This exercise is about controlling the contrast – the difference between light and shadow – within an image.
The first shot was taken with a flash setup to right of the subject, without a diffuser in front of it:
The second is with an umbrella as a diffuser in front of the flash. Contrast here is reduced, bringing out more detail in Batman – particularly areas that were previously in complete shadow:
The third shot is with a large white reflector (my light tent, folded up flat) held three feet away from the subject – on the opposite side to the diffused flash. Much of Batman remains the same as shot two, though with some small reduction in contrast on the left side – the cape, leg and gauntlet, on the left of the image:
This fourth image has the reflector distance halved. The reflected light travels further across Batman now. Contrast is reduced on the left of the image, more so than before, and the reflected light has reached the head and arm on the right of the image:
The next image had foil placed in the same position as the reflector above, with the matte side facing toward the flash. It’s a more effective reflector, so reduces contrast further:
The foil was turned around for this shot. Contrast here is increased – with highlights standing out more under the more efficient and harsher reflected light:
Finally, the foil was crumpled up and then flattened again, so it took on a texture. It’s a less uniform reflector than the smooth, shiny, foil previously and also less uniform than the matte foil or white reflector. It brings out more contrast in places, while still filling some of the shadows on the left of the image:
It’s an effective method of controlling shadow to bring out detail and control depth and texture in an image subtly. More lights could be used to further reduce shadows, depending on what effect is aimed for.
Something to note from the text is that increased contrast may be desirable – in which case a piece of black card or black velvet opposite the flash would reduce the light reflecting back off other surfaces (walls/ceiling etc).
The effect of high contrast to create atmosphere is demonstrated by two pictures by Stieglitz and Weston.
In Stieglitz “Dorothy Norman“, it creates a dark, brooding, atmosphere.
In Weston’s “Guadeleipe Marin de Rivera” it creates a sense of cold tension – isolating the subject’s head and hiding their eyes.