In the photography reflector tips section of this website, we discuss subtractive lighting, specifically when it comes to the SUNBOUNCE PRO, MINI, MICRO and the Sun-Cage. But recently, I had a new experience, the Sun-Mover Black Hole. I knew of the Zebra-White, Silver-White, and the Diffuser -2/3rd stop, but the Sun-Mover Black-Hole was new to me.
How It Happened
While conducting my annual Maui Photography Adventure, one of the local photographers, great friend, and a SUNBOUNCE Shooting Bouncer, Todd Mizomi, let me use his SUNBOUNCE photography lighting gear including his Sun-Cage, Sun-Swatter and his slew of SUNBOUNCE reflectors. While going through his photographic gear, I noticed Todd had a Sun-Mover in its storage bag and out of curiosity, I pulled the reflector out to see the fabric screen color.
I was surprised that it was black on both sides, though two different types of black material. Known as the SUN-MOVER Black-Hole, the backside is black matte and “absorbs light like thick, black velvet. But it is much lighter in weight than velvet and the material is elastic.” The front side is a deeper black matte with strong light absorbing characteristics. At the time, I didn’t think much about it, and just put it back in its sleeve and moved on to my photo shoot.
The Fundamentals of Black
Now when most photographers see a black reflector, or even black studio V-flats, they think of not only the absorption of light, but the cutting, flagging, blocking, feathering, etc., of light, and rightfully so, as you can do all these things with black light modifiers. However, while I’ve used the larger black light modifiers, whenever you’re trying to put back “tone” in any highlight, you only need a small black light modifier like the Black-Hole Sun-Mover.
As we discussed in Colors in Outdoor Model Photography, scientists will tell you black “absorbs all colors equally and reflects none,” but artists, which includes photographers, will disagree with the “reflects none” part. In fact, most professional photographers will tell you black absorbs 90-percent of the light that hits it, and reflects 10-percent of the light that strikes it, also known as The 90-Percent Photography Rule of Lighting.
The 90-percent rule simply states that whatever is pure black absorbs 90-percent of the light that strikes it and whatever is pure white, reflects 90-percent of the light that strikes it. Keyword here, “pure,” as not all blacks are pure black and not all whites are pure white.
How to Put Black to Use
Now that we understand the fundamentals of black, let’s put it to use. If you’re a wedding photographer and you have to photograph a bride in a white wedding dress, especially if the background is white or high-key, you would place a black V-flat on each side of the bride as close to her as possible while keeping the V-flats out of the camera frame. V-flats are usually made with two 4-foot by 8-foot thin foam core boards, attached to each other with black gaffer’s tape on their longest side so they can stand vertically tall and pulled apart to form the “V” shape. The idea is to put back tones in the wedding dress as you expose for the bride’s skin tone.
The more durable and less bulky solution that you can take to any location and securely mount on C-stands, is at least two, if not four SUNBOUNCE PRO’s with black fabric screens. While obviously v-flats are less expensive than photography reflectors, the point illustrates how the black technique works — but on location, say a beach, it’s impracticable to carry two v-flats especially if it’s windy, thus this is where a professional photographer would use portable black reflectors.
Houston, We Have A Problem
Back to the beach, there I was with Todd’s photography lighting gear and some talented models. The light was perfect. The models were bathed in the beautiful light created by the Sun-Cage. Then suddenly, I encountered a problem.
Not with the Sun-Cage, it did what it’s meant to do, be a portable, mobile photography studio on location. Not with the SUNBOUNCE PRO or MINI photography reflectors, the PRO being my main light and the MINI my kicker light. Not with my digital camera, I could hear the shutter release plain as day even in the crashing sounds of the ocean waves. Not with the models, their beauty and talent shined through.
The problem were flowers. Not the native kind growing all over the island, but the plastic kind found at the souvenir shops throughout Hawaii. The models had found a large flower for their main hair piece plus strings of flowers known as leis. They also had brought with them flower headbands. All these flower accruements had some highlight areas much brighter than the model’s skin tone. Like most photographers, my camera exposure values are set for the model’s skin tone, not the plastic flowers.
Now I’m no scientist or botanist, so I can’t without a doubt tell you the difference between real orchids and plastic orchids when it comes their power of reflectance, but I can say, both types, natural and artificial, reflect light. I can also attest that the whiter portions of leis and headbands, or the highlight areas, reflect more light than the darker skin tones and the other colors in the scene, thus I knew if we didn’t do something, we’d have some blown-out highlights in the final photos.
So, then it hit me. The solution to my flower highlight problems, the Sun-Mover Black Hole. It’s portable, extremely lightweight and with the two hand grips, it would be easy for anyone to hold and provide the final photographs some perfect light control. I basically had each model takes turns holding the Sun-Mover Black Hole near the other model’s flowers while out of camera frame.
The Sun-Mover Black Hole did its job because it subtracts light plus provides black tone back into the highlight areas of the flowers. This technique also works great on subjects with very blonde hair, especially platinum blonde hair and with the Sun-Mover Black Hole, it’s a photography solution that costs less than $100 and it’s a very durable solution with “spring steel for extra permanent tension plus two handles that help increase the permanent tension of the steel frame.”