You Don’t Always Need Lights On Location: Reflectors & Diffusers Alone Work Great When Used Well.

by Karin GottschalkLeave a Comment

Shortly after graduating art school but some time before I had the income to buy all the gear I needed, I quickly came to rely on reflectors and diffusers for lighting all my outdoor stills and video work, and much of what I shot indoors with the addition of well-sized windows.

I had come across a very portable, rapid set-up reflector/diffuser system based on elasticized square and rectangular plastic piping frames and fabrics (thank you American Photos and B&H), ordered up a set and I was on my way to one-person bounce lighting nirvana.

This was well before climate change kicked in, in a state known for its prevailing laser beam sunlight and long weeks of almost year-round sun, so I had no problem obtaining enough source light to bounce, double-bounce and diffuse onto my predominately portrait subjects.

My reflector system bore up well enough though blowing away was a risk on the odd slightly windy days. Given assistants were almost unknown there – art school film and photography students considered assisting well beneath their oh so exalted status as artists – I carried all my gear in a little Japanese van, a type often referred to a kei car or microvan.

That reflector system is long gone, having sold it and my minivan to a colleague before starting my travels some years ago. The closest thing to that reflector system that I have seen online lately is made by Sunbounce, but to far higher standards and a great deal pricier. Greg Gorman is one of the Sunbounce system’s most famous users and if it is good enough for him…

As I no longer have that van or currently any car at all, I have had to look at alternatives and have settled on Lastolite’s reflectors and diffusers. Again, good old B&H came to the rescue and I bought a TriFlip 8:1 Reflector Kit and am considering a second kit of smaller reflectors for eye-light and small bounce duty, as well as some other products in the Lastolite range.

Try before you buy is my usual motto, if the products you need are locally available, so do give any reflectors and diffusers you are considering purchasing the best, most realistic tryout that you can. Don’t always do what I too often have to do and buy unseen and untried. Do what I recommend!

One of the most useful of Tri-Flip’s several features is its ability to pack up into a smallish, lightweight, round bag that fits into the outside pockets of larger backpacks or can be lashed onto the outside. Portability combined with good performance, great quality and affordability is key for me now.

I wish to extend my thanks to Terry O’Rourke, author of the article in Videomaker, and draw your attention to the many other excellent bounced and diffused lighting tutorials available for free at Shane Hurlburt’s public blog and via paid membership of his Inner Circle. [bctt tweet=”No movie lights? Then bounce it and diffuse it. Videomaker's Terry O’Rourke tells how.”]



Via Videomaker:

Lighting with reflectors is easy once you understand the basics. Put your subject in the frame, figure out where the light source is coming from and reflect some of that light back onto your subject. It really is that simple.

The very nature of lighting with a reflector is to “keep it simple.” With that in mind, we’re going to learn how to apply some basics of lighting to create some very nice effects with only the use of one, two or three simple reflectors.

The Single Light Setup
Starting with a one light setup and no fill light can give some very dramatic results. Take for instance a performer on an opera stage who is lit with one harsh spot light while performing a dramatic scene prior to battle. It wouldn’t be very dramatic if it was softly lit with light dappling on his face. Here, no fill is required because the viewer expects harsh lighting.

Adding the First Reflector
A single light source doesn’t have to be dramatic and contrasty, however. Bring in a large reflector to bounce back some of that light for flattering soft fill light. The beauty of using reflectors instead of light is the you really can’t over power your main light because you are really just reflecting part of that main source in a different direction. Move your reflectors in closer for more fill or move them back for less. It’s that simple.


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(cover photo credit: snap from Videomaker)

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