Learning how to use this simple tool will allow you to get the even lighting that you admire in shots taken by professional photographers!
Want to avoid harsh shadows in your photos, and get the even lighting you see in shots take by professional photographers? It’s actually much simpler than you might have thought. The ‘trick’ is to use a reflector.
Good lighting is a key element of photography, and using a reflector is an easy way to completely illuminate your subject without the harsh shadows that are often cast by natural light.
If you do not have an off camera flash, or a flash with swivel head, reflectors are a simple and useful tool - versatile and simple to use whether you are shooting outdoors, or in a studio. Using a reflector is an excellent way to achieve a professional lighting effect without expensive professional equipment.
Although using reflectors for all your shots is probably neither practical nor necessary, it is worth understanding how they work and how they are used. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how effective reflectors are to enhance some of your shots, and how easy they are to use.
WHAT ARE REFLECTORS?
Reflectors are simply any item used to reflect light onto your subject. They can be used with, or without, a flash.
In this tutorial, we’re going to focus on flat reflectors. These reflectors can vary in size depending on the amount of light needed (and the size of the subject), and come in a variety of shapes.
Many photographers use reflectors to add the appropriate kind of light to their subject in order to get rid of hard shadows and contrasts. Using a reflector can help you diffuse light and create a less “harsh” photo. Reflectors can be used effectively both indoors and outdoors.
When you want to add light to your photo, reflectors are a good choice for several reasons. They are much less expensive than flash units, they don’t require electricity, and you won’t have to learn about things like flash sync!
In addition to reflecting light onto your subject, reflectors can also used to change the quality of light in photographs. The color of the reflector will affect the color of the light reflected onto the subject.
If you’ve never used a reflector, start by getting a large piece of white cardboard or cover a large piece of cardboard with aluminum foil and play around with it the next time you go shooting. You’ll quickly see how valuable a reflector can be.
Although a large range of commercial reflectors is available on the market, many photographers use homemade reflectors. These can be as simple as a piece of white poster paper, or a piece of cardboard covered with foil.
USING A REFLECTOR
Reflectors are generally used to lighten up shadows on a face, or an object.
When shooting portraits in brightly lit situations outdoors it can be very handy to have a reflector on hand to assist you in ensuring that your photo is well exposed.
The challenge with outdoor portraits is ensuring that the subject’s face is well lit. Often you’ll get harsh shadows in the undersides of your model’s face (under the chin, nose, and eyes), which don’t have direct light on them. These shadows create dark areas in your image and can accentuate certain facial features in non-flattering ways.
You can use a reflector to reflect light into those areas of your subject’s face that are in shadow. The best place to put a reflector is below your subjects face reflecting light back up into the dark areas. It will add a catch light to her eyes, which is very popular technique when shooting models for fashion photography.
The reflector should be placed opposite of the main light source. Angle it so the light bounces from the reflector back onto your subject.
Positioning your reflector when using natural or continuous lighting is easy, since you can see the effects as you move the reflector around.
You can reduce the amount of reflective light by pulling the reflector back from the subject, or you can make it stronger by moving it in closer. The idea is to bounce some light into the shadow areas thereby reducing the overall contrast of the shot. By moving closer to the subject or further away you can 'fine tune' the amount of contrast very accurately.
Tip:If you are outdoors and don’t have a reflector with you, you can often position your subject next to a white wall (if the light is hitting it at the right angle) and use the wall as a reflector!
Still life and Objects/Products
Although the most obvious place to use a reflector is outdoors, they are also useful for indoor shooting. A reflector can be particularly handy for shots you take indoors next to windows where there is some natural light, but not quite enough to shoot without a flash.
In tabletop still life photography, small reflectors are used extensively, both to reduce lighting contrast and create highlights on reflective subjects such as glassware and jewelry.
FYI:Using a reflector is one of the simplest yet most significant things you can do to improve lighting on food photos. Harsh shadows on food result in an unappetizing photo. A reflector can soften the shadows by bouncing light into the shadows and adding an overall brightness to the image.
Other Uses For a Reflector
You can also position a reflector to add an extra light or rim light on your subject. In this case the reflector would be placed on the side or a little behind your subject. This will give your photo more dimension.
If you use a large reflector and position it close to the subject you can create the illusion of wrap-around light. This is a neat effect that you should try if you haven’t already.
Using a reflector is easy. All you have to do is place it where it will bounce the light where you want it on your subject. Used properly, a reflector can definitely enhance your photos.
It can take a little practice to use reflectors effectively but like with all aspects of digital photography experimentation is the key. Get it right and the impact can be really stunning.
You can even use more than one reflector at a time if you need to.
TYPES OF REFLECTORS
The reflectors come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors.
Reflectors come in many sizes. The larger it is, the more light it will reflect. However, a smaller reflector is easier to use when you want to direct light onto upon a key area. On the other hand, a larger reflector will give you more diffuse light.
When considering what size reflector to use, just remember that with a larger reflector you might need an assistant or stand to hold it still in place. You have to consider it might get caught by the wind if you are using it outdoors.
Reflectors come in square, round, and even triangular shapes. Many photographers prefer round reflectors as they produce a round catchlight in the eye.
Reflectors come in many colors, but the most popular are:
White-A white reflector produces a neutral fill bouncing the light onto your subject without any color or quality changes to the light. White works well as a fill light for both product photography as well as portraiture.
Silver-A silver reflector will also produce a clean fill without changing the color, but the quality of the fill will have more spark than the white reflector, increasing the lighting contrast of your shot. Silver is great for things like product pictures, highly contrasted shots, and black and white imagery, as well as for other things as well.
Gold-Gold reflectors produce a bright, warm tone to your photo. It’s great for indoor portraits and sunset shots.
Reflectors are used extensively in fashion and glamour photography.
For more photography tutorials, visit our TutorialsPage.