Outdoor photography hack: Diffusing harsh light with a reflector

Beautiful natural light is a photographers best friend and sometimes your shot calls for some natural outdoor settings in full sunlight. The only problem with this is that strong sunlight can often produce harsh shadows and burns the highlights which the camera finds difficult to meter.

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Luckily there is an easy fix for this situation and it comes from one of the cheapest and most useful pieces of photography equipment you can own - the trusty reflector.

The name might sound confusing at first but these days most reflectors actually have 5 different panels you can use to get different effects within your photo. Inside is a translucent panel with a double sided cover that you can zip over to create four different lighting effects:

  • Black: blocks light to create darker shadows and give your image that ‘moody’ look - great for reducing glare or reflections on objects you are photographing
  • Silver: brightens and typically creates a cooler light
  • Gold: brightens with a golden sunlit glow
  • White: reflects light to brighten shadows creating even and softer light across the area

When shooting indoors it is handy to use the white reflector to help bounce window light back onto my objects. But in this post, it’s all about the translucent panel inside which I am using to soften the harsh sunlight in this image. Take a look at the set up below to see what this diffuser panel looks like.

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How to UsE a diffuser to shoot in harsh sunlight

Taking photos in bright sunlight without a reflector can create overexposed highlights and harsh shadows in your photo. The camera finds it difficult to ‘compute’ the light in the image which can result in the loss of detail as you can see in top right hand corner of the image below.

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Using the translucent panel of the reflector will help you to diffuse these highlights and shadows. This will create a better dynamic range of your image where everything is in balance and also retains the detail in your images..

In order for the diffuser to work, you need to find the direction of where the sun is coming from. Then you ‘block’ or 'filter' the sunlight with your diffuser.

In saying all this, sometimes you may want to have a look with really harsh shadows. A lot of editorial images often create this for a more dramatic feel to the image. It’s all up to personal taste and/ or the mood you’re trying to portray.

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Tips if you want to shoot in sunlight but don’t have a reflector with you:

  • Use a bedsheet or some white linen to diffuse the light outdoors.
  • Position your objects in the shade or wait until a cloud comes over the sun. These will both act as natural diffusers and create consistent light.
  • Move your objects indoors by a door or a window so they aren't in the direct sun but still exposed to the light.

To see more examples and read the full blog post head to The Urban Quarters.
PLUS Don't miss Jinny's list of top reflectors in her photography kit!

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