I came across another blog post today on a fellow newborn photographer’s website boasting about not needing anything but sunlight for portraits and that reflectors, soft-boxes and flashes were a waste of money and completely unnecessary.

I will first start by saying that there is some truth to their statement: flashes, softboxes, umbrellas, reflectors, and/or diffusers are not mandatory for natural light photography (very different from studio lighting photography). However, direct sunlight is a photographer’s worst enemy. There are MANY ways to use sunlight to our advantage, but directly on our clients’ faces is not on of them. Natural light photographers create carefully composed images just like any other portrait photographer, but use only natural light (versus artificial). However it doesn’t mean that a natural light photographer doesn’t use light modifiers to enhance or improve a portrait from good to great. In fact, most of the best do. I will demonstrate with a few visual examples the importance of using a reflector (and other light modifiers) in newborn photography.

This is one of my indoor newborn setups. For this “straight-on” type shot I just use only natural light coming in from my large bay window.  I adjust my camera settings to make sure that the basket (which would eventually hold a little baby newborn) is exposed to my liking. As a personal choice, I underexpose by a little so I don’t have any hot-spots on baby’s face, and there is always the option to use my reflector to fill any shadows I find too dark. You will notice that the edges of the plum wall darkens at the edges. A reflector would brighten this up without affecting the baby but as personal choice, I like the way it adds dimension to the image.

grey_wood_floor_and_plum_wall-0134WM

This next set of images are a “from above” view of another of my newborn setups with another basket. For demonstration purposes, our little baby is being represented by the lovely Camel Wool. While the image on the left is a nice image with dimension, we would be limited by the shadows to see the full splendor of the little ones features. If the newborn were facing the light, the amount of natural light in the image would be sufficient for a gorgeous image. The image on the right  was achieved simply by sliding a reflector next to the basket to reflect the window light. Visually it is very easy to see the difference. In this case, the baby’s face would be fully lit and would allow us to see all of the little features, while still allowing for some shadows and dimension. An image from this vantage point where the baby was lying in their back facing the camera, a reflector is necessary to have sufficient natural light for this type of portrait.

plum_blanket_basket-reflection_comparison

These next images were taken on a local beach. SAFETY NOTICE: Mom was holding newborn and my assistant made sure my diffuser was over baby at all times so that he was not in the sun.  T he image on the left was taken with natural light (beneath the diffuser). You can tell that it is a good image, and with a little post-processing could be a great. However when you compare it to the image on the right where a reflector was used, you can clearly see the difference and improvement it makes. Just because the subject was out of direct sunlight, doesn’t mean we’ve escaped harsh shadows. We still have dark shadows created by the diffused light. In the image on the right we used the reflector to reflect direct sunlight towards the baby’s face (still keeping him safely out of the sun) to minimize these shadows while keeping some dimension in the photograph.

newborn_beach_session-reflector_comparison

Ultimately it is a personal choice to whether or use different types of light modifiers, however there are times that a reflector should be used for creating flattering portraits. Professional portrait photographers know many different types of lighting situations and when they should be using their reflector(s), and also when they can take advantage of the natural light.

If you have any questions, leave a comment below.

Please note that all images in this post were only post-processed for purposes of cropping, adjusting white balance, removing minor facial imperfections,  and/or overall exposure.  When used in a comparison, both images were edited identically, or not at all. Images copyright of Stephanie’s Photographs.