My photo studio in Whistler, with the PLM off to the left side.
Earlier this year I had to make an order from Paul C Buff, the company that makes my lighting equipment, and pretty much on a lark, I added in the 86 PLM (Parabolic Light Modifier) reflector. It’s a pretty crazy looking thing, basically a huge floor to ceiling soft silvered umbrella that barely fits in my studio. I was skeptical if I would find much use for such a huge light modifier, but I was curios, and since it was less than $100 and I was already getting stuff shipped, it wasn’t much of a stretch to try it out.
Doing an on-line search, most of the examples I found (including the Paul C Buff web site) mainly showed what the light looks like when you shoot it into a brick wall or book case. I also found a few examples of it being used as a backdrop, or a big wide shot with someone silhouetted against it. The only common denominator was that they were all totally useless, so I decided to put a quick review of the reflector up here.
The first thing you notice is that since it’s so big, it’s actually quite an awkward move to open it. You have to bend over at the waist and hold your arms out just to get enough room around yourself to open it. Since I don’t have a really big studio, the light has to be at exactly the right height, or it either doesn’t have enough room towards the floor or ceiling, and walking around it is a major issue as well.
Basically, you can either have it off to the side and use a regular portrait lens (in my case, usually a 70-200mm at anywhere from 150mm to 200mm, with a full frame digital camera), or move it in front of the subject, and stand in front of the reflector and use a shorter lens (like a 28-70mm). With the standard reflector for fashion photography, the 22″ beauty dish, you can use a boom arm to hang it in front and above the subject, but there’s no way you’re doing that with the 84″ reflector. When you do stand in front of it, you get a crazy looking catchlight with the photographer’s reflection in the subject’s eye.
The light you get from reflector is really gorgeous, big, soft, and flat, but with a punchy high key look from the soft silver lining of the reflector. I’ve found it really effective for shooting headshots for older subjects. Using it head-on is similar to a ring light, but much more flattering.
The other thing is that this is remarkably affordable item, especially when you consider what the original version from the Swiss lighting manufacturer ProFoto cost. I was in Glazer’s Cameras in Seattle, who have a huge studio lighting department, and was shocked to see a nearly identical 7′ Profoto reflector for $1,800. That’s more than all three of my Alien Bee lights cost, even including the reflectors and speed rings I bought with the lights.
My wife Joyce, channeling Amy Sedaris
In this crop, you can see the distinctive catchlight, with the full reflector and my silhouette in the centre.
A food product shot, the PLM worked so well it was sick.
Some other studio portraits.
A business headshot with the light off to camera left.