Mini-Satellite Reflector – Hard Light… Like the Sun

Written by: Erik Valind

No sunlight? No problem. Earlier this year I started shooting with the Broncolor Mini-Satellite Reflector and now I can bring “sunlight” with me wherever I go, be it in studio, or out on location when the real sun isn’t cooperating. This modifier was specifically designed to mimic natural sunlight with its hard, high output quality of light. And as the “Mini” in its name implies it’s a smaller and more portable version of its big brother the old Satellite Evolution.

Main Features of the Mini-Satellite:

  • Hard Light
  • High Output
  • Focusable Spread
  • Reduced Stray Light

The Mini-Satellite is certainly one of the more unique looking modifiers I’ve worked with. It’s essentially a highly polished disc reflector, like a satellite dish with a mirror inside. The Mini-Satellite “sees” the light from a strobe – specifically the flash tube or dome – and reflects it down range towards the subject. Because of its mirrored finish Broncolor includes a specific matte glass dome to attach to the Pulso flash head, ensuring the light from the strobe is reflected as uniformly as possible. The parabolic shape of the reflector also greatly focuses the beam of light giving you extremely high output, making overpowering the sun easy.

The first thing I wanted to do was see a real life comparison between the actual sun and the light from the Mini-Satellite. To do this I found a handball court at a nearby park in NYC where one side of the wall was illuminated by direct afternoon sunlight. Then on the opposite shadowed side of the wall I setup our fake sunlight – the Mini-Satellite with a Pulso head connected to a Move 1200 pack. Here are the images side by side.

As advertised the quality of light is very similar! So much so that if I hadn’t taken the photos myself I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the real daylight and the artificial daylight. The one small difference can be seen in the edge of the shadow. The light output from the Mini-Satellite is still very hard but is characterized by a slightly softer edge. This could be seen as a more pleasing quality because it would be slightly more forgiving and flattering when photographing people.

The next test for me was putting this new modifier to work in a studio environment. Because I was shooting a fitness model in active wear I wanted my light to have a more natural outdoorsy feel to it. In other words I wanted my light in the studio to feel like sunlight. To do this I used a Scoro 1600 S Wi-Fi and two Pulso heads. The first head was paired with the Mini-Satellite and setup as my key light. The hard light and fast shadow transfer was perfect for sculpting the models face and physique. The second head I setup with the Octabox 150 for my fill light. Finally I had a pair of Siros 800 L units in the back with 30 x 120 Stripboxes as rim lights, to separate the model from the black background. The result elevated a pretty standard lighting setup to an image with more bite and a natural feel, all because of the unique quality of the key light.

The final test was in fine-tuning the light. If I’m transporting something to and from the studio or location I need it to be versatile. The combo of a Pulso head and Mini-Satellite is perfect for this. The mounting rod on the Mini-Satellite has notches in it allowing the reflector to be securely mounted at varying distances closer or farther away from the flash head, which focuses the light source. This can be further focused or defocused by adjusting the Pulso head as well. For these final images I was able to get a tight spot of hard light to highlight the athlete’s face while letting the rest of the body fall dark… exactly the kind of control and versatility I needed, making the Mini-Satellite a great addition to my kit.

Broncolor ambassador Erik Valind is a freelance photographer, born and raised on the Florida beaches, now living in New York City. Specializing in commercial lifestyle photography and environmental portraiture – airy and energetic imagery defines the style and vision of this top pro photographer. You can see more of his work at erikvalind.com and follow him on Instagram as @erikvphoto.