Untitled photo

Powerful Portraits with One Reflector

Creating a strong portrait does not require expensive lighting. In fact, you can often do it with one reflector. Use these 4 principals in your next portrait!

1) Play and Experiment, Photography is Supposed to Be Fun

I've just finished an 18 month portrait project with a gallery exhibition. During that time I took over a thousand studio images with all kinds of different lights and lighting positions. Sometimes I used as many as five lights in one portrait. It was an amazing experience, you can see the portraits HERE. It was also pressure-filled and had many deadlines. Today was a beautiful sunny day in So. Cal and I wanted to shoot outside for a change.  I just wanted to "play" with light.  Be sure to read the whole article for the fun at the bottom.

2) Pay Attention To Your Background & Understand Your Lens Choice

Remove any background distractions in your portraits. Distractions can be stray objects, especially bright ones, that draw your eye away from your subject. You can darken bright objects or remove them in post. I suggest choosing or creating a pleasing, distraction-free background. You can soften the bokeh with some combination of distance to background and/or shallow depth of field (wide f/stop - 2.8 or smaller). I started with the idea of a nice bokeh against green leaves, using a macro lens. In this case, the Tamron 90 mm f/2.8 Di macro. I sometimes like to use macro lenses for portraits because they are sharp and detailed and create nice bokeh. 

3) Understand Light and Lighting Position

The sun was bright, low in the sky, and close to eye level. If I looked in the sun I would have had to squint. Squinty eyes are not great for portraits. If your subject looks away from the sun, you'll need to light up their face with a flash or another light source, enter my reflector.  The hood kept my bald head from getting sunburned, and kept the light even across my face. This allows the viewer to be drawn into the eyes of the subject. When I first used the reflector we used the silver side, but given the warm setting sun, I chose to use the gold color to match the color of the sunlight. Thanks to my daughter Lana for taking this photo.

4) Always Light the Eyes

A portrait showing the eyes needs light in the eyes or they will look dead. A $15 reflector can do a great job of this whether in the bright sun, or in a studio. In this case, I only used a reflector.


Post was light, I removed some lint from the black sweatshirt, removed a few blemishes and added a dark vignette to focus the viewer on the subject. 

Photography Workshops and Newsletter

I teach landscape, portrait and sports photography workshops in Los Angeles and at select destinations. If you enjoyed this post please share it with a friend and sign up for my newsletter by texting "photosbykag" to 22828. I am presenting at ClickCon in Chicago this summer with photography luminary Skip Cohen. We will share ideas to help you build a business and find balance in your personal life along with your day-job! - Clickcon 2020 agenda and tickets.

About that fun! After taking a few shots we sent them to a friend, Tanner Ijams, who worked some magic and turned us into Jedi's. Good fun and memories on a Sunday afternoon. Thanks, Tanner!

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In