by Scott Stulberg
I love photographing people all over the world and especially in Los Angeles, where I live. When I am shooting outdoors during the day, there is one piece of equipment that I never leave home without. It is my soft/gold reflector that collapses into a little sack and fits right into my camera backpack. They are available at any good camera store or online at places like B&H Photo and tons of other places. This is one piece of equipment that I talk about in my Eye to Eye : Capturing the Face class here at BetterPhoto that I really emphasize is very much worth buying. It can easily take your portraits of people up a couple of notches and open up your eyes to a different way of thinking outdoors. I almost always prefer to use a soft/ gold reflector over an on camera flash because it gives me the look that feels right to me.
The following two images are of my good buddy Stevanna , who is Michael Jackson’s niece. She is so adorable and I have been shooting her since she was about 4 years old. She called me up last week and said she needed photos for her high school yearbook and we decided to shoot at the park instead of shooting in a studio. She came with her mom and grandmother and we headed off to the park with my Canon 5D, lenses, tripod and of course my large soft/ gold reflector. When I use gold reflectors, they are the soft/ gold reflectors available from Photoflex ,Westcott and a few other companies. They have silver and gold woven and mixed together and are much softer than using straight gold alone, which I do not like outdoors. Solid gold reflectors are way too strong and the silver ones also reflect too much bright, harsh light. Silver ones make the skin look very white and almost blown out at times. The soft gold mimics the sun and looks very realistic and bounces the sun back in to the face, where you need it.
I positioned Stevanna in front of a bench , so that she could lean against it and be more relaxed. In the first image, the sun was not right behind her but her face was still in full shade. I had her mother hold the reflector off to Stevannas left, and gently “feather” the light from the sun back onto her face. Feathering the light means that you do not aim the reflector full force back onto the face of your subject, blinding them with the light..This is not the way to do it and you end up with too strong of a light on their face and it looks unnatural. Not to mention that the bright light can make your models eyes start to tear half the time too from the bright light. When you feather it in, you angle it just enough and use part of the reflector to bounce the light back in very gently. The soft/ gold reflector lit up her face beautifully and gave her face a nice glow from the light. In the second shot, I positioned her more in front of the sun to highlight her hair and get a beautiful glow to those gorgeous curls. We also used the soft/ gold reflector in the same way and ended up with a few shots that worked out great for her.
Using a soft/ gold reflector is one of the best investments you can make to improve your photographs of people outdoors.
Ps……in case you want to see what this adorable cutee pie looked like when she was much younger…..the last shot is one I did of her in the studio when she was about 4 years old.