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David Šanda: How to Shoot in Daylight with Reflector Panels


Studio equipment can be used even in daylight to help you reach the right effect in your picture. David Šanda shoots a lot of outdoor photography – it may actually be what he does most – and now he’s written an article about using reflector panels in the countryside for you.

I like taking pictures outdoors

The location and natural light are often enough to create the story and the atmosphere of a picture. Since I mostly shoot portraits, I try to enhance the atmosphere by choosing appropriate clothing, poses, and composition, so that all elements fit together and create a picturesque and eye-pleasing unit.

The stars and the elements do not always favour your actions

And that’s when FOMEI’s magic equipment comes in. However, I don’t want people to be able to see right at first sight that I’ve used any tools at all. I try to find the right balance between natural and artificial light (which may take the form of a reflector panel, constant light, or a flash), in order to achieve good illumination of the model and to avoid destroying the natural light atmosphere. I rather want to enhance the atmosphere of the natural light. 

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I just grab my model and the panel and off we go!  

Today we’ll talk about FOMEI Reflex Panel 100x220/black/white. We’ll look into using this reflector panel outdoors but it’s just as handy for indoor shooting and for classic studio photography.
I am very fond of this panel because of its flexibility. It allows me to cast a shadow on the entire figure of the model or, when using the white surface, to have a large, soft and softbox-like light source. The qualities of the panel include compact size and good handling, which allows me to take pictures without the help of an assistant.

To some extent, the black side of the panel (turned towards the model) can also be used for soft light modulation: the shading limits the direction in which the light propagates and thanks to the black colour, no light is reflected back. This effect is mainly useful for face photography because the panel has to be close to the model, in order to shield as much light as possible. 

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And now some physics  

I apologize in advance to all physicists because my explanation will be rather simplified. 

The white side of the panel can be used to reflect light. When light strikes the white surface and is reflected back, it diffuses in all directions, which makes white colour much more convenient than for example silver. If you use a silver panel, you follow the law of light reflection, which sometimes causes problems as we do not get the light reflection we need. The intensity of light reflected from a white surface is lower compared to silver surface and therefore the model is less likely to be dazzled.

To some extent, the white reflective surface can be compared to softboxes which also make light spread in all directions. The nature of the light is determined depending on the size of the softbox and the distance from the photographed object (model). A larger light source area placed closer to the lens creates softer, less contrastive and less plastic light. The further we move the softbox away from the model, the smaller is the light area and the softness of the light disappears.

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If you let the sun shine on a white surface (panel), it will reflect light and become a light source. Then it’s up to your creativity to use the light source to illuminate the model. Of course, if there is to be any effect, the illuminated white surface must be somehow directed to the model. Unfortunately, the fact that the white panel turns into a light source results in another law - the light intensity decreases with the square of distance. This means that the greater the distance between the light source and the photographed object (model), the lower the light intensity. From some point, there is no effect at all, as it becomes less intense than the surrounding natural light.

Another thing characteristic for the white reflective surface is that it takes over the colour temperature of the light it reflects. This enables you to achieve a better colour balance of the entire photographic scene than if you used light reflected from the sky which has a different colour temperature than objects illuminated by direct sunlight. 

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A reflection as well as a shade!

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The panel can also be used to create shade, even in direct sunlight. However, more often I use it to shield undesirable direct sunlight which falls on the model. This can be used for shooting in a tree shade when the sun rays shining through the tree crowns create unpleasant light spots on the model. In this case, all you need to do is to place the panel in the sun direction and thus create a compact shade on the model. As you can see, the panel can be used in multiple ways and it’s a very useful helper for outdoor portrait photography because it makes shooting easier and gives you more options. Of course, the panel has certain limits, as has been indicated above. And then there’s also wind – a natural element that can give you some hard time :)

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About author 

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David was born in 1978 in Dvůr Králové nad Labem. He now lives in Hradec Králové. He took his first pictures as a child with a Flexaret camera but he didn’t take photography seriously until 2008 when he bought a digital reflex camera and started shooting actively. David’s first photographic steps led him to reportage photography – he documented historical celebrations and oriental dance shows. As reportage photography mostly means capturing people and is close to portrait photography, David started to explore this genre in the form of self-study and his own shooting. Portrait photography has become David’s most often photographed genre and he keeps improving in both portrait shooting and the subsequent post-production.

Author PROFIle