14 Jul 2015

Fashion shots with sun reflectors

No Comments Equipment, Photo sessions

I take photo shoots only with lights. If I happen to organize a photo shoot outdoors, I exclude the sunlight and provide light by myself. That time, however, though I had a studio kit consisting of 600 and 1200 Ws lights for photographing outdoors, I decided to take photos using only the sunlight.

Somewhere in the middle of 2013 I used to take very few photos and concluded that I should change it. I knew that I didn’t want another beauty photo shoot – I finally wanted a fashion one. I also knew whom I would like to work with… but I had no idea where. I had always had huge problems with finding locations for photo shoots; actually, the location had usually remained unknown until the day of the photo shoot. My first idea at that particular time was some nice roof, but go find me a nice-looking roof in my vicinity… Then I thought of taking photos with sand in the background to give them a desert-like style

One day before photographing I went to the place where I had taken my previous photo shoot (inspired by the “The Walking Dead” series). Sadly, the heaps of sand that had been there two months ago looked like heaps of mud… So much for the desert atmosphere. Two people I accidentally met there advised me to go to the Dolomites Sports Valley in Bytom, Poland. That place had been frequently suggested before, anyway.

My model was Klaudia Danch. She first visited Karolina Zientek, who provided the make-up. Then, she went to Le’Prestige hairdresser’s salon, where Aga styled her hair. I joined her there together with Matt “Pro” Prociak and we decided that the Dolomites Sports Valley in Bytom would be our location for that day. That place, where clay had been mined in the past, looks quite nice and is perfect for photo shoots. I managed to show that in backstage photos.

The temperature reached 30°C or more and everything was in direct sunlight; only isolated clouds were visible here and there. The time between 11 am and 2 pm theoretically offered the worst photographing conditions, but not in the case where sun reflectors would be used in addition to sunlight. Why reflectors and not lights? Well, it would be hard to position the latter in that location and not have them fall from something. That time, I simply didn’t need to exclude the sunlight and create my own atmosphere: I could achieve similar results with reflectors, saving a lot of time and energy.

I knew that the available light alone wouldn’t be enough because I had often taken photos a bit into the sun and the person had looked like a black patch. Anyway, nearly every photo looks better when a sun reflector is used than when it isn’t. That time, I used two, with sizes of 180 x 120 cm and 107 cm (round). The former lit the whole model and the latter – only the face. We used them in different ways – sometimes just one and sometimes both (in the latter case, the big one was rested on the camera stand).

For the first shot, I used only the big reflector in a silver version because it had to act as the key light and a white reflector would be far too weak for that purpose.

Dolomity Sportowa Dolina - fashion z blendami

Nikon D700 | Sigma 50mm 1,4 EX DG HSM | F/4,5 | 1/1250 | ISO 200

The sun was to the left, lighting the background and acting as a hair light. I positioned Klaudia much higher than myself and took care to include only the sky in the frame; I didn’t want the trees because they looked more like bushes…

The second shot was taken in a more diversified spot. When you take photos in very strong sunlight, you don’t have to be afraid of reflecting the light from the bottom. As the sun shines very powerfully from upwards, the reflector is unable to change the direction of the shadows from downwards to upwards. If it does happen, though, it means that the reflector is too close – but this is usually accompanied by a completely overexposed face.

Dolomity Sportowa Dolina - fashion z blendami

Nikon D700 | Sigma 50mm 1,4 EX DG HSM | F/3,5 | 1/3200 | ISO 200

That time, the sun was very high and behind my back. The reflectors filled the shadows cast by the hair, the eyelashes and the like.

The same concerns the horizontal frame. The parameters of the camera were slightly different so as to increase the depth of field.

Dolomity Sportowa Dolina - fashion z blendami

Nikon D700 | Sigma 50mm 1,4 EX DG HSM | F/5,6 | 1/1600 | ISO 200

End of 1st part

After the finished photo shoot in the Dolomites Sports Valley, the time came for a lunch in McDonald’s and a brainstorm concerning the location for subsequent shots. We would most probably be refused to go on the roof of the BP petrol station, the nearby stairs proved a failure and the roofs of the surrounding skyscrapers seemed just as poor as the vision of getting on them. We went to a skate park, but, though the model and the assistant were trying to convince me that we should give it a try, I left it very quickly. Less than a hundred meters away from there, we found this…

Part 2

fashion z blendami

Nikon D700 | Sigma 50mm 1,4 EX DG HSM | 7,1 | 1/1250 | ISO 200

There’s not much to write about this shot. Most parameters remained the same; the sun was behind my back and shone from the left. This time, however, Matt “Pro” Prociak used only the smaller reflector and directed it at the face so as to omit the clothing; otherwise, it would have been completely overexposed due to the white jacket.

It’s good to have sun reflectors both in the studio and outdoors. There is no universal size to replace all others. For filling shadows in beauty and portrait shots, a reflector with a diameter of approx. 50 cm is perfect (while bigger ones are much worse), but 56 cm is certainly insufficient for a photo shoot like the one I’m describing here.

The basic kit consists of two reflectors, white and silver, but I strongly advise you to pay more and buy a 5-in-1 kit, especially in the case of the biggest size. As the name suggests, it’s actually 5 reflectors in one: white for filling the shadows; silver for photos outdoors in direct sunlight; golden for making the colors warmer, e.g. in winter, or for giving black and white photos a different atmosphere; black as a screen for blocking light or as a background (I almost always use this one during beauty shoots); and finally a semitransparent white, i.e. a diffuser, for softening light. My own kit consists of two reflectors: a 180 x 120 cm 5-in-1 and a 107 cm 5-in-1 (I only use a white one and, at times, a silver one). I also own a two-sided round reflector with a diameter of 56 cm (white/silver).

It’s popular to do reflectors yourself using a space blanket (available at the pharmacist’s shop for 3 dollars). It’s silver on one side and golden on the other, and creases terribly. It resembles aluminum foil a bit, but is much more durable. I’m sure you have seen meshes for darkening window panes in cars, fixed with rubber suction cups and easy to fold. As easy as reflectors… You buy such a frame, cut out the mesh and stick the space blanket in its place. Thus, you get an easily foldable reflector (original reflectors are folded in a similar way). I had such a DIY reflector and I do NOT recommend it. It’s much less durable than “original ones” made in China, it terribly bends and curls in the wind and its surface is very shiny. Too shiny. Reflectors are cheap: you’d better pay a bit more and buy something better.



The photo shoot was tiring, but successful. Working with reflectors is much more comfortable than with lights because you skip the whole process of setting and packing the equipment. It takes a few seconds to hide a reflector. Triangular reflectors are said to be comfortable: they have a handle in one corner so that you can easily hold them in one hand, even if you have a camera in the other. Still, do not expect me to give up my lights… Stay tuned for photo shoots with studio equipment.

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I have taken beauty and fashion shots for a few years. I publish the results of my work on this blog together with photo shoot descriptions, setups, backstage photos and everything that is significant while photographing. I try to diversify the equipment I use during my photo shoots.
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