How to use a REFLECTOR the right way! STOP using REFLECTORS to make bad outdoor portrait lighting


Stop – Stop – Stop making bad light badder
is that a word? Seriously – PLEASE STOP using reflectors to
create crappy unflattering light. In this video I am going to prove to you when
you are using a reflector outdoors to light a portrait – you shouldn’t put it below
your subjects face – You need to raise it above their head. Be sure to stay tuned until the end and I’ll
explain why I don’t like gold reflectors. Hey gang! Yes – I’m frustrated. TV shows, movies, and unfortunately even YouTube
photographers seem to think its really cool to do that low angle gold reflector that blinds
your subject, makes ridiculously bright catchlights in the bottom of the eyes and puts shadows
in weird places. Seriously – I get it – it looks much cooler
to do this – instead of this. And indeed – as a new or young photographer
the first time you light somebodies face up so that it is golden yellow and three stops
brighter than the background – it seems really cool – even if you are causing retina damage
in your subjects eyes. Can we all agree that the idea with a portrait
is to flatter someone – not to make them look bad. Right? Ok – so before I show you the right way to
use the reflector – let’s look at a little science. Hey, don’t click that button – I know – you
heard the word science and got scared. Sorry but this video isn’t about looking
cool holding a reflector – this video is about cognitive psychology and physics and how you
use that to make great photos So don’t click away – you need to learn this stuff. All creatures on earth – humans, reptiles,
birds, the list goes on – have evolved to perceive light as coming from above – just
like natural sun light. The light casts shadows that tell us about
the shape of objects. If you change the direction of the light that
changes the shadows and can change the perceived shape. That’s also why we put lights in the ceiling
instead of the floor. As you advance in your understanding of lighting
and how to use it – you will also learn that the placement and direction of light can dramatically
alter the shape of a persons face. Watch this young ladies face as the light
begins above her head and then travels in a full 360 degrees below her and then back
to the the top. I’ll do it one more time and you can see
that the shape of her face is constantly changing – not to mention that the low angle lighting
– simply looks ghoulish – which is great if you’re doing portraits of zombies. So what does all this mean? It means that where you place your light source
matters – it has consequences. This is a lesson that applies for ALL types
of lighting – not just reflectors. Now a quick pause – before anybody gets confused
– I have talked about this in the past and had people point out that I sometimes put
a reflector below a models face for fill light. The key phrase there is fill light – filling
in the shadows. In this video we are talking about using a
reflector as your key light to re-direct sunlight outdoors to light a portrait or a modeling
shot. Here is the classic – hold the gold reflector
below the model set-up that we see so many people doing. The model is in the shade and we are using
the reflector to redirect the sunlight….. and here is the result of that set-up. The models face is unnaturally yellow, we
have really intense catchlights in the bottom of her pupils and worse yet – we have shadows
on top of her nose and mouth instead of below them. Now here is that same setting with the gold
reflector held above my assistants head and angled to direct the sunlight down on the
model to create a more natural lighting effect. The skin tone is warm, but more natural – if
you look close you can see the effects of the gold reflector in the shadows – something
that I’m not a fan of – but we will get to that in a minute. We also have catchlights on the tops of the
pupils and we have shadows that are below her nose instead of on top. Here is one more example.. in this case I
simply posed my model in the shade of a tree. If you have enough assistants – you can use
a diffuser over your model pretty much anywhere to create shade and then use a reflector as
your key light. Here is the version with the gold reflector
below the model – hopefully I don’t need to point out to you that this is just not
flattering. And here is the version with the reflector
above my model. The lighting is much more natural and appealing. Let me try and make my point another way… Many of you also take portraits indoors, maybe
in a studio and maybe in your living room. Some of you use speedlights, some of you use
continuous lighting, some of you use monolights…. how often do you place your main or key light
below your subject if you are trying to create a flattering portrait? Why would you suddenly do things differently
just because you go outside to shoot – you wouldn’t – well – you shouldn’t. Lighting a flattering portrait outside – is
no different than lighting a flattering portrait inside except that you have this one EXTREMELY
bright light source that you can’t move or dial down at will – it’s called the sun
– so you have to diffuse or re-direct it, but that is not an excuse to turn things upside
down and put your key light below your subjects face. I promised to tell you why I don’t like
gold reflectors. Unfortunately I am old enough to remember
the 1970’s when gold reflectors first became a thing. The famous pin-up and glamour photographer
Peter Gowland was using white bed sheets and cardboard as reflectors on the beach in Santa
Monica California and then companies started to sell gold reflectors so that photographers
could recreate Gowlands look anywhere – even when the model didn’t have a golden brown
tan – which is why Gowland always used white and not gold – he didn’t need it. Now these gold reflectors worked fine for
FILM, because we didn’t have Photoshop to warm the skin up in post production. The fact is that the bright gold reflectors
are just too yellow. On the rare occasion that I do use gold – I
go with a zebra pattern like you see on the California Sunbounce Micro Mini. Would I recommend that you buy one of these? Not really. They will set you back about a hundred and
fifty bucks and while they are very nice and fold up in a small bag – if you are not doing
tons of outdoor work in bright sunlight – its just not worth it. My go-to reflectors are of course the Walmart
reflector and a simple and reasonably priced white and soft silver reflector from Expo
Imaging – the same folks that make the Rogue Flashbenders. Ok… my rant is over. My hope is that I have convinced you that
if you are serious about creating great photos on a consistent basis – it is more important
to create lighting that is flattering than it is to look cool doing it. And this reflector stuff – it isn’t really
that difficult if you think it through and learn to see light – which requires practice. So why does Hollywood show it that way in
the movies? Because it looks cooler to have actors leaning
in close to the model with the reflector instead of standing back with their arms up i the
air.. Why do some other YouTube Photographers do
it that way? I don’t know – you’ll have to decide for yourself
if you want to shoot Beauty or look cool turning people into zombies. Now – you have some practicing to do, because
your best shot – it’s your next shot. So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting
– Adios!

