Reflect, Don’t Project

I’ve conducted hundreds of photography workshops for almost 17 years now, practically all over the planet, and someone will always bring their own reflector or flash of some type, though we provide photographic lighting gear at all our locations. We don’t mind if you bring your own and we will show you how to properly use it too.

California Sunbounce Reflector

This photo was captured at one of my exotic photography workshops by pointing a battery powered 400-watt second studio flash into a California Sunbounce Pro, with zebra reflector fabric.

It’s not uncommon to find photographers who have purchased photography gear simply because of great marketing hype without really understanding what they purchased and how it really works. A great example is the “light stick” craze currently found at photography shows and expos—people purchase them because the marketing photos show great photos captured by great photographers.

But does the photographer really understand that these light sticks are very low powered and are rated on lumens? The hottest light sticks out there, as outlined in my last article, Photography Light Sticks, Gimmicks?, only produce between 1100 up to 1700 in lumens output. That’s the same amount of light produced by an incandescent table lamp with 75 to 100 watt bulbs. An 1100 lumens light stick doesn’t equate, not even come close in light intensity output compared to a 500-watt-second studio flash, or even on-camera flash for that matter.

Now sure, the light stick marketing photos look great, of course they do as the stick is practically in the model’s face, thus making it a large light modifier in length only. Think about this for a second, the sticks are a couple to a few inches wide of little LED bulbs arranged in a plastic tube of some type. It almost likes like someone took a medium 3-foot by 4-foot soft box and masked off the box except the last two inches resulting in a strip light 2-inches wide by 3- or 4-foot long—and the stick costs more than a soft box!

So I’m here to tell you of a better solution—use California Sunbounce reflectors! Whoa you ask! A light stick, and for that matter a soft box powered by flash, transmit modified light and a reflector reflects light that strikes its surface, they are not the same light. True that! Actually reflected light is often sweeter than transmitted or direct light. Now what if we took that flash head, and if you are a stickie type, a light stick, and pointed it a California Sunbounce reflector instead, what happens?

California Sunbounce Reflector Pro

A photographer holds a California Sunbounce Pro reflector during one of my photography workshops. Notice the size of the reflector relative to the rectangular geometric shape of the model.

Well what happens is these rectangular reflectors, my favorite being the zebra fabric one, are closer in geometric shape to the human body standing tall. We tend to form rectangles and the California Sunbounce Pro (4 x 6 Feet) Kit – Reflector Panel Kit with Frame and Carry Bag (Zebra/White) does the trick. What most people fail to understand is that reflectors do not increase or decrease the swath of light they generate from reflected light. Transmitted light, like those light sticks and flash diffused through soft boxes, changes in size and light intensity relative to their distant to the subject.

The appearance of “enlargement” of the light reflected by a California Sunbounce reflector is caused by diffusion of a non-perfectly-mirrored-polished surface (the fabric material) hence why some professional photographers will take reflector fabric and run it through a wash cycle (without soap, only water) to “season” the surface for more diffusion. This added diffusion minimally increases the overall size of the reflected light shape and helps reduce the contrast of the reflected light. This is one reason I’m not a big fan of round reflectors.

Photography Reflectors

Here you can see the difference between inexpensive round reflectors vs. a California Sunbounce reflector.

A cheap round reflector reflects, not projects, a round light path no larger than the size of the reflector itself. So if you’re going to illuminate a geometrically shaped rectangle, like a human standing tall, theoretically you’d only be using the middle rectangle section of a round reflector, thus throwing away the outer two-thirds of the (circle) light source which increases the chance of spill-light on other elements in your scene. Plus the light is smaller, specular, and harsher than a larger rectangle reflector.

I will use the largest reflector (light modifier) as possible because the truth, not myth, is that the larger the light source, the sweeter, or softer the light is, or the more forgiving the light source becomes for the human skin. This is very important when photographing women. I’ve never met a female model that asked me to ensure her skin would look rough and not smooth. So a little photography tip, whether you’re using light sticks, on camera flash, or studio strobes, point them into a California Sunbounce reflector which will change the size and shape of your original light, and also make your light sweeter than pointing it directly at your subject.

With that I close, and as always, I ask you not to forget the men and women who served patriotically to protect our freedoms. God Bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.

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