What is a portrait plate and how to use it, or All about soft reflectors!
This light modifier has several names: soft reflector, portrait plate or just a plate, English-speaking countries know this nozzle as a beauty dish (a beautiful dish, or a beauty dish).
Soft reflectors differ mainly in two main parameters – diameter and color of the internal reflective surface. Also, this modifier can be equipped with an additional fabric diffuser and honeycombs. And now more …
The soft reflector is the closest “relative” of the standard reflector, only with a larger diameter and with an additional detail. In order for the light from the illuminator to be reflected evenly from the entire surface of the plate, in the middle there is a deflector (divider), which is designed to distribute the rays coming from the flash directly – over the entire area of the soft reflector. The deepened shape of the plate allows you to make these rays directed, and a special border around the edge of this modifier is designed to install honeycombs, due to which the light is distributed more accurately.
Portrait plates are sold in three main diameters – 40-41 cm, 55-56 cm and 68-70 cm. Sometimes you can find a soft reflector with a diameter of 85 cm, but this is very rare. The standard is the size of 55-56 cm, it is most often used for portraiture.
For compact photo studios, they acquire plates of 40-41 cm. For large studios and group portraits, 68-70. A plate of 85 cm is already only for pros and for special projects. For example, as in the picture below, when there was apparently a need to illuminate the whole scene and it required a very powerful pulsed source.
Naturally, the larger the plate, the softer the light it gives, because each point on the subject is illuminated from several points on the source, the shadows are not sharp, but soft. This can be clearly seen in the figure, which shows how the light works in sunny weather and on a cloudy day. After reflection or when passing through the clouds, the rays refract and begin “their own life”, illuminate the model from all angles.
Based on this, it can be understood that the closer the soft reflector to the model, the softer the light will be.
How to put theory into practice?
If your portrait shooting takes place in a small studio, then moving the plate far away is not possible. If you can’t move away from the model and there is no need to shoot at full height, you will get a plate of 41 cm and you will be satisfied. The logical question is “how small should the studio be” for a 41 cm plate?
No matter how tall the model, its head is still about 25-30 cm tall, with shoulders and chest not more than a meter. To shoot a portrait of this size, taking into account the distance required by a photographer with a 50 mm lens, the studio will be 2-3 meters long and 1.5-2 meters wide.
Of course, this is a very small studio! Yes, some, even very good photographers, do not have much money, they take pictures at home, but nevertheless, they want to take pictures with good tools, which, of course, include the portrait plate.
But even for small home studios, photographers often use standard size plates.
For an average studio – from 3 meters wide and 5 lengths, it is already worth buying a standard-size soft reflector – 56 cm. And, of course, a large studio where you can easily shoot full-length models can proudly offer its users a large soft reflector.
Most often, the soft reflector is used for fashion photography of young girls with beautiful clean skin. In 99% of cases, it is used as a drawing light, usually for a butterfly circuit.
Reflective surface color
In most cases, the inner surface of the soft reflectors is silver, which improves its reflectivity. But some respected manufacturers still produce them with a white reflective surface. You can read about the difference between different reflective surfaces in our article on reflectors. How and when should I use different colors of a reflector?
Soft Reflector Honeycombs
If the photographer is faced with the task of narrowing the beam of light coming from the soft reflector, honeycombs are used.
They create the effect of a spotlight, which is often used by photographers when they want to reproduce the impression of lighting with a spotlight on the stage.
Honeycombs are an expensive accessory for the soft reflector, but quite important, so it is recommended to purchase them in the kit. A soft reflector with honeycombs will be cheaper and for sure all the parts will be compatible, which will make it more reliable in use.
If you put a white diffuser on the soft reflector, you get a round softbox.
Very often, such a diffuser is included with the soft reflector. Quite a controversial thing in its necessity for a professional photographer, because it can come in handy in rare cases. This diffuser (in English-speaking countries “sock-toe”) kills the very idea of a soft reflector as a directional light source.
But even if this “sock” didn’t go to your portrait plate, but you want to make it, sew it.