100 thoughts on “How to use a REFLECTOR the right way! STOP using REFLECTORS to make bad outdoor portrait lighting

  1. This is interesting and helpful, but I do have a question about this. You talk about using reflectors for fill in studio but can't you use a reflector for fill outside and use the sun as a key light in certain situations (without diffusion)?

  2. First video I’ve seen from this channel and man you’re good in explaining!! Subscribed immediately

  3. Always appreciate your methods and professionalism.. love your channel

  4. So if you are working indoors, should you put the reflectors below or above the model's head?

  5. Great point. Key lights are never (the bad word "NEVER" ) really low unless you want a Horror vibe or campfire scary story telling. Fill light can be low! I understand what you said. I made a mistake I said Never in my sentence!
    Never in photography should not be used! I should have said Recommend to place your Key light above! Too many photographers have been told to never do this in photography in the past who did it their way and are renowned for their photography!

  6. First time viewer first time commenter. I was happy to of had found this. Thank you.

  7. Muchas gracias por compartir sus conocimientos, tiene toda la razón , y yo cai en ese error, pero ya sabiendo no lo volveré a hacer .

  8. Love your videos, Entertaining and Educational! Thanks Joe! Save our model's retinas!

  9. Total y agtee ligthing should mimic the real world ligth, also some photogtaphers are obsessed with removing shadows. Real World have shadows. Fill ligth is just to make soft the shadows not for kill them. Also agree with the gold color looks un natural in most of the locations.

  10. I missed you excellent tutorials. I know you are an Olympus Visionary, but these tutorials are the ones that put you among the best teachers on Youtube. Hope to see more of these in the future 🙂

  11. Hi Joe – I am a lighting teacher myself, but pretty much stuck in the strobes world. I want to improve what I am doing outdoors, and I found your video very inspirational. I have a bunch of reflectors that sit mostly unused, including one that's about 4 feet by 2.5 feet.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on doing full length fashion with reflectors. Up until now my tendency would be to use battery powered monolights on location for this, but creating a soft light is more challenging as large light modifiers are very impractical outdoors unless you have several helping hands.

    Any thoughts? Keep up the great work. I love the science of light and you are totally speaking my language. Thank you!

  12. I never thought that I could learn while having so much fun. I love youuu

  13. Thank you…. I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge. I learnt a lot from this video.
    It all makes sense for me now.

  14. Great tip I was also disliking that yellow lighting from beneath and was wondering why. Now I know What to do ☺️

  15. Any helpful tips for my retarded boss who think lighting and diffusing direct sunlight is stupid, expensive and waste of time and money?

  16. Does your gold reflector opinion change if you're subject is a person of color? I can imagine that it would make our skin look when more beautiful and be particularly flattering. But, I'm not a photographer…just the subject, with a ton of curiosity.

