People obsess about camera gear, the latest cameras, lenses and LED light panels so I thought I'd write an blog entry on a very simple, very cheap bit of kit that I love, the reflector.
Here is a common situation: you are shooting an interview outside in bright sunlight and the options are
1) The subject looks into the sun, their face is nicely lit but they can't see a thing, as they are nearly blinded by the sun and are squinting.
2) The subject looks slightly off from the sun, they can now look at the camera without squinting but half of their face is in extreme shaddow.
3) The subject looks in the oposite direction to the sun, their face is all in even shaddow, so you can expose for that, and that background is totally over exposed.
None of these situations are ideal, so what you need to even things up is light. There are all sorts of issues using lighting outdoors, such as getting power to the light, if it is battery run how much power does it have, what is the quality of the light actually like etc. There is one very quick, very cheap and efficient way of solving that problem and it is simply to bounce the sunlight. There are all sorts of ways to bounce light, if you need a large area of light then a polyboard is ideal, if it is just a small amount of light for something like an interview then a reflector will do. Reflectors are great, I pretty much always have one with me on a shoot, they are lightweight and pack down really well.
How to solve the three situations above:
In situation 1, you just have to have the subject wear sun glasses, this generally isn't great for TV, particularly if you can see the crews reflection in them.
For situation 2 you can even up that shaddowed side of the face by bouncing some light. The closer the reflector is to the subject the more powerful the light. Reflectors tend to come in white, silver or gold. White is easiest to use as it is fairly subtle, gold on the other hand really only works in the evening light and not with people with very pale skin as it is fairly dramatic.
Situation 3, is to my mind one of the best way to set up an interview in hard evening light when the sun is low in the sky. I filmed this interview on a boat recently. The sun is directly behind the interviewee casting extremely bright highlights all over the boat. The interviewees face is in full shade, which is obviously several stops darker, and so to even this up a lot of light was bounced back using a gold reflector. This meant I could close down a few stops, which was enough to keep most of the background highlights.
Lastolite make good quality reflectors, usually with different colours on each side. They pack down to three times there normal size so you can afford to get a decent sized one.