An overview of video and photography light reflectors and their uses in both indoor and outdoor video production.
So, you're thinking about going green with your life. Perhaps a car with better fuel economy, and outfitting your home with energy-efficient lighting and even installing solar. Well, why not consider green technology with your video lighting as well? What's that you say? How am I going to get green video lighting equipment - and besides how much energy does lighting a set consume anyway? Cost savings and even altruistic motives aren't the only reasons to go green; the inconvenience of running around plugging in lights is a compelling reason to consider green lighting. Not just some Johnny-come-lately "green fad" we've all been hearing and reading about, green lighting has been around for decades.
Multitude of Light Reflector Choices
Cardboard flats or basic foam core video light reflectors covered in simple paper or foil were the first "high tech", green lighting supplements to arrive on the scene. Due to their popularity, the market eventually became flooded with such things as collapsible sheets of pure white fabric, and reflective materials that you could manually clip around a frame. As the demand for these video and photography light reflectors increased so did their quality.
Today, there are hundreds of video and photography light reflectors available ranging from simple white reflective fabrics designed to wrap around specially designed collapsible frames, to specialized rigid boards covered in highly reflective materials which are available in various colors. There are plastic tubing-style frames that can be snapped together to make a nearly seamless wall of video and photography light reflectors limited only by how many you have in your kit.
By far, the most popular design today is a system whereby a reflective fabric is sewn to a flexible spring steel frame that quickly folds into itself and can be stowed in a flat, soft case several times smaller than the light reflector itself. These are offered in many styles, including shoot-through materials that can be used as a scrim and also provide a nice reflective surface if no lights are available. You can also find reversible frames wrapped in reflective synthetic silver on one side and gold on the other; perfect for those times where you want to carry both styles, but are limited by space. Alternatively, choose one with silver on one side and white on the other, and add to that one in gold/white and you are ready for anything.
Using Video and Photography Light Reflectors Outdoors
Any lighting style starts with a key light, and unless you are working on a special lighting type, you will likely require some fill light and probably would benefit from a "rim" or hair light as well. So how does a reflector fit in? Well, the best way to answer that is to let your situation tell you.
Always start with your key light, which, if outdoors could be the direct sun: direct sunlight bouncing off a wall or full shade, sometimes referred to as "north light". With your subject facing the sun the light is shining right into your subject's eyes creating harsh shadows. You could try strategically placing a reflector to one side of your subject, and reflect it back into your subject's face, thus creating fill, but you'd probably end up with a squinty-looking video. Or you could turn your subject around, facing north or away from the sun (north light), and let the sunlight from behind your subject make a nice rim light on their hair and shoulders. One well-placed large white reflector in front of your subject could then bounce some of that sunlight back into your subject and produce some nice soft fill light.
This example is a nice soft look, but there's no real key light. Try using two video light reflectors: one smaller soft white reflector close to your subject for your key, and one larger soft white reflector farther away for your fill. Mix it up a bit and use a sliver reflector for your key or try a large gold reflector for a warmer-looking fill. There's really no end to the ways you can reflect sunlight back into your subject, because it's such a strong light source. If you don't like where the sun is coming from, you can even get a large acrylic glass mirror, completely redirect the sunlight, and then use all your video and photography reflectors as described above.
Using Video Light Reflectors Indoors
If you are indoors, you become limited to what's available. Try looking for a window and use that as your key. You would then bring in a large reflector exactly opposite that window for fill and create a nice soft fill for "window light". While you're there, try boom-mounting a gold reflector just above and behind your subject to capture some of that nice window light and reflect it back for a little hair light. White balance your camera to the window light, then bring in a large gold reflector as your fill to create a beautiful warm room light mixed with that cool window light. Move it just behind your subject while still allowing some of it to fill the front, and you get a wonderful warm rim around the full length of your subject. To add more glow to the effect, try two large gold video light reflectors and create a wall of warm light for a dramatic fireplace light!
Save the Power Bills, Think Green
Green video lighting sounds silly, doesn't it? However, if you think about just how easy it is to unfold and set a reflector or two, you will then realize how liberating it is to be truly "off the grid". And to know you can shoot great video just about anywhere without the need to search around for electricity allows you to find something else in your videos. And think about it: working without video lights has a certain esthetic, quietness that creates a calm inviting set and really helps to bring out your subject's true personality.
Terry O'Rourke specializes in retail advertising photography and videography for clients worldwide.