By Gary Bernstein © December 2005

Next to a camera, the single most important thing in a photographer’s arsenal is the reflector.   Amateur or Pro, regardless of the light source from sun to candle to table lamp, an efficient silver reflector takes the impossible image and makes it possible; takes the lackluster image and makes it rich and vibrant.  In this column we’ll take a look at reflector photography (along with some old images, some brand new images) and some of my favorite light sources.

Image #1 Leeza Gibbons and Baby


In this image that I shot for TV Guide, Pretty Leeza was posed in a rocking chair on her porch, under an awning on a hazy bright day.  Her dark blouse and a dark wall behind her (along with the baby in front of her), created some problems in terms of facial lighting, until I placed a 2 foot square silver reflector on a stand to camera left.  The reflector filled the shadows; gave the baby some facial detail, and put those necessary catchlights in the eyes.  It’s the catchlights that give a photograph life.  The image was made with a Nikon ( mounted on a Sunpak tripod (, and a short telephoto lens on film.  Love those tripods—especially ones like the Sunpak that are light weight and set up quickly with quick releases.  I’m just NOT that steady when it comes right down to it.  Plus tripods allow me to frame the shot properly—especially if it’s an ad requiring copy room.

Image #2 Jennifer and Joe Montana

Look up “champion” in the dictionary, and you’ll see this guy’s face.  Of course you knew that (all those Super Bowl rings just don’t lie).  What you didn’t know is that I introduced him to his wife Jennifer.  It happened like this: I was producing some creative for Schick razor way back when…and they needed a pretty blond to work with Joe.  We hired Jennifer, and as they say—after a gazillion kids later—the rest is history.

This photo was shot as an ad for Sasson (the blanket is a dead giveaway).  It was taken on a sunny day around 12 noon.  I put Joe and Jen in a shed that was located in a park near their San Francisco home; then stood a 2 foot reflector on a stand outside the door to harness the sun and bounce it back into my subjects.  The “custom-hand-made diagram” shows precisely how this was done.  The photograph was made on a Hasse on Ektachrome with a Schneider B+W UV warming filter (  I should point out, that while an efficient silvered reflector not only redirects the sun—it in fact can be “feathered” so you have more lighting flexibility than when using the sun as a direct source.  To see the reflector kit I use, go to  It’s the best.  And to see how I tote my equipment to the job, check out my Porter Case at  What makes a cast totally unique?  The fact that a Porter case folds down to become a cart for all your other cases—that’s what!

Images #s 3A 3B and 3C Caron Bernstein


This is one of my favorite places to shoot…inside the front door of a home.  I love the way the light funnels in so dramatically.  In this case, I had a problem because the light was reflecting off of the light limestone surface at the entry to the home creating more underlighting than the (always) more desirable light coming from above. 

You can get away with this if you lower the subject’s face slightly…and make sure that the subject is “young enough” to handle it.  Let your eyesight be your guide.

The first image is indeed dramatic…but a bit too contasty for my taste—although  my youngest daughter is still as pretty as can be in the photograph.  Fortunately she and her older sister (see below) look like their mother J.  To compensate for the contrast and fill in the shadows, I redirected the light by placing the reflector as indicated and created the final image.  Note—the grip head on this reflector kit is the best in the industry.  It operates fast, quick and lightweight. 

Image #4 A Max Factor Ad

There is no better way of getting that light under the brim of a hat than with a reflector.  This ad for Max Factor was made with a 1200 watt second studio strobe and a square silvered reflector laying on the floor in front of the model who is laying flat on the ground.  A reflector not only softens contrast, not only fills in the shadows, gives a glow to skin tones (providing retouching), and serves as a second mainlight, but it also pops additional catchlights into the eyes; and the more catchlights there are in the eyes, the more alive and vibrant the image. 

Image #s 5 and 6 Guys Shots:


Midday sunlight and reflectors…

The model on the left is sitting in a car with hot 12 noon sunlight coming down on top of his head.  The two foot reflector is placed on a stand slightly to camera left.  Yes, the black eye is real.  We put makeup on it for the fashion pages we were shooting, and during the lunch break (when I made this shot), I had him wipe it off so I could shoot the real deal.  He says the other guy looked worse.  Me…all I want is to get in the first shot (I’m referring to photography of course).

The guy on the right is standing in New York’s Central Park (where if you stand there too long, you end up looking like the guy on the left).  Again, 12 noon sunlight, and a small reflector—this time feathered away from the subject just to kick in a bit of light and still record the detail in the shirt (this is an ad for the shirt—that’s the reason).  The reflector was placed to the right of camera. 

Each image was shot on film 35mm with short tele lenses.

Images #s 7A 7B and 7C Rome’ Bernstein


We’ll finish up with a series I shot of my oldest daughter a few months ago.  It’s wonderful having all these beauties as part of the family.  Just imagine the model fees I save.  Wait…let me think about that for a minute!  This image blends daylight as a rim source (and backlight source), with a single Lowel Pro-light ( –love those hotlights…just like the old days—only better—with digital—so I can see what I’m shooting, and nothing anywhere functions with the quality and compactness of Lowel (period!).  And the source balancing the light from below (and kicking in additional catchlights) is my trusty Chimera reflector kit (OK…now guess who designed it?).  Check it out at

And while we’re at it…

It’s gift-giving time.  Why not make limited-edition gallery prints from your own photography—for friends and family.  It’s very easy to do.  I started by contacting and by using their Sitewelder software to create my own gallery at  And while I’d love for you to buy a Bernstein original print (some of which are below), why not create your own gallery site!  As for printing and framing.  I’ve long depended on CPQ Professional Imaging in Cleveland, TN ( to keep me looking good, and The Levin Company ( to provide the ultimate framing for my clients (and for my own home).


Happy shooting.  Happy Holidays!
See you next issue and at my homes away from home www.ZugaPhoto.TV

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