Light is the heart of photography and getting it right is extremely important. Reflector is something that many starting photographers wonder about. “Do I need it? How do I use it?” If you cannot or do not want to invest in anything super fancy, you like taking pictures with natural light – a reflector is something that I would strongly recommend. There are stacks of different types, priced from very cheap to very expensive. So how do you even start?
What are you photographing? Portraits, still life, large scenes or objects or small? An answer to this question will determine what size reflector you will need. The larger the subjects, the larger should be your reflector or you will only get change of light in a small portion of your object. A related consideration is how are you going to handle a reflector? Are you going to buy a stand or are you going to hold it? Questions just keep coming and honestly you have no idea where to start or if on fact you need a reflector.
I will try to explain in this post why you should use one and when as well as how to start working with a reflector.
A reflector at its basic, is a piece of white foam board. However, more frequently reflectors are much more advanced with silver or gold foil covering them. You can make one yourself if you wish (DYI Photography How to make a photo reflector, Make your own reflector DIY tutorial) or you can even use your car sunshade. Using a white foam board will help you not to blind your subjects and depending on the board can actually produce a nice soft light. That said, the most frequently used reflector is probably the silver one. Similarly to white board it does not alter the appearance of the subject.However, you need to be careful not to blind your subject so reflect with care!
You can also use a gold foil reflector, however, it will give your subject a bit of a golden glow. Depending on your intentions that can be a desired outcome. All this is very interesting but why should you even bother using one? It is not even convenient carrying one with you all the time.
If you look at the following pictures you will notice the difference between the images on the left with no reflector and ones on the right with silver reflector on the side opposing the light source.
As you can see, in an image with no reflector you can see the dark shadows on the face away from the window. They do not look pleasing and it would be best to lighten them up. One way of doing it is to place another light source to lit up this side of the face. However, a much simpler way is to place a reflector opposite to the light.
In order to get a appearance you wish a reflector can be easily moved a little to the front or to the back. I can hear the next question, how do you hold on to a reflector while taking a picture? You can ask someone to hold it for you, place it on a stand, have your subject hold it, stand it on a chair, table, hand it from a door, coat hanger… There are many ways to place it in position.
Light will reflect in many directions, so the little drawing is a simplification of the set up.
My favorite model, toy chimp, this time has a light coming from the right, this time a strobe. A reflector in the second image is positioned on left. You may also notice that a reflector has softened shadow cast by the light.
However, those are not the only cases for using a reflector. It can be also used when shooting outdoors, especially on a very sunny day a reflector can come in handy. Would not having one affect your pictures? It does not have to, however, in such case you will need to stay clear of a bright or direct sunlight if you are taking portraits and want them to look great. Yet, even then it could be handy to bring just a bit more light onto your subject.
A little bit of reflected light here makes a difference. In this case, I was taking picture in shade and while no obvious deep shadows are seen, the image is not appealing. By using a reflector you can make a lot of difference in appearance.
Portraits and studio pictures get usually the most attention when it comes to use of a reflector, they are not the only ones that benefit from such approach. How many times have you gone out to photograph flowers? Yes, those great subject that do not walk away or fly away. Frequently we go out in nice weather or the flowers we want to photograph are in full sunshine. Yes, we can come back when it is cloudy. However, that is not always possible. So how can you make a pleasing photo while still photographing in full sunshine?
You guessed it! Use a reflector. I took one with me on an outing to National Arboretum in Washington DC. And here are some of the images it produced.
The first image was taken without a reflector. By adding a reflector I was able to reduce the highlights, soften the image just a little, bring the azalea flowers to much more natural and pleasing appearance.
Creative use of a reflector can allow you to manipulate light and highlight the area you want to bring to a viewer’s attention. In general I use mostly silver reflector as it keeps the colors true, while the gold one will warm up your images by altering the color just a bit. If this is something you wish to do, then try it out. You also need to test different angles as not all will create a desired effect. Above all be creative with objects you already have, until you truly know if you need a reflector make it happen with things you have on hand.