The photo below is from Wikipedia. I've used it as an example of how effective reflected sunlight can be to for fill on a subject who otherwise would be too dark due to shadowing.

I've been at the beach in the late afternoon with conditions like this and I know the sun can suddenly pop out of an overcast skies through a break in the clouds near the horizon, but the effect is so pronounced, it almost looks like there is an additional battery powered flood not seen from this direction. The color of the direct sunlight on the photographer's jacket, and various rocks looks balanced, but the light on the model looks more yellow.

So I am wondering if this can be used as a correct example of how effective a reflector can be for fill.

enter image description here


I would say the sun is peeping through that very dark cloud because:

  • The light on the photographer's leg is too harsh not to be the sun (clouds would heavily defuse the light).

  • There is a heavy shadow of the photographer and assistant on the sand in keeping with the direction of the sun, again we wouldn't see this in defused light by the clouds.

  • I would say the reflector face they are using to bounce the light is 'gold' thus giving that unusually warm light on the subject. Please see my example here: it was approx. 40mins from sunset and a gold reflector: Link (6th Image down)

  • Of Course they could be adding additional light such as a OCF speedlight or even bouncing a speedlight mounted on the camera (looks as if he has one on and is holding the camera in portrait).

    • EDIT - If it was a speedlight this must have been an extremely well timed capture as the flash would have to sync with the camera this image was taking on. I'd say this was sunlight. I'd be surprised if continuous light was used as I can't think of anything mobile that would be powerful enough.

I hope this helps :)

  • Wow, that's a very helpful analysis, thanks! LEDs have the possibility to be quite bright and at the same time can be turned on, stabilized in intensity, and then off very quickly, and so work with small-ish batteries. I don't know if there are products like that now, and probably not in 2009 when the photo was uploaded to Wikipedia.
    – uhoh
    Feb 14 '17 at 16:18
  • Good points, on your edit with the speedlight; remember this whole shot could be composedthen the speedlight may be coupled with a wireless trigger from the camera that is taking the picture that we see, rather than the camera/photographer that we see in the photo. Feb 14 '17 at 17:05
  • Occam's razor says it a gold reflector and the sun. If the on camera flash were aimed towards the reflector we would be able to see some spill directly from the flash.
    – Michael C
    Feb 16 '17 at 0:45

"I've used it as an example of how effective reflected sunlight can be to for fill on a subject who otherwise would be too dark due to shadowing."

Reflected ambient light is used to eliminate or soften shadows on the subject that would otherwise create bizarre, awkward, or otherwise inappropriate effects. In field portraiture, for example, reflectors are often used to eliminate shadows caused by the nose or hair, and not strictly to illuminate the dark side of the face. Noses cause all sort of headaches for portrait photographers as well as videographers.

In the case above, the model is clearly illuminated on her left by a low sun that would cause harsh shadows over her face and body....highlighting every bump and crease of the subject, likely causing enough of a distraction that the photo becomes ineffective. The reflector has filled (and softened) the shadows, evening surface textures, and re-establishing the point of the image, be it clothing, makeup, hair product, whatever.

Note that these reflectors do a better job of this than a fill-flash in that they can reflect ambient light color, from any angle and distance, off of a diffused surface, that can be focused.

  • I'm really wondering if the fill is purely from the reflector, or if there is an additional light source that's not seen, like a battery operated light for example. In that case it would not be a good example of "how effective reflected sunlight can be". Also, can you elaborate on the last few words; "that can be focused"?
    – uhoh
    Feb 14 '17 at 21:56
  • 1
    Externally operated flashes are useful in a studio setting where their operation can be precisely tailored to subject position. In a fast-changing lighting situation like this one, it's doubtful that the photographer is going to take time out of the shoot to adjust flash output and angle for every shot. He's counting on his assistant to correctly adjust the reflector given his boss's position: it's a dance of sorts. The reflector can be bent into a shallow parabola for concentrating light, though it means getting closer to the subject. Feb 14 '17 at 22:59

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