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On reflection - Reflector tips and advice from Damian McGillicuddy.
Photography, what's it all about? I like to think that when the discussion is over and the debate has raged that all we are left with at the end of the day is the absolute base fact that good photography is all about control!
Having been in the profession for a few years, I think this is my 25th - I obviously started at 3, it is somewhat of an anathema to us 'old pros' at how we are now lead to believe that the latest, greatest, newest and shiniest piece of 'wonder kit' will turn us into the greatest Practitioner's of our art at the simple swipe of our flexible friend...really?
Obviously, as I come from the time when a camera was a shutter-less, light, tight box, I'm a bit of a dinosaur. It must be because I believe knowledge and it's application will trump technology every time, let's see if we can prove it.
It seems obvious then to start with the cheapest and most abundant source of illumination... natural light. Now this stuff, in the main, is all around but that doesn’t just mean we can shoot 'willy nilly' does it? Of course not! We said only 3 paragraphs ago good photography is about control. Now to exercise control we need a plan.
If I’m shooting with natural light I’ll always look for window light. Why? very simply because it gives me control, especially if the window is dressed. Very simply the curtains can be used as barn doors or flags to control the 'spill' of the light. Add a net or voile to the window and we now have diffusion to soften the light and lower the contrast if necessary...who needs a studio!
You’ll notice in our first 'behind the scenes' picture that in this shooting situation I’ve placed the subject in the middle of the window. This is basically because the day that these images were shot the light was overcast, flat and weak, so I had to find the 'sweet spot' of power. Next thing to notice in the second 'behind the scenes' picture is how Ste, my assistant, is metering the light. We always use a hand-held meter and measure in the incident mode - note how he points the meter back to the window, the source of the illumination, because we want to know just how much illumination is falling on the subject, so measure the raw material from where it's coming!
Now sometimes, but only sometimes, that might just be all you need and your picture may be perfect... but images like that are few and very far between. Now, back to the control freak in me, because it will always come back to control - what happens if I’m not 100% happy with the contrast the light is giving me? Well before we unpack the lights the first port of call for me is always a reflector. Now reflectors come in many shapes, sizes and colours. Predominantly though they are white, silver or gold. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the colour of light a gold reflector gives, I’d much rather 'warm' a subject up in other less random, more controllable ways, but lets leave that for another article.
You can see from the little sequence of images of the beautiful Paula that just augmenting the image by bouncing the window light back via a reflector can make a great deal of difference to the feel of the image, I’m using the Damian Mcgillicuddy middle sized panel reflector and as you can see from the behind the scene image of Ste, its hardly rocket science! Its useful to note that a white panel ‘pushes back’ a softer, smaller volume of light where a silver panel returns a greater volume of light with a more specular and contrasted quality.
Most interesting is the effect a black panel or negative reflector can have on an image. Look how the light has been 'sucked out' of the subject to camera right, this is great if you want to increase contrast, perhaps for a black and white study.
Remember, when using a reflector, the angle of incidence always equals the angle of reflection, in other words the way it comes into the reflector will be the same angle it bounces out on. Rather like the way a snooker ball bounces off the table cushion.
My biggest tip for using a reflector is don’t hold it too low, if the light appears to be coming from below it will weaken the image and make it look slightly strange. Us humans are 'hard wired' to expect our illumination to come from above, that's what thousands of years of living in sunlight does for us, we are all familiar with that big ball in the sky.
Secondly, although I choose the reflectors I use based on performance and portability you can get a similar look on a budget by pressing into service polystyrene boards with one side painted black or a large board covered in tin foil.
The REAL secret is to get out there and PRACTICE and hopefully I will have inspired you to get up, get out and give it a go. Photography is a brilliant pastime or profession.
All the best for now...
You've read the article, now go take some fantastic images. You can then upload the pictures, plus any advice and suggestions you have into the dedicated Photo Month forum for everyone at ePHOTOzine to enjoy.