Ever since I have started shooting professionally I’ve heard about the evil of the sun. And in general I agree with the sentiment. Bright sun creates weird shadows, hard-to-balance brights and darks, and eyes so squinty they’re closed. But on a recent visit to my good friends and creative power couple Sean Parker and Harmony Lawrence, we decided to push those boundaries using a really simple technique: bounce (AKA reflectors)!
You might be like “oh yeah, duh, I’ve done that before,” (read: I said that). But when I really thought about it, had I truly ever tested myself in the bright sunlight of high noon? No way. I avoided it like the plague. Harmony and Sean have been incorporating reflectors hard core into their shoots for a while now, and so, when we decided to shoot their friend Alysse during the bright sun of a late morning, they eased my worries and said confidently that we’d get some amazing shots. And we did!
I am always trying to grow as a photographer, and my weakest link is still lighting. Finding balance with artificial light. Finding ways to blend it with natural. I’ve definitely been pushing my current limits with some flash techniques, but I’m not as confident in this area as I want to be. I’ve also used bounce before (with Harmony and Sean, even). However, the stigma of full sun weighs heavy, so I still avoid it whenever I can. But we were strapped for time, so we shot what we could when we could. And as you’ll see, bounce not only helped with the dreaded sun but also made a major impact for the shaded shots as well.
I got so many amazing images from the three different looks that we ended up doing, it’s crazy. And a lot of that has to do with the simple use of a reflector. I’m going to show some images, completely unedited and straight out of camera, to demonstrate the difference bounce makes. These images were shot sequentially, so they may be a slightly different pose. But the main thing to look at is the change in light. How shadows fill. All with the simple use of a reflector!
The photos on the left here are a perfect example. We were getting some natural reflection off of some water to the left of Alysse that’s out of frame, and I don’t dislike the way the natural lighting looks. But having a reflector on her brought out her eyes and skin tone, evened things out, and added sheen and sparkle to the dress. My settings were the same (compare the background exposures, they’re pretty much identical), so the only change was filling in some light on the right side.
Below are a few more examples from the shooting that day:
As you can see from the images above, it really makes a difference, regardless of natural light situations. We were in darker woods and brightly lit fields and the reflectors added some lovely light to all the locations.
Occasionally it can be a bit bright, as seen in the sheen of the dress to the right, but even then it’s something that can be worked with in Photoshop if you’re not happy with the results. The further the reflector was from the model the less intense the light overall, which gives you a surprising amount of control, depending on what you are after.
Reflectors come in all sorts of different sizes with different options, so if you’re looking to start I’d get something with a few options that folds out at least 3-4 feet. I generally prefer the silver side, but Harmony loves the warmth of the gold side, so it’s great to have multiple choices available so you can play in different settings and see what works best with your personal style. I just bought a really small reflector I can keep in my camera bag that pops out to like 2 feet and it has a surface that’s silver and gold combined, and overall we all really liked the look of that when we were shooting, especially for the face.
Bonus, a lot of reflector sets come with a translucent white bounce. This not only adds a subtle fill light if you use it as a reflector, but you can also use it above like an umbrella to block sun from your model, if you’re getting weird shadows or really want an even, natural light.
So! Can you shoot in bright sun and still get good shots? I’d definitely say yes. Though in general my style is best suited to the even tones of an overcast sky I definitely feel much more confident now with shooting in intense, harsh light. My only suggestion is to make sure you have someone with you to hold the reflector while you shoot, it can get a bit crazy trying to do both. Trust me. :)