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Photography Reflectors—Kicker Lighting
An Extra Punch of Light, Without The Harshness
In the first five articles of photography reflectors we discussed size and shape, flash vs. reflectors, keeping it simple, use with LED lighting, plus their basics, fundamentals and myths. Now let’s look at another use of the photography reflector, that of supplemental lighting by making a reflector a “kick” or “kicker light” source.
”Sunny 16 Rule”
Basically the Sunny 16 rule states, that on a normal, sunny day, if you set your shutter speed to the equivalent of your ISO (film speed in the old days), then your aperture, or F/stop, will be F/16. There are a few things to take into account, if it’s early or late in the day, the sun will be less intense so your aperture becomes a lower value, anywhere from F/4 to F/11, depending on the time of day. And if the outdoors is coming through a window, low-E or double pane windows will reduce this value too.
Many photographers and even videographers think of kick lights as accent or rim lights, but in the case of making a reflector a kick light, it isn’t meant to act as a prominent light accent, it’s meant to soften the shadows under the chin and sometimes as a soft fill of your subject that adds a brilliance in their eyes.
For example, while photographing a subject with a simple soft box or beauty dish, depending on the distance a light modifier is placed from the subject, and the light modifier’s relative size to the subject, shadows underneath the chin and or around the nose, can either be harsh or soft. Obviously the larger the light modifier and the closer it’s placed to your subject, the softer the shadows, but there are times that the opposite occurs and this is where a reflected kick light comes to play.
The easiest method for using a reflective kick light is to have an assistant hold a California Sunbounce reflector near the subject’s face, but out of camera frame. There are times however were an assistant is not available and during these times, I simply place the reflector underneath the main light source and support it using the light stand that source is mounted upon. This placement also reflects, or redirects, the lower light rays of your artificial light source.
Holley Dorrough strikes a pose during the Outer Banks, N.C., photography workshop.
The photo above is a great example of using a kick light, plus natural light and artificial light. Here I used the sunlight, a studio light and a California Sunbounce reflector. Basically a combination of natural sunlight that provided side and fill light, a studio strobe that provided the main light for the face and reflected light for the kick. While this technique was outdoors, it’s just as easily useful in the studio.
Though when working outdoors, you have to consider the “Sunny 16” rule into effect and in this case, during this time of day when the sunlight is less intense, the rule brings us down to an F/8-11 aperture value, hence why her hair is highlighted from the Sun.
Notice too how the direction of the sunlight is from the side, not directly in front or even directly behind. The second obvious choice is to place the model so the Sun lights her from the back, thus creating highlights in the hair and a nice rim light around the body, but in this case, I wanted side lighting.
Notice in this lighting set-up photo from the Outer Banks photography workshop how I combined three forms of light quality–reflected, sunlight, and artificial.
I had the model, Holley, pose where the sunlight struck her right side and then had Holley slowly turn her face, without moving the rest of her body, away from the Sun at a point where the sunlight quit spilling on her face (avoided spill light) and nothing more, otherwise the neck would become too twisted. By using the sunlight from the side, I also avoided any direct sunlight lens flare and avoided any focusing struggles, as backlight causes the model to appear as a silhouette thus making focusing more difficult.
The reflector used in this photo is the California Sunbounce Pro fitted with a Zebra fabric. I prefer the Zebra fabric as it’s composed of silver and gold stripes, not solid silver, not solid gold. While both the solid types of fabrics would work just fine in this scenario, I prefer the combination of the two reflective colors because silver adds some contrast while the gold adds warmth.
In addition, the “Pro” version of the California Sunbounce was used because it’s 4-foot by 6-foot in dimension—reflectors work like any light modifier, the larger, the softer, the smaller the harsher. With this larger size, I’m guaranteed softer, reflected light as I’m able to place the California Sunbounce reflector close to the model keeping it’s size large in relation to the distance from the subject.
”Photographer’s Lighting Toolbox”
Studio Light: Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500
Main Light Modifier: Hensel 22-inch Beauty Dish (white)
Side Lighting: The Sun, 2-hours before Sunset
Reflector: California Sunbounce Pro
Reflector Fabric: California Sunbunce Pro Zebra
Another point to think about in this lighting set-up is the Sunny 16 rule and in this case, I adjusted for the rule as the Sun is starting to go down and is losing its intensity. This is also why I photographed Holley closer to the Golden Hour, not at 12-noon. By waiting for the less intense sunlight, I’m able to keep my aperture value lower while still utilizing reflected light.
So in the end, you can see how the slight reflector kick gives a soft, but added punch beneath the chin, not to eliminate the shadows, but to soften them. Photography is a two-dimensional art form, however, using chiaroscuro, or the intermixing of lights and darks (shadows), helps create the illusion of depth for a more flattering photo.
With that I close and as always, please don’t forget the men and women in our armed services that help protect and defend our freedoms. God Bless them, their family and friends, Rolando