When I’m not scratching ever upwards toward the pinnacle of the high-stakes editorial bird photography world I find it helps my bottom line to prostitute myself as an HPLS. It’s not a pretty job, but imagine how ugly the world would appear if it weren’t for the services of us Human Powered Light Stands. When were not schlepping monolights, downloading memory cards, witnessing model releases, or checking to make sure the model’s sports bra isn’t wrinkled, we’re usually found holding the Venerable Shiny Disk.
The Shiny Disk, AKA collapsible reflector disk, is one of the simplest pieces of lighting gear in the game. It’s a lightweight disk composed of reflective cloth (many types/colors/reflectivities are available) that one uses to bounce light in on a subject to fill in shadows. It can also be used to shade a subject when desired or most importantly, to shade The Boss when she’s chimping and adjusting exposures.
When not filling in shadows the shiny disk is excellent at blinding your subjects.
As a professional HPLS, I’ve worked with some of the best shiny disks on the market – even the Sunbounce auf Zeissland. They pretty much all perform the same. However the Raya 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector Disc is dirt cheap compared to the rest. Now time for the full disclosure – I got to keep the Raya 5-in-1 after reviewing it – a $19.95 value for the 42” size! It also comes in 32” ($16.95) and 22” ($12.95) versions.
This 5-in-1 kit is simple, yet versatile, coming with silver, gold, black, white and translucent surfaces. It folds like a dashboard reflector to 1/3rd diameter and zips into a form-fitting nylon pouch. To change from one surface to another you just flip the disk, or unzip the reflective sheath, reverse it, zip it back on, then continue shooting. If you remove the gold/silver/black/white sheath, you’re left with a translucent disk.
How does it work? Below are a bunch of examples of what you can do with the Raya 5-in-1. My favorite model was unavailable so I had to enlist the help of Psycho Chucky down the hill. First a shot without the disk.
As you can see, the shadows are so deep you can’t tell much about what the subject feels, but bounce in some light from the gold side and voila…
Now you see the remorse as Chucky realizes what he’s done. Then as will happen with Chucky, something snaps.
Here the fill is reduced by either stepping back with the disk or bending it to throw less intense light on the subject – more on this later.
Flip over the disk to use the white side and the result is a much cooler look to match Chucky’s soul.
Silver looks much the same as white (but much brighter if the disk is held the same distance from the subject). One difference is the silver will reflect more of the color of the light hitting the disk – in the case below, the late afternoon light is very warm and hence the warmish fill to the shadows from the silver disk.
Black can be used for blocking out light on the subject or maybe a part of the background (or the whole background in macro). One nice trick is the underexpose the background a stop or two, then shade the subject with the black disk and illuminate the subject with a flash. First with no flash
Next with the subject shaded, background underexposed and a burst of pop-up flash on the subject.
Uses of this disk are not just restricted to portraits of the neighborhood weirdo. They can be used anytime you want to bounce light around, block it out or diffuse it. I like using the translucent disk for nature detail shots.
Harsh midday sun makes this look like a hopeless situation, but then shade the subject with the translucent disk…
Again, this looks bleak.
Ah, much nicer.
The limitations of the Raya 5-in-1 are those found with any shiny disk.
The shape of the light reflected distorts with any flexing back and forth of the disk. Big deal, all shiny disks do this, even the Sunbounce. It just takes some practice (like everything in photography) to master the use of this piece of gear. And you can even use this to your benefit to stretch and soften the fill light, etc.
From close range with the disk held flat you get the predictable circle, but when one flexes the disk the pattern can be spread out.
The reflectivity of the gold and silver panels can be overpowering at close range. The decades-old Sunbounce that has calloused my paws on many a shoot, has a softer yummy feel to its light, but perhaps because so much of its shiny surface has worn away. By backing away form the subject, the Raya kit gives a softer light feel. Problem solved. Note how the pattern spreads and dims as the disk gets further from the subject.
The material seems adequately sturdy if handled with care (don’t let it blow into a cactus). However the zipper sometimes snags, but by pushing in on the springy disk rim you can create clearance and ease zipping.
As with most of our reviews here on Photography Life, we don’t have the luxury of testing longevity of the products – I don’t know how durable this will be, but at $19.95, if it helps me sell a single photo it will pay back for itself many times over. There are many other products that do the same thing, but at greater cost – anywhere from $47 to $200. My suggestion is to do yourself a favor and buy the Raya – you’ll save enough you can hire your own HPLS. Just choose that HPLS with care – you never know what goes on behind the disk.
Where to Buy
You can purchase the Raya 5-in-1 Reflector from B&H for $19.95.
Raya 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector Disc
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