Shooting Film? All Natural Light Portrait Photographers Need This Tool

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The reflector is one of the most underrated and forgotten about items that any natural light portrait photographer could have. Folks tend to just forget it. Instead, they think that film will do a good enough job and that they can edit it later. But the reality is that you just get really bad-looking scans and edits. With film, you truly need to work at it in-camera. The majority of the work needs to be done when shooting. If anything, just clarity and a bit of sharpening can be done in post-production. 

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My motivation for this blog post has to do with a video I saw recently with a photographer shooting his portrait subjects. Let’s be honest, film is back, and it’s here to stay. It can live alongside digital. But everyone shoots natural light portrait photography with a Mamiya RB67 like it’s easy. But it’s not at all. Here is an even bigger reason why you need a reflector. Some theories say that Photography was originally developed without darker-skinned people in mind. Considering how history often goes, I’m pretty sure it’s true. And in my own time, I’ve done lots of my own research on the matter. It seems true each and every time I delve in to do more research. If you pay attention to your own editing and how one needs to light, you’ll see this first hand.

I encourage you to watch the video below from VOX.

So why do you need a reflector? Well, for natural light portrait photography, it fills in the shadows. Again, it’s complicated and time-consuming to do that in post-production. You can then darken the exposure just a bit to get more details in the background. You’ll do this without losing details on your portrait subject. Scanning and editing in post-production are a lot tougher than it would be with just shooting digital. So here are a few extra reasons to use a reflector and which one you need.

Is this still not resonating. Well, think of it this way. If you were getting paid $2,000 to do a job, would you rather it get done in a few hours or an average work shift? I think we’d all prefer to get the most money for the least amount of time. You don’t need to be a slave to your computer if you just do it right in-camera, to begin with.

  • White reflector: Takes any light source, turns it more white and reflects the light into the shadows. So if the light is red-tinted, the reflected light will be a lighter red. This is incredibly versatile.
  • Soft Silver: This is a combination of white and silver. It’s typically my favorite. It does what a white reflector does but adds more punch. This makes the images sharper, and there’s much more pop to the photo. This is fantastic for folks like me with darker skin. According to the laws of photography, physics, and color, it will flatten the image’s shadows out.
  • Soft gold: A combination of gold and white. It adds a golden-colored pop but softens it. Truthfully, I never use these.
  • Gold: It’s basically a very bright, warm light being spilled onto your subject. I honestly have never found a big use for these either.

Here’s a great photo that shows how a reflector helps. Notice under his chin? The shadows are very light, but the background still looks very dark. This was done using a reflector. Without a reflector, the shadows would’ve been incredibly apparent. Of course, we did this using a flash. But the same idea applies with natural light portrait photography.

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