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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Remember reflectors and diffusers?

Simple is good.

I’ve been teaching college photography classes for 30+ years. If there’s a set of questions that have remained the same through the film and digital era it sounds something like this, “What accessory should I buy for my new camera? 300mm lens? High powered speedlight? Carbon fiber tripod?”

I reply, “A really good reflector/diffuser, like MultiDisc.”

Their shoulders droop and they tilt their head like a dog hearing a harmonica for the first time. Sometimes they reply, “What’s a reflector?”

It’s hard for beginners to grasp the utility of a good lighting control device that’s reasonably priced. It seems anti-technology and horribly old school to them. Then I mention that its solar powered and they perk up.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing sexy about natural light photography. There’s no flashing strobes, no wireless triggers, and no lenses with a front element as big as an ice rink. The sun is boring, and bouncing sunlight is like watching television commercials on your DVR, right? Wrong.

For many of us, this is going to be a review, but what the heck? It’s only going to take a minute to look at these photos to remind ourselves that the sun and a reflector or diffuser can deliver good photos.

Some of these shots were taken outside and some were using window light.

It's not a new concept, evidenced by the attached photo of my grandfather's elementary school picture taken in San Francisco in 1901.

The technique can be described in a couple of short sentences:

Place your model so they’re lit by soft sidelight and hold your reflector so it bounces the light source onto the shadow side of the face. If it’s sunny outside and there’s no shade, hold a diffuser between the model and the sun.

Here are some examples.

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