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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Using reflectors

When you're out on location like this the last thing you want to be lugging around is a couple of light stands and big flashes. Yesterday I talked a little about small flashes but even those guys sometimes detract from the effect you're trying to create.

No right or wrong, just whatever suits your creative vision. In this case I was in a bit of a pickle.

I was doing a shoot for Tim and Gwyneth Nevard of their glorious property - the Mareeba Wetlands. This amazing area of savanna an hour or so west of Cairns is a haven for wild birds. Jabirus, brolgas, Gouldian Finches and too many others to mention flock to the man made lagoons built by the Nevards. Mornings are a once in a lifetime experience.

We were doing some shots for their brochures and they particularly wanted a shot from this hill overlooking the reserve. Only problem was the sun was right behind us. That means two things - one the sun is shining right into the lens of the camera, and two the people are in shadow.

First thing I needed to do was hide the sun! That was the easy part of the equation. I just moved left and right until it was hidden behind a tree. Sun problem solved!

Now the problem was the faces in shadow. I originally tried a small flash but I was shooting film and it was a bit hard to guage what the effect would be. When your butt's on the line you like to be safe! No LCDs on this shoot so for a lighting effect I could see and control I pulled out my trusty reflector.

One of the most common configurations of reflectors is a circular one that comes with big circular sleeves that fit over a collapsible frame. You have the option of a white reflector, a silver one, a gold one or a black one. If you don't put the sleeve over the frame it is a translucent piece of material that is great for filtering harsh sunlight.

The trick is to catch the rays of the sun and bounce them back into exactly the right space. The hard bit when there's only one of you is to look through the viewfinder while trying to manipulate the damn thing into the right place on a windy afternoon!

I must have looked quite funny as I shifted my position left and right. moved my left hand (holding the reflector) up and down and this way and that. Flattening it out, curling it over. Eventually I managed to get it into a pretty good position rested against the legs of my tripod and start shooting.

You can see the nice orange light on the face of the guide pointing into the distance as well as on Gwyneth's face with the binoculars held up to her face. Tim is a bit farther back and is not lit as well but has a nice backlit halo around his head.

As photographers we tend to collect stuff. Kind of like nesting bowerbirds only not everything's blue! Put your hand up if you've got more camera bags than you know what to do with. Just when you think you don't need that doovelacky that's been sitting in the back of the cupboard for six months you might just find a use for it. That's why on commercial travel jobs particularly I tend to take everything and pick and choose what will do the job.