Reflectors, Flags and Diffusion
Many of us started with one light source. Perhaps it was the sun, or an on camera flash. Maybe we had a Speedlight, for a flash instead of the camera's built in unit. We made some nice shots, but started to look for something a bit more. The lighting was uneven and needed a bit of help. We started hearing from other photographers, use a reflector for fill. So, what does that mean?
Simply put, a reflector, in photography, is anything that can bounce light back onto a subject. When most of us refer to a reflector, we mean, a store bought photographic piece of equipment.
One first step for owning a reflector is heading down to your local art store or office supply store, and buying a piece of foam core board. Foam Board comes in a few different colors, but the two most useful for our purposes are White and Black. If you take a photo with a flash on one side, or a large window for natural light, you may notice uneven lighting exposure. Harsh on one side, your subject needs a bit more light to even it out. Use the foam board, white side, facing the subject, opposite the Window.
Take a look at the two photos below:
On the left, we have a subject, camera and window. Bright light would be on one side, and very little on the other for our subject. Using the foam board, as in the right photo, above, we can bounce or reflect the light from the window, back onto the subject, and create a bit more fill light on the subject. The key light from the window will still be more than the fill from the reflected foam board, but much nicer than the left side.
A flag is something that cuts light, or flags light off a subject. Think of a flag as something that creates a shadow. Take a look at the photo below, and see how we use a flag to create a shadow and cut light from the background:
One trick with using a reflector is to get as close as you can to your subject without getting in the shot. Place a flag wherever you need, between your light source, and the object you are trying to make darker, to cut the light, and create shadow.
Diffusion, or a Diffuser is something that diffuses light, or makes light very soft on a subject. Think of a diffusion as similar to tracing paper that allows some light through, but makes it very soft. The key to understanding diffusion is to remember, a Small Area of Light Source will create hard shadows, and a Larger Area Light Source, will create soft shadows or no shadows. Take a look at the photo below, and see how we use a diffuser to create a soft shadow:
Different Reflector Colors
Probably the most inexpensive and most versatile piece of equipment to buy, for a photographer, is a 5-in-1 Reflector. I own the Westcott 5-in-1 and a few Cowboy Studio studio models. The 5-in-1 kit has a single frame, with a couple of fabric surfaces that zip onto it. At the inside is a translucent (light passes through) diffuser. The surfaces that zip on have one side being Silver, and one White, one Black and one Gold. So, why the different colors?
What's in the 5-in-1?
• Gold – Creates a warm feel to your image, sunshine, sunsets, and sunrises, etc.
• Silver – Bright, reflects the existing light onto a subject without changing color. Silver may give your image a high contrast.
• White – Reflects the existing light onto the subject but it's softer light than silver.
• Black – Black is useful as the flag, or to cut light from bouncing back onto a subject.
• Translucent Inside – Diffuses light and creates soft shadows like a softbox.
Using the 5-in-1 Reflector
Using Reflector, as in the photo below, you can bounce the light from the window, back onto the subject, and create a nice fill light on your subject. The key light from the window will still be more than the fill from your reflector, but it will be nice and soft, reflected fill in on your subject.
Using the reflector takes some practice, but not a lot. It can be aimed buy tilting, and moving it back and forth. You can use a smaller reflector and just put light on a face, or small part of your subject. A large reflector will create less shadow and more even light.
By the way, here's a great website for creating lighting diagrams: http://www.lightingdiagram.com
Lighting Tutorials - Low Light Photography: http://www.bluefinstudios.com/blog/2013/4/tutorial---low-light-photography-tips
Remember, it doesn't matter whether you use a window, or flash, mastering reflectors, diffusers and flags is all about controlling light. Practice and get the feel... it doesn't take long, and the reward in your photos will be huge!