A photographic image relies on the light that illuminates its subject. Subtract the light, and there's only darkness. While the most common light sources are the sun and artificial lights, reflectors can be just as effective.
Reflectors come in various sizes, shapes, and colors. While most can capture and transmit sunlight when the skies go dark, or in a studio when you're working with limited flash heads, reflectors have other indoor applications, as well.
A method I use frequently is to place a California Sunbounce with a zebra fabric—silver and gold striped—a few feet from my subject, on a light stand, secured with a clamp adapter. After adjusting the angle, I place my Hensel StudioTechnik EHT 3000 flash head with a 7-inch reflector about a foot from the Sunbounce reflector to throw light back onto my subject when the flash it triggered. The result is a beautiful sheet of light that warmly embraces my subject.
I will often use the 6-foot tall by 4-foot wide California Sunbounce Pro with my Hensel EHT 1200 studio heads powered by the Hensel Porty Premium 1200. As I point the flash head at the Sunbounce, the effect is similar to using my Larson 4x6-foot Soffbox on location. The reflector's rectangular shape works like a large strip light when the light from the portable strobes is reflected back onto the subject.
In the studio, the California Sunbounce Mini, a 2x4-foot version, works in tandem with my Larson 48-inch Soff Strip. While the strip box is my main light, any spill that falls on the background is captured by the reflector and cast back onto the subject's edge or hair, like an accent light.
Used by the motion picture industry because of its durability, strength, and light-weight aluminum frame, California Sunbounce reflectors are also popular with photographers on the beach, especially when they're shooting "flamour," my name for that blurry area between glamour and fashion photography.
Packaged in its own carrying case, the reflector assembles in minutes and disassembles even faster, yet withstands practically any wind that comes its way.
These reflectors can also be used to provide a "kicker" light effect. I use a Larson 3x4-foot Soffbox with a 40-degree honeycomb grid on the front and point the edge of the box toward my subject as the main light, with a California Sunbounce white reflector at the base of the light stand, angled toward my subject.
I take my Larson 36-inch Soff Strip, mounted on a low stand, and place it pointed down, about six inches from the reflector, producing a soft fill.
Sometimes I like to get away from seamless paper to brighten my background. I place a rectangular Sunbounce a few feet behind the model, reflector side out. My favorite combination is the Olympus E-1 with the Zuiko 50mm lens and the Olympus 1.4x converter, a 140mm equivalent. The compression of this longer focal length diffuses the background, taking the "boring" out of seamless paper.
Whether you use the sun or artificial lights to bring life to your subject, reflectors can help transform unwanted darkness and brighten up your background to dramatically set your images apart.
The Tungsten Fresnel Difference
It's not uncommon for studio photographers to fall into a shooting rut using the same lights, backdrops, and equipment, job after job. When I need a creative jump start I look at older, successful techniques and try to put a new spin on them.
One way is to illuminate a portrait subject with light modified by a Fresnel lens. Invented in 1822 by Augustin Jean Fresnel for lighthouses, these lenses produce a circular, polarized light for portraits with soft and brilliant focused edges. The original tungsten-powered Fresnel lights were heavy, hot, and inefficient. Today, we have cooler, lighter, more efficient ways to create the sharply focused, brilliant-edged quality of light using typical studio flash heads.
Consider purchasing an old Fresnel lens from a used-equipment outlet. Remove the guts from the back, and modify it to fit on your studio flash head.