Natural light is one of the simplest ways to create beautifully lit portraits, without having too much equipment or worrying about setting up extra gear. However, it limits beautiful light to certain hours of the day and for you to work in the shade. This is where finding and using natural reflectors comes into play.
With natural light reflectors, you can photograph at any time of the day without having to carry any extra gear. It’s really easy to find and use to help give your portraits that extra boost of light.
What is a natural reflector?
A natural reflector is using already built-in or found materials to bounce light back onto your subject. This rids you of having to carry more equipment on location.
It also helps immensely when you are photographing your subject during not so great hours of the day, like say, noon. When the light is harsh, it makes for great big natural reflectors to bounce that light back onto your subject.
Natural reflectors can come in many different forms, the most useful are big light-colored walls, the pavement, buildings with silver or light colored walls, white/silver cars in parking lots, mirrors, windows, even your white t-shirt.
They are all found naturally occurring on location and all of them bounce light back onto your subject.
The bigger your reflector, the more dispersed and diffused (soft) the light will be. Keep this in mind when photographing big groups or families, as you want the light to be evenly spread over all of your subjects’ faces.
How to use a natural light reflector
Natural reflectors are used a lot like real man-made or handheld reflectors. Position your subject in front of the natural reflector, for example, a large white wall.
Parking garages make for great portrait locations, especially for headshots. Make sure to position your subject behind the edge of where the sun is hitting the pavement and the shadowed area. This will keep the lighting on your subject even while maintaining an even background as well.
Using buildings is also a great way to reflect light on to your subject and compete with the sun, offering a different style of portraits. As light is reflected off a big silver wall, the light reflected creates more drama. Adding to the overall effect of your photographs!
If you are out in a field or more of an open space, you can still find natural reflectors. Fields reflect a beautiful golden hue as does the sand on the beach when the sun is brightest.
Natural reflectors can also add a little more drama to your photos if you use them strategically. Placing your subject away from the light can create interesting shadows. Same with reflectors below your subject. Experiment to see which types of natural reflectors work best for you.
Best time for natural light reflectors
The best time to use natural reflectors is anytime the sun is shining bright!
On cloudy days you may get some bright light, but when the sun is out, that is the best time for maximum reflection. It’s a good rule of thumb to go to the portrait location before your session and observe when is the best time and which natural reflectors will be useful.
To get the most out of a natural reflector, it’s best to photograph your subject between 11 am and 2 pm so that the sun hits these natural reflectors evenly and you can move your subject around to get the best background, angle, and of course, lighting.
If you are photographing in a cityscape or urban area with a lot of buildings, the best time is a couple of hours before sunset. The sun will reflect against the windows of buildings and offer the best strength.
Don’t stop photographing though. You’ll want to catch the sunset reflecting in the windows as well after the sun goes down a little.
You can also become a natural reflector
Wearing white can bounce some much-needed light off you and back to your subject if you need a bit more light. A simple white t-shirt can do the trick and give you a little boost of light. It especially makes for great catchlights in your subject’s eyes.
White shirts can give your subject a soft dewy look. Just be mindful that you will have to be relatively close to your subject so that enough light can bounce back onto the subject’s face.
When you’re photographing in natural light, these natural reflectors can help make for interesting, beautifully lit portraits of your subjects. The boost of light can get you out of shaded areas and allow you to shoot at all hours of the day without having to carry additional gear other than your camera.
Have fun and experiment with different types of natural reflectors to add drama to your portraits.