Simple portraits with window light and a reflector

Well, thanks to a very busy summer, this is my first blog post in several months - sorry for the absence, but I've got loads of things I'll be blogging on in the coming weeks, so stand-by for action!
To break back into it gently, I plan on keeping this post relatively short - and what better way than with a wee review of a very simple, yet vital, piece of kit?
One of the most under-utilised pieces of equipment in many photographers kit is the common or garden reflector - and that's a shame, as far as I'm concerned! Over the years I've used a variety of different brands and I usually have a circular 32" 5-in-1 with me on most shoots, although I will have some bigger and smaller ones around to suit specific jobs. These are handy as they allow you to use a range of different finishes to change how the reflector affects your final image. A white reflector is the least strong, but provides a beautiful, soft light, while the gold and silver are much more reflective and are much more noticeable when used. I tend to shy away from the gold one as I find it gives a slightly 'jaundiced' look, and that's never very flattering! Using the black cover allows you to subtract light from portraits and lets you increase shadows around your subjects face. The final use for the 5-in-1 is as a diffuser, which lets you soften a harsh light source.
All the shots of Kirsty you see here were taken in the loft above my studio, using the inner diffuser from a small reflector (about 20" I think) jammed into the window frame of the skylight to help diffuse the light. As it had been raining a lot before our shoot, the rain drops on the glass left horrible shadows on Kirsty's skin whenever she got too close to the window.

About 18" from the window without the diffuser fitted.

Same distance but now the diffuser has been stuck in place - what a difference!

I recently added a Lastolite Tri-grip 8-in-1 reflector ( and I absolutely love it - it accompanies me on every shoot now! (I've used Lastolite's own image as I don't really believe I can improve on the manufacturers own photo)

In addition to the covers and uses I've already mentioned, there as white/silver and two gold/silver versions (one with more gold and one with more silver) which I prefer to the normal gold version as it warms skin tones gently without overpowering them.
As you can see, the Tri-grip has a handle, with velcro hand-strap, which makes holding and controlling the reflector so much easier, especially outdoors when it gets a wee bit windy. The triangular shape is designed to make it easier for the lone photographer to shoot with your camera in one hand and hold the reflector in the other. Whilst this may not be an ideal situation, it is one which we all find ourselves in at times, and I can vouch for the effectiveness of the design. In the shot you see below, my eight-year-old daughter illustrates just how easy it is to hold in position as she provides some rim-lighting on Kirsty's hair.

I recently spent a day in our local primary school, explaining to the pupils  what we, as photographers do. To make things fun, I got the kids playing with a couple of reflectors and I watched them as they had fun experimenting with sheets of A4 paper and laminated posters to see how differently each one changed what the effect. It reminded me that photography, whether professional or amateur, is a very practical thing. Yes, there is a place for theory (a very important place, in my opinion) but there is no substitute for experimenting and that is why I am not showing dozens of different illustrations to show how a reflector works. Instead, I'll show some images which were taken using only the skylight in the loft and a reflector and ask you to give it a try - leave your speedlites in the bag, switch off your studio strobes and use one window and a reflector to create some simple portraits. For some of these shots I used the window light directly onto the model, with the reflector providing some fill or as a hair/rim-light. Sometimes I placed Kirsty in the shadows and used the reflector to bounce light onto her directly and other times I 'feathered' the light on her by using the light from the very edge of the reflector due to the softness which this produces. There are even a couple of shots where I used the window to backlight Kirsty and feathered the reflector to lift certain parts of her face and body.

Well there you have it, some of the simplest portraits I've taken in a wee while and I hope you'll agree that there are some real beauties among them? So, go on - give it a go :)

Making a fraction of a second... last a lifetime


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