When the background is less than ideal…

5 04 2009

improvise! In this case, the background behind this beautiful Snowdrop Snowflake I photographed this afternoon was light brown mulch, which didn’t provide any contrast, much less any “oomph.”

I carried my Interfit 5 in 1 collapsible reflector (with the translucent base only) so I could shield my subjects from the less-than-ideal-for-shooting mid-day sun. The carrying case is solid black on one side (logo on the other), so I looped it over the plant ID sign behind my subject. Voila! Now the image becomes a “gallery shot.” A piece of black mat board or a piece of black velvet stretched over cardboard would serve the same purpose. The velvet would be more saturated black and require less darkening in Photoshop. Because I was using the translucent reflector (held between the sun and my subject), the black background registered dark enough that no Photoshop work was needed to darken it.

I propped up the translucent reflector to block the harsh sun, creating a “cloud cover.” If you don’t have the luxury of a personal photo caddy (friend, boyfriend, husband, wife, or a complete stranger), prop it up against a tree, your tripod, or lean it against your body. Beware of windy days, though, as an unfurled reflector fast becomes airborne! (I speak from experience.)

The 1/2 stop translucent reflector is easily converted by a zip-on overlay sleeve which allows for additional surfaces to be used: gold, silver, black, and white. The gold, silver and white surfaces fill in reflected light in to the shadow area by up to 1 stop while the black will take away up to 1 stop to improve contrast in the shadow areas.

Amazon also sells the Westcott version of this 5-in-1 reflector online with the case, reflector arm and stand for $96.83 (handy if you don’t have a photo caddy to help you maneuver it while you’re shooting). It’s great for both indoor and outdoor shooting, especially for portraits. If you always have a trusty assistant on your shoots, you can just buy the 5-in-1 reflector without the stand. Yes, you can buy smaller reflectors, but you get less coverage, obviously—and it’s harder to prop up a smaller one and still block (or bounce) the sunlight. Get the largest your budget will allow because it does collapse quite nicely—it will even fit in a carry-on suitcase. I own several smaller ones (2-sided versions, silver & gold, black & white), but I graduated up to this 5-in-1 and rarely use the others.

You can use other things as reflectors (foam core, poster board, etc.). The concept is the same, though. Reflect the light back on to your subject with white, warm it up with something gold, cool it and add highlights with something silver (I used to use tinfoil taped to cardboard in the “olden” days). Stretch a sheet or translucent paper over any kind of frame. They all essentially do the same thing and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference with the end result. The manufactured products just do it in a more portable, professional and convenient way.

There is a great article by Rick Sammon on controlling light with reflectors and diffusers here.

Thanks to Tina and Kerry for the flower identification!

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

lonesnowdrop


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3 responses

5 04 2009
burstmode

I’ve used this trick more than once but seldom with as beautiful a result as you produced.

5 04 2009
cindydyer

Hi burstmode!

What kind of results have you gotten? Sometimes you have to darken the background a bit in Photoshop (or Elements) if you get any light falling onto the black background.

6 04 2009
burstmode

Yes, that’s true; I darken in Lightroom because RAW makes that so much easier. I like to use the black skin of my 5 in 1.

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