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Photography Reflectors—Flash or Reflector
Flash or Reflector
In part two of “Photography Reflectors And Reality,” we covered the differences in reflector shapes, specifically round vs. rectangle and in part one we covered the different reflector fabrics, a few fundamentals, plus a reflector as a light modifier. This series of blog articles on reflectors started with the questions I receive on a constant basis, so the next question is, “Why use a reflector and not a flash for fill-light outdoors?”
There are several answers to this question, but the most obvious one, often overlooked by many photographers when trying to “pre-visualize” their final photos is that you don’t need to worry about camera shutter-speed sync. Flash, with a few rare exceptions, means camera shutter-speed synchronization and reflectors means don’t worry about camera shutter-speed syncs.
As with most continuous light sources, camera sync-speed is nothing to worry about when it comes to working with reflectors, unless you are pointing a flash or strobe into the reflector as the primary light source that you are trying to reflect. While I’ve done this with my studio strobes pointed towards either a California Sunbouce Pro or Mini, Sunbouce also makes a “Bounce Wall” that mounts directly on your camera and works in conjunction with your camera flash unit (speelights).
However, today we’re discussing the main reason when I elect to use a reflector only, and not flash, or reflector plus flash like the Sunbounce wall. The latter has its uses too, but we’ll save that for future blog posts as the idea today is avoiding camera shutter-speed sync worries.
Most cameras, especially (digital) DSLR and SLR’s (film) use a focal plane shutter to expose the digital capture device, or film, to the light entering the lens. Basically these are two fabric curtains that open and close at different times to create the shutter-speed required. In order for flash to work properly, the curtains must be fully opened at the same time, otherwise you’ll get a partial photo, or black across part of the photograph. The rare occasion you don’t have to worry about sync speeds with flash is if your camera has a leaf type shutter.
Now to clarify, camera shutter-speed is different than camera shutter sync-speed. Camera shutter-sync speed is something you worry about when your using a flash (with or without a light modifier) as your light source, but camera shutter-speed is a different animal; it’s the entire spectrum of shutter speeds available from your camera including sync speeds.
So why is this important? Because if prefer a shooting style that includes a lot of bokeh (low-aperture to create a blurred, moody background), you’ll need a very high shutter-speed on a bright sunny day. The proof is in the “Sunny 16” rule, which basically states that on a bright sunny day if you set your shutter-speed identical to your ISO setting, then you’d set your aperture, or f/stop, to 16 on your lens for proper exposure. Thus ISO 200 means that your digital camera’s shutter is set at 1/200th, while your lens aperture is set at f/16. Most cameras synchronize at 1/200th and below.
By using a California Sunbouce Pro with zebra fabric, I was able to illuminate Heather during one of our U.S. Virgin Islands photo workshops. Shutter-speed on my Canon camera was 1/8000th and aperture, f/2.2. My camera will only sync at 1/200th or below, thus my aperture would not be able to come down to f/2.2 with flash at this location.
Sometimes high apertures are just too much depth of field for my style of photographing people. Save the f/16’s for landscape photography, as landscapes don’t normally require flash or reflectors for illumination like people or animal subjects. When I breakout my California Sunbounce Pro with either a white, silver, gold, or zebra fabric, and use the sun as my light source reflected off that fabric, chances are I can set my lens aperture to a lower aperture number then adjust (raise) my shutter-speed for the appropriate exposure.
One other advantage to this mad method of thinking, higher shutter-speeds are a must when using lenses with long focal lengths. The rule here is that your minimum shutter-speed for any telephoto lens should exceed the focal length in number. In other words, if you’re shooting with a 200mm lens, or focal length, your shutter-speed as a minimum setting is 1/200th. This rule is designed to reduce camera shake as long focal length lenses magnify camera movement especially when hand-held.
There is sometimes the possibility, especially when the sun is your sole source of light you are bouncing off your reflector, that you might not be able to adhere to the Sunny 16 rule of your exposure settings and if you’re not careful, you’ll blow out the sky or the highlights, like clouds in the sky and I’ll cover that and more in the next article in this series. So we’ll see you in part four soon, but for now, like always, please don’t forget our men and women, plus their families in the armed services that protect our freedoms, God Bless them, Rolando.