With summer around the corner the challenge of shooting in full-sun are on many photographers’ minds. Shooting backlit is a popular approach to tackling shooting in full sun but reflecting sun back onto your subject’s face is key to making this work. Even if you avoid shooting in full sun like the plague, being able to identify different ways of reflecting light onto your subject is bound to come in handy. Here are some ideas. For even more ideas, check out Roberto Valenzuela’s Picture Perfect Lighting class on CreativeLive or his book of the same name.
#1 Portable Reflectors: The most obvious way to reflect light onto your subject is by using a portable reflector. Consider a reflector that is not round to make it easier to prop-up without rolling away. Lastolite makes large, oval reflectors that are great for families or large groups. Consider a smaller size, such as the Lastolite 8-in-1 Tri Flip with a handle for individual, food, and product shots. The handle makes it easy to use on my own without an assistant and included sleeves allows for eight different options for reflection.White Walls: White and other light-colored walls will reflect pretty light back onto your subjects without any undesirable color casts. If you see a white wall that is brightly lit, place your subject facing the wall to take advantage of pretty reflected light. This is a great option even if you are in an alleyway or place that might otherwise be shady. If you are in a client’s home look for any room that is painted white and you are almost certain to have great light for your photos.
2# Sidewalks: Sidewalks are great sources of reflected light because of their light color. Even if your subject is in the shade, if you position them so that some light from the sidewalk is reflecting up they will be nicely lit.
3# Light-Colored Ground Surface: If you are indoors, white tiled or light wood floors will give you the same effect as sidewalks if the floors are being hit by light. Outdoors, look for white gravel or any other light-colored ground cover. Compare a photo taken on asphalt or a dirt path with one taken on neutral colored stone and notice the difference. A dark asphalt ground will absorb the light while a light one bounce light back onto your subject
4# Hot Spots: Those bright spots of light you often see on the floor or walls when the sun pours in from window and doors can make great reflectors. Position your subject just outside of the hotspot so that the bright light reflects back into their eyes. For a dramatic look, you can place your subject right in the hotspot.
5# Tables: Tables that are light colored can also work as great reflectors. These are great for lifestyle shots. Is your table dark? Try placing a Lastolite reflector on the table to completely change how your subject looks. You will probably want to keep the reflector out of the frame but there will be a noticeable difference in the way your subject is lit.
6# T-Shirts: The simplest way to reflect light back onto your subject? Wear a white t-shirt. Many photographers swear by this method to reflect a little more light onto their subjects no matter where they are shooting. This comes in especially handy when you are photographing small children who will not stay where you would like them to be!
7# White Fabric: Really anything goes here! If shooting in a home or hotel room, white sheets, pillowcases, or tablecloths can be used as good reflectors. If you travel with a blanket for your clients to sit on during shoots, make it white and then it can do double-duty as a reflector when needed.
8# Light-colored cars: If you are out shooting on the streets look for light-colored cars. A car with a nice white paint job can reflect a lot of light. Position your subject so take advantage of the nice light and you will have the most beautifully lit subject on the block.
9# Garage doors: If you are lucky enough to find a white garage door you will find that it will reflect a lot of light back onto your subject. This little trick can open up new possibilities for shooting while in clients’ homes or in urban locations.
10# Fences: If you see a white fence, use it to your advantage. One caveat here is that picket fences will not work well since they provide only narrow slivers of reflected light. However, if you find a tall privacy fence you will have plenty of beautiful reflected light with which to work.
11# Sand: There is a reason photos taken on the beach are almost always gorgeous. Sand reflects light absolutely everywhere. If shooting at a time with strong sun be sure to keep the sun at your subject’s back and let the sand reflect light back onto your subject.
12# Snow: There is a reason it seems so bright out when the ground is covered in snow – it reflects light everywhere. When the weather turns cold, head out once the ground is covered and you will find everywhere you go there is a giant reflector waiting to be used.
13# Water: Water reflects light like mad. When near water, position your subject facing the water and watch their face light up. This can be done poolside, standing just inside the ocean, or even in a tub — although you will probably want to reserve shooting in the tub for kids or maternity shots.
#14 Paper: In a pinch, a simple piece of white paper can work as a reflector to light a small area like a face or piece of pie. If you don’t have a piece of paper with you, look for things like pages in a book that can work in a pinch. Some food photographers swear by using a menu to reflect light onto their food while dining out. If you would something a little sturdier than paper, or want to be sure to always have some sort of reflector with you, a piece of white cardboard or foam board will last longer than paper and can easily be put in a camera bag.
#15 In general, be aware that larger the reflector is the more light will be reflected back onto your subject and the farther away from the reflector you place your subject the softer and more diffused the light will be. That said, don’t overlook small natural reflectors that might make an otherwise dull photo look bright and polished.
Be aware of any reflectors that will reflect unsightly colors back onto your subject. While you may find a bright orange wall that is reflecting light like mad, be aware that the light will turn your subject orange. Similarly, while grass may reflect light onto your subject, it will also turn them green. Unless you plan on processing your photo in black and white, it is best to avoid anything reflecting strong colors unless you are going for a certain look.
Keep your eyes open for reflectors wherever you go, even when you don’t have your camera with you, and in no time you will able to spot one quickly when need one!
Jamie Davis Smith