around to account for the sun’s changing position, while also keeping in mind where you want the light to hit your subject. But here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but use the sun as backlight. This keeps the background relatively darker, and produces a nice halo effect around your subject.
  • Shoot when the sun is higher in the sky, so it’s getting into the frame of your shot.
  • Figure out the right exposure settings before you start working with the reflectors.
  • Use a translucent light panel above your subject, using something like Photoflex’s LightReach Plus, to soften the ambient light. This keeps the light from flooding the scene and washing out the shot.
  • Place a reflector off to the side to bounce the light back onto your subject.  Here, they use a 39-inch gold-white one so that it casts a warm glow on the scene. Make sure the reflector isn’t pointed directly at your model; having the center of it pointed just off your subject and reflecting off its edges work best.
  • You can use another soft white reflector on the opposite side of the first one, to slightly reduce shadows (and therefore contrast).
  • Remember: you can make drastic changes to the way your scene looks just by changing the lens.

With the right equipment and a little know-how, you can easily transform most outdoor shoots into the kind of controlled environment that any studio provides. And outfitting yourself with some reflectors is much more cost effective than lighting up a studio.

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One Comment

  1. Scott says:

    (I left this comment on the YouTube video…) Great advice in here. The later setups were more involved than I care for, being a one-man-band. They’re great, nonetheless. Diffusion panels are excellent and I use them when I can, with an old Photoflex reflector stand. Take a look at 4:03. The diffusion panel leaves a noticeable shadow on the ground (more than in other shots). Is that generally acceptable, aesthetically, or should another vantage point be used to make the shadow less visible? Thanks.

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