Reflectors & Bounced Light
A very important type of soft light is the bounced light. When the reflecting surface is large and matte in texture, it will provide an extremely soft light, but its throw will be rather limited. Any white wall or ceiling can be used for bouncing light, but there is a range of materials carried by the grip department for this purpose. Styrofoam “bead boards” are considered to have the most matte surface and therefore reflect the softest light. They are extremely lightweight and can be easily broken into different shapes, but they cannot be bent. Next in softness are the show cards, also known as art cards. They have a very good white on one side and black on the other. Slightly less white and with a bit more sheen are foam-core boards which come in larger sizes than show cards. They can be bent into a corner. They are very good when a little more direction for the light is needed. The most directional, yet soft, are large white plastic Griffolyn sheets, often stretched on 12x12’ frames. This material, originally used for covering haystacks on farms or goods on trucks, was adopted by the film industry as an excellent reflector for bouncing light into a larger general area from a slightly greater distance than other reflecting materials allow. For certain specific applications a diffusing material such as a bleached muslin can also be used for bouncing.
An important tool it is also the reflector. Many times when a little extra light is needed, especially for close-ups, you don’t need to set up an extra light. There’s plenty of light on the set, it just needs a little rearranging. Reflectors are so versatile, useful and simple and their most obvious application is using them for outdoor fill light. Amateurs have the knowledge of how to manipulate a reflector in order to obtain uniform lighted surface, but professionals’ technique demonstrates their versatility, both outdoors and in.
Reflectors can be either rigid or flexible. Rigid reflectors may be faced (in order, from brightest to softest) with shiny aluminum, matte aluminum, wrinkled aluminum or white paper. Flexible reflectors are usually cloth spread across thin metal hoops that can be folded for storage. Fabrics may be metallic for greater reflectivity or plain for a soft, diffuse effect.
In order to choose between these two types of reflectors, must consider several factors, like the shooting environment, the lighting area dimensions, manipulating and storage conditions. Flexible reflectors are light and easily stored, but they're very unstable in any breeze, making them hard to work with because there is a light waver visible on-screen. Hard reflectors are cheap to buy or easy to make for almost nothing, but they're bulky and rigid, making them difficult to transport and store away. Reflectors can be employed outdoors as key, fill, rim or background lights.
Reflector Key Light
Often the sun's in the wrong position or the subject's standing in adjacent shade. In fact, the sun can become a gorgeous rim light, if the light is bounced into a reflector, outlining the subject's head and shoulders and separating them from the background.
Reflector Fill Light
Every type of reflector can and should be used for fill. For close-ups, a diffuse white card looks most natural, but its intensity is too low for the throws required in longer shots. When higher intensity is needed, bring in the aluminum or metallic fabric models. They have enough punch to work effectively out of camera range. Always try to use the softest version that will deliver enough fill, starting with a metallic fabric model.
Reflector Rim Light
Those hard aluminum surfaces are perfect for rim-lighting the subject. Rim lighting works best when a second reflector is delivering fill light.
Reflector Background light
If you have the resources, aim multiple reflectors at different areas of the background. With care, you can produce a fluctuating and interesting wash of light that looks very artistic, creating a quite natural effect on the background.
Reflectors are not as versatile indoors because the light sources they depend on aren't as powerful as sunlight. Even so, you can easily use them to make one light do the work of two. The soft quality of bounced light is similar to diffused light and so are the problems of controlling it. For a lighthearted comedy, when the light illuminates the whole set, the task is easy. But when a more dramatic situation occurs and the intention is to light it soft, yet with several areas kept at low key, it requires skill and time to do it right with bounced and diffused light.
You need to work with big flags and teasers, which are large frames with black cloth stretched on them, and you need space to be able to position reflecting boards at a proper distance and angle. Angle is very important to provide modeling for the faces and to avoid unwanted light spills.