Regular readers of my column and blog know that I love my little Nikon speedlights for all the wonderful things they do so effortlessly. From fill flash, to slow synch to cordless off camera TTL control, these units have changed the way I work and have made me a flash maven.
But there are some contrasty situations where my first choice will be a reflector, usually one of the pop-open types like the Flexfill or Photoflex or Lastolite. What are those situations and why do I like to use a reflector instead of flash when I encounter them? Hit the jump to find out.
Well, the quality of the light from a reflector is generally broader and softer than that from an undiffused, shoe-mounted flash. A reflector provides a broad wash of light, puts a nice big catchlight in the subject’s eyes (compare the catchlights, and the overall light quality, between the Huli Wigman at the top of the post as opposed to the shot at the end of the post) and the light has more of a “glow.”
Having someone hold your reflector makes the shoot into more of a communal event. While it’s easier to have someone who knows what to look for hold your reflector, you can recruit anybody (why, even a magazine writer can be trained in a matter of moments…yes, it’s just that simple!), and this makes the whole portrait session more fun. In some situations, the subject himself can hold the reflector, and it makes for some good laughs and relaxed moments.
But using a reflector requires a situation where you have some time and control. If you’re in a fast moving event or parade, where you can’t just stop the proceedings and pop open a reflector, those are the situations where flash comes into its own. Like a lot of choices you make in photography, there is no right or wrong answer or set of ironclad rules. It’s situational, and the important thing is to recognize the right choice for a given scenario.
This Post Has 15 Comments
Jack Kurtz22 Aug 2009
Count me in the reflector camp also. I love them, and the photos you’ve posted are great examples why I like them. The real test of someone’s skill with a reflector though is not the shooting. It’s how quickly they can fold them up when they’re done. Watching a novice try to fold up my Flexfill is like watching a 3 Stooges short. It brings a small amount of joy into my life.
Bob22 Aug 2009
Jack: I’ve found that popping open and folding up a reflector quickly can also raise you to the status of “shaman” in some parts of the world!
Skedonk22 Aug 2009
Very true. Another advantage of the reflector is the pleasant continuous lighting, in contrast to the irritating sting of a flash.
Doru Oprisan23 Aug 2009
Amazing colours, shaman ! 🙂
Straight out of the camera ?
Bob23 Aug 2009
Hi Doru: Yes, these are from my first trip and are film scans. Velvia, you couldn’t (and still can’t, IMHO) beat it!
Richard Bugg24 Aug 2009
Thanks Bob. Great colours (yes, Australian spelling), and nicely scanned and adjusted. Do you still use film these days, and if so in what circumstances? I was wondering how you scan and adjust your slides for web and reproduction. Any specific tips?
Bob24 Aug 2009
Richard: I’m only shooting digital these days. I miss film, but I don’t miss scanning. Nothing special for the web…just sharpen them up a bit. There’s a Fred Miranda action called “Web Presenter Pro” that does a nice job (www.fredmiranda.com). cheers, B
Doru Oprisan24 Aug 2009
Oh, I thought they were digital. I never get such intense colors straight out of the camera.
Guess we’ll have to wait for the Velvia CMOS sensor.. 🙂
Bob24 Aug 2009
Doru: Nikon has settings for the “look” of your jpegs—Standard, Neurtral, Portrait, or Vivid. Then you can tweak the saturation, contrast, sharpness, etc. within each of those major settings.
If you set your camera to Vivid, you’ll get that Velvia look right out of the camera. Careful, though, not recommended for portraits…people go a little red!
Doru Oprisan24 Aug 2009
Thanks, Bob. I know those settings. For landscapes I prefer to shoot RAW (+JPEG), to preserve as much detail as possible in the highlights and shadows. But in general, I’m not saying I get ugly pictures, I’m saying they’re never quite like this, or like something you’d put in an NG magazine.
Oh, well, maybe I’ll get there someday, in small steps.
Thanks again for your patience !
Gilbert Wong27 Aug 2009
I just come to learn your website and I find it is really full of good tips and your willingness to share. I see that you have also travel to Malaysia before where I am from.
Its great tips you shared regarding catchlights and reflector. will keep that in mind. 🙂
Bob27 Aug 2009
Hi Gilbert: Welcome! I really enjoyed shooting in Malaysia and hope to get back one day soon. cheers, BK
michael matlach28 Aug 2009
I love to see someone talk about reflectors. I have been using them for years and consider a 20 inch round the one lighting tool I am never without. But I have also found that sharing them with the people I meet in my travels is a great ice breaker as they struggle and laugh while trying to collapse them. I know I have worn out quite a few by sharing them in this way but that is a small price to pay for some great images and gaining trust.
Botond18 Sep 2009
I watched recently the “documentary” movie about the Nikon d40 and D40X.After that i checked out you’re blog, and I wanted to congratulate you for the nice picture…and i saw that you were here in Transylvania.I live here in Brasov, near Rasnov and Mikolosvara, and when I saw you’re pictures from here i couldn’t believe what i was seeing.I am an amateur photograph…but i hope that i will pro one day like you.i recently bought a Nikon D3000 for my first step to be a pro.I have a picture blog with pictures made by me with my old compact camera, but soon i will have new pics.if you will have some time or if you are interested take a look: http://www.ntzphotography.blogspot.com!
Wish you all the best: Botond from Transylvania
Bob18 Sep 2009
Hi Botund: Greetings! Nice to have you hear from Transylvania, a very beautiful part of the country. I like your studies of the old car with the Diana camera? Very moody. all the best, Bob K.