I want to discuss the California Sunbounce system in the context of an actual shoot. So I’ll sometimes sound like a reviewer, and at others, like a teacher discussing the photography aspects. I think that’s the best way to give context to the situation. So let’s start by making sure we know what we’re talking about.
Most photographers have seen reflectors. They are simple light modifiers that help define, shape and fill light. They rely on the existing light in any scene and simply reflect and amplify that light.
Scrims simply block direct sun and put the subject in shade.
California Sunbounce makes reflectors and scrims and we decided to put them to the test here at TWIP.
We had Lisa Bettany on a recent episode of TWIP. She was in town for WWDC and agreed to model for us. We went to a scenic area along the San Francisco bay front and directly behind AT&T Park where the Giants play. We found a nice secluded spot to work at exactly High Noon! That’s right, we were working at Noon when the sun is at its highest point. Yes, I know – that’s horrible light. But in the real world, when you’re being paid by an agency to get a shoot done on deadline, you work when you have access to the model and it’s YOUR job as a photographer to figure out the light.
Looking at this photo, you might be surprised to find out that it was made at Noon. But it was actually easy – as long as you remember one essential rule:
When shooting outdoors in high, direct sunlight, scrim and fill. Scrim and fill. I’ll say it one more time. . . scrim and fill.
While you may have been taught to fill hard sunlight shadows with flash, there is another way – scrim and fill. We took California Sunbounce’s Sun-Bounce Micro-Mini $121, Mini Sun-Bounce $395, Pro Sun-Bounce $517, and Sun-Swatter $706 to the shoot. My assistant quickly assembled the units, and that’s where the review starts.
First, the gear is easy to carry. Everything comes in a nice carrying bag that will make it easy to transport and also offer protection against scuffs and scratches that can eventually make the gear less effective. While pop-up reflectors are easier to set up, the California Sunbounce reflectors are sturdier and more reliable. I’ll explain why in a moment.
When you’re shooting portraits at Noon – you’ll have to deal with raccoon eyes. These are caused by the dark shadows that form around the eyes because the sun is so high that the eyebrow creates a shadow below the eye.
To avoid this result, you can scrim (or block) the sun, which is a form of subtractive lighting. You can also fill by using a reflector to catch some sun and bounce it back into the impacted area, or, you can do both. And that’s what we did here using the California Sunbounce gear.
We could have used the SunSwatter to block the Sun making the open sky the new key light but it was too windy. So we improvised and used the Pro Sunbounce large reflector as a scrim and filled with the mini and micro Sunbounce as fill.
On a windy day, it’s VERY hard to hold a large reflector. The California Sunbounce gear has reduced that problem by putting a cross bar on the back of the frame that holds the reflective material. It’s easy to grab and more precise to point the light using this method. There are also four handholds that you can use to grab and point the reflector. These handholds are in fact cutouts so they offer the added benefit of giving you something to see through, whereas using a traditional round reflector, you can’t see where you’re subject is or where you need to point the light.
Once you have the reflector in place, you don’t want it to bow because of the wind or high pressure that you exert to hold it in place. This is where the California Sunbounce gear really shines. The material is super stiff and strong. No worries about the product buckling in the wind here.
The reflectors are surprisingly lightweight given how rigid they are. The materials appear to be very high quality and seem like they will last.
The California Sunbounce reflectors offer precise output with no dents, bumps, or wobble of the reflective surface. We found this valuable as we were able to aim the reflectors with great precision. For the black and white portrait, the assistant held the Sunbounce 40 feet away and precisely placed the light exactly where I needed it.
We found these reflectors to be very easy to hand hold. But they do mount to traditional C-Stands or other types of light stands. If you mount them, use the mounts supplied by California Sunbounce to guarantee that you don’t damage the tubes that stretch the reflective surface. Also, always use sandbags to keep the stand from moving or falling over. We tried using the reflectors tied to light stands and found that with typical sandbagging, they were as sturdy as can be.
The California Sunbounce gear is very high quality and as you may expect, it’s not inexpensive. It’s designed for professionals who need something they can rely on. The products are actually made in Germany and have a two year manufacturers’ warranty.
There’s no way to really do this stuff justice in an online review. You have to handle it to really see the value. The lack of shimmer…the ability to grab the devices with a simple handlebar…the hand-holds on the side of the reflectors, all make this a unique experience
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