DIY Japanese Soft Box – or Making Window Light Softer Part 2

Continuing on from this previous post, here’s some more thoughts on controlling window light. I’ve decided to keep things from here on relatively simple too, so as to be as broadly applicable as possible to the widest range of readers as possible.

Along with some means of making window light soft for portraits, a reflector also comes in handy.

Why? Well, because with a reflector you can direct light into the off side to fill in the shadows with more light. By varying the reflector (angle and / or distance) you get quite a lot of control over the transitions from highlight to shadow and this means you can get quite fine control over the mood or feeling of the image. All with very little equipment. Also with very little fuss (& that’s important – trust me).

Combine this control with moving both camera and subject angle, relative to the window, and you get an amazing amount of control over how light falls on a face.*

For example, in many of the portraits I’ve shown on this blog, I’ve used shōji window light and a reflector to give very soft and even lighting over a face. With the head side-on to the window and a reflector filling in the off window side, this results in an almost but not quite even distribution of light. This low contrast, minimal fall off result tends to be very flattering and well suited to female subjects and children.

As an aside, another thing you can do with a reflector, which is not often mentioned & which also probably won’t apply in the situation we’re talking about here, is to use one as a flag – i.e. something to block light with. Black is usually better for this (or something translucent when you want a reduction), but by varying the angle so as not to reflect on the subject, you can also block off harsh light.

Godox / Neewer and a range of other Chinese manufacturers make a wide variety of very cheap pop up / expandable reflectors that, while not being particularly well made when compared to the major brands, are still good enough, especially considering the amazingly low prices.

You can also make your own very cheaply. For use around the house / studio, it does’t really matter if they are not collapsable. I tend to get relatively thin foam core sheets in smaller sizes (it’s cheaper that way here – no idea about other countries) and cut them to the sizes I want. Then I use double sided tape to stick car windshield sunshade material to one side. I get really cheap car windshield sunshades from a 100 yen shop and cut them to fit. They are big enough that I can make several reflectors from just one. Then I use regular electrical tape around the edges.

One of mine can be seen in the third and fourth photographs in the original shōji / Japanese soft box post. Also, the photo in this post was taken on the shade side of a temple gate, and a reflector (a collapsible one in this case)  was used to catch the light coming through the gate and throw it back on the subjects to bring them out of the shadows

If you can’t get cheap car windshield sunshades, I have also seen similar material sold for use as disposable protective surfaces for around gas cook tops.

The end result is a reflector with one side silver and one side white. This gives you a nice range of reflective strength. Typically white is all you need, but when you really need to blast light back in, you can use the silver side.

Never underestimate the usefulness and utility of the humble reflector. If you are only going to have one lighting accessory, it should be a reflector.

Hope this helps. One more to come – here.

* remember, I’m pretty much only talking about tight-ish portraits here


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