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How to Photograph People Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Kota Wade

You just got booked for a marvelous portrait photo shoot out in a gorgeous natural landscape. You run out the door, with camera gear in tow. Then you arrive at the location, the fresh air filling your nose, the beautiful natural world flourishing all around. You meet with your lovely portrait subject. The sun is beating down on you from above. Then it hits you… you forgot your reflector at home.

Or maybe you don’t have a reflector, maybe you just never felt the need to spend money on one. All of this is totally okay because there are some tips and tricks to take stunning photographs without the use of a reflective disc! Keep reading to learn more.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Bina Monique

What is a reflector?

A reflector is a simple tool that redirects existing light. A reflector does not illuminate, it merely allows you to manipulate the light that you already have.

Photographers use reflectors to fill shadows, which is why you often see them used in outdoor settings where you cannot control the light. Being at the mercy of the sun, you add a level of control to your situation with the use of a reflector. However, there are ways to take advantage of your situation without one.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

Subject: Skylar Roberge

Find even lighting

Essentially, part of the trouble with shooting outdoors comes from the lighting. Clients often see a clear blue sky with the beaming sun and think that is an absolute joy for photographers. But we shooters silently scream in agony at the prospect of overblown highlights, underexposed shadows, and the dreaded contrast.

What’s the best solution for this? Find some even lighting!

Positioning your subject under a tree, in the shadow of a building, or simply positioning yourself so that the sun hides behind a mountain can all make for some nice even lighting. Although the background might be overexposed if you are simply using a small patch of shadow, try to change your perspective to make the most of the situation.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 400 – Shutter Speed: 1/100 – Aperture: f/2.8
Even Lighting: Rooftop overhang

Make even lighting

Are you out in a field or a desert and don’t have access to any form of even lighting? Is the sun too bright to have on your subject’s face? Then it’s time to get creative!

You can make your own even lighting utilizing things you may already have in your car. Use an umbrella and position that over your subject, or to block out the sun in your frame. You can use a vehicle windshield cover or shade to do the same.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 1250 – Shutter Speed: 1/500 – Aperture: f/2.8
Even Lighting: Umbrella

Use the contrast to your advantage

Are neither of the aforementioned tips applicable to your scenario? Well then, this is where we get inventive.

Photography is an art form, and artists are creative, imaginative, and inspired. Instead of fighting against the contrast, why not use it to your advantage? Work your shoot around the contrasting shadows and highlights, and create dramatic photographs. Several well-known clothing designers, such as Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, use contrast in their fashion editorials to stage a theatrical scene and illicit an intense response in the viewer.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 200 – Shutter Speed: 1/1000 – Aperture: f/2.8

Shoot at the right time of day

When a choice presents itself, shooting at the correct hour of the day can ease your lighting woes. The golden hour is infamous for being an excellent time to photograph. Aiming to photograph when the sun is low and producing a more even light removes the need for a reflector.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 1600 – Shutter Speed: 1/640 – Aperture: f/2.8

Fill shadows by finding a natural reflector

Various surfaces can double as reflectors, such as water or windows from a building. Positioning your model just right can garner the same effect as if you had a reflector yourself.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

ISO 2000 – Shutter Speed: 1/320 – Aperture: f/2.8
Reflector: Car windshield, parked to his right side

Fill the shadows in post-processing

The computer is your friend, and it is okay to use programs to help you bring your vision to light (no pun intended). Shooting in RAW format (an image file that contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of a camera – Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed) gives you better control over your image when you edit it. RAW files have more shades of colors compared to JPEG files, higher image quality, significantly better control over editing lightness, white balance, hue, saturation, etc., and all of the changes made on a raw image file are non-destructive. You can use any post-production software to lighten the shadows in your image and darken the highlights.

Image: Original image before processing.

Original image before processing.

How to Photograph Outdoors Without Using a Reflector

After processing.

There you have it, sounds like you have a solution to your no-reflector problem.

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Anabel DFlux
Anabel DFlux

is a published photographer in Los Angeles, California. Having started her photography business at the age of 15, Anabel has dedicated her life to her photographic passion. From canine sports to exotic animals, to some of the biggest musicians in the world – Anabel’s work doesn’t fall into any specific niche. She believes there are no limits to what you can create, and to photograph everything that gives you that spark of inspiration.

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