  17. Hey @joe i saw your old videos..u r like a wine..your age is going back..omg..u look handsome as you are aging..

  18. Great video – informative and enjoyable at the same time. Thanks, Joe.

  19. How would you do a sunset 🌅 shot with the model facing east? I’ve always had a challenge to this as they are facing away from the light. If I expose for the subject, the sunset becomes overexposed.

  20. Joseph Seed in Far Cry 5 wants his shirt back.
    Just kidding, your video was very useful, thanks.

  21. Whoa! I watched the intro scene 20 times to know how it would have done.. 🙂

  22. Nice! Thank you for the experienced tips. I am an amateur photographer at best. But I am learning. One of the best self portraits I have taken was recently on a covered lake boat dock. The sun was rising and reflecting the most magical lighting on my face. It was a bit yellow, but my face is naturally too red (I have rosacea). So, the bit of yellow worked for me in this instance. However, I think I may get one gold reflector for videos and photos of my red face, and white for the normals.

    I see this is an old video, but still appreciate your help. I will keep these tips in mind. Thank you!

  23. Wonderful video,definitely giving me hints for my next photography tutorial and photoshoot!👌

  24. Just got recently a reflector, now I will defintly know how to use it, thank you! 😀

  25. With such an intro I had to watch the full video (and I did).

  26. Am a photographer and according to this tutorial you helped me to correct some mistakes ,the reflector must be the top of the object to create a good photo ,thank you very much💪🙏☺️

  27. interesting and entertaining, first video we found, very informative, thanks. knew you had to drop the light flip one time though, lol

  28. Those portraits you took with the reflector held at a high angle looked beautiful. Though as I don't have any assistants, how would I position the reflector in the same spot and keep it there?

  29. Ja ja ja me ha gustado ese guiño en español del final, aunque intento seguirte en inglés. Good video

  30. Joe!! I need your help! Please shoot me! Or let me send some pics your way and grab some tips??

  31. I can't believe over 400 ppl gave this video a thumbs down. It is EXCELLENT information!

  32. It drives me crazy seeing people using their key light from below what are they doing shooting horror pictures?

  33. This clears up so much for me – thank you! I also didn’t like the look of the gold reflector but thought I was just using it wrong. Partially true but I was on to something.

  34. Such a great video, short and packed with information and instruction. Thanks Joel

  35. I need to learn those moves from the start LOL. Also when I worked with my stepfather as an assistant for his event shoots he trained me to always always always hold the reflector above the subject for this same reason.

  36. aren't you supposed to use gold reflectors for cloudy days? I thought white/silver was for reflecting the sun

  37. Quick, to the point, spot on accurate, and entertaining, thank you! But FYI, with the zombie fashion that is becoming popular in the USA, I may have to simply use the reflector underneath, or start a side business just for zombies. Do you think the will pay my day rate? I mean, since they only come out at night, know what I mean?

  38. Its called clamshell lighting when used with a higher light (er, the sun) Joe. A technique as old as the hills and best used for glamour photography as it lights up the eyes… etc IF DONE PROPERLY. Whether in the studio or outdoors.

  39. @joe edelman Ok, and this is helpful. Thanks. I get confused by your message. One minute I'm motivated try different things and flip the bird to the rule makers, zombies of the photography world that seem to critique everyone's work, whether it's amazing or not, if the subject isn't far enough away from the background, or if someone questions how far away your lights are from your subject and I think in that video you said, don't ask cause I don't give a damn, and proceeded to stress breaking the outdated rules of photography. That it's more important to get out their and practice, and keep learning, thinking and shooting. So which Joe Edelman should I apply tonight? My guess is you'll say, both, keep practicing till you develop your own mixed messages then give it hell. Am I close? Or were their no mixed messages, just feelings?

  40. I would also add to this by saying you should feather the reflector where the high intensity center portion of the light is not pointed directly at the model this way it's less blinding and a softer light.

  41. thanks for this video. SO you need a 2nd person to hold the reflector. What if you are shooting alone, vlog style? You're outside, no stand to attach the reflector on. What tips do you have when you shoot alone? camera held in front of you

  42. Good video, you're spot on about the lighting effect, but the historical explanation about lighting being put high instead of low doesn't ring true. When you have a lamp or fire etc lighting up an area, sure it lights up the area, but it doesn't really do a good job of lighting up where you're putting your feet. Light from above lights up where you're walking, driving a horse drawn cart etc. Not only that, but lights were put higher to be seen from a distance for traveling a better path. Here's a question though, if you took a portrait while standing on a snow covered ground, does the sun's reflection from the snow produce enough fill light?

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