Photography - Knowledge

Photography Reflector: Learn How to Manipulate the Light!

1681 Views - 9 mins read

In the photography world, light is a serious factor that can either enhance the outcome grandly or reduce it to a dull picture. Finding the perfect light and angle is sometimes very difficult. And that’s where photography reflector comes in. One of the widely used photography tools, the photography reflectors have revolutionised outdoor photography exploiting natural light effectively. For all the novice photographers, learn how to use a photography reflector to improve your photography quality.

What is Photography Reflector

In the field of photography and cinematography, a reflector is a specialised reflective surface which is used to redirect light towards a subject or a scene. These are two types – lamp reflectors and board reflectors. These days in photography, reflectors commonly refer to the board reflectors and we shall discuss the techniques and the different ways to use them.

Photography reflector
Use Photography Reflectors for Better Lighting (source)

Board reflectors are bounce boards that have flat surfaces. These types of photography reflectors are located independently of a light source. Used in outdoor as well as studio photography, these photography reflectors are used to achieve a broader light source and/or control shadows and highlights.

For the beginners, we shall begin with choosing the reflectors to tips on using techniques. Let’s dive deeper, shall we?

Choosing a Reflector

Choose the Correct Type of Reflector (source)

There are many photography reflectors available in different sizes and shapes. Large and small, reflectors come in rectangular, triangular, and round shapes. The reflective surface of the reflectors is usually coated with silver, gold, and white, as well as combinations of these three colours with names like SoftSilver, Zebra, Sunfire, and Sparkling Sun.

For portrait photographs, you can use a small sized reflector such as a 42″ reflector as it is easy to use and provides a nice light. Some reflectors come with handles, frames, and brackets that offer the ease to hold them.

Photography reflectors, generally, comes in five colours – silver, gold, white, black, and translucent. Of them, the silver reflects the maximum light and is a great choice for poorly lit settings. The gold reflector is perfect for outdoor photography as it matches with the warm outdoor hues. For soft, clean light use the white reflectors. They reflect enough light to overcome shadows and add subtle dimension to the subject against larger light sources.

To devise shadows on the subject use a black reflector (more like an anti-reflector). And lastly, the translucent reflector helps to diffuse the light. It works excellently as a location lighting or shoot-through diffuser for flash, or as a diffusion panel between the sun (or a light source) and the subject.

How to Use a Reflector

A reflector does exactly what it is named for – it reflects! A photography reflector can be used in various ways as bouncing light produces a softer look. Using a reflector is pretty straightforward, just hold it at an angle that reflects the light and adjust the light angle to achieve the desired effect.  If the light is coming directly from behind your subject then hold the reflector in front of the subject to prevent a silhouette. For brighter light options, hold it directly opposite the light source.

You can use reflectors on the opposite side of the light source to help fill in the shadows. Sometimes holding it close to the subject will help you exploit the light that is being blocked by the object.

Let’s discuss the use of reflectors in detail.

Using a Reflector for Fill Light

One of the traditional uses of a photography reflector is to reflect light into the shadows and fill them up. In natural light, deep shadows show up under the eyes and chin. Holding a reflector around the waist will reflect light and lighten the shadows.

Reflectors for Fill Light
Reflectors Remove Under-eye and Chin Shadows (source)

Using a Reflector as the Main Light Source

Another popular usage of reflectors is to seize that nice, bright look on the face. To acquire the cheery look, simply place the subject with the main light hitting them from behind and fix a reflector in the front so that the light bounces back into their face. With a soft light on the face, you will also get a dramatic rim light on the back of their head.

Reflector as main light source
Reflector as the Main Light Source (source)

Livingit Tip:
To avoid lens flare, position the camera such that the light doesn’t hit straight into the lens.

You can play around with this reflector technique to create dramatic looks. Holding a reflector about 10 feet away from the subject you can make the reflected light look like it’s coming from a grid spot. The light is a focussed, dramatic beam that falls off as you look down from the subject’s face.

Reflector for Fall Off Effect
Reflector Technique to Create Fall Off Light Looks (source)

Another variation of this technique is moving the photography reflector slightly behind the subject in relation to the camera. This will create a dramatic rim light on the face in a side profile shot.

Side profile
Reflector Used for Dramatic light on face (source)

Using a Reflector to Block Light

Sometimes instead of reflecting, you would want to block some light. Settings like under a tree could provide an appropriate amount of beautiful, shady light that is quite enough. But then you find the sunlight “peek-a-booing” through the leaves and you do not want it. So, what do you do?

Simply hold the reflector against it to block the light.

Reflectors to Block Light
Use Reflectors to Block Unnecessary Light (source)

Using a Reflector to Create More Dramatic Shadows

Shadows in photographs add drama to the character of the subject. You can deepen the shadows using a black reflector. Place the black reflector on the side of the subject you chose to cast a shadowy effect.

Reflectors to Create Shadows
Use Reflector to Cast Shadowy Effect (source)

In addition to producing the dramatic effect, you also use the technique to give the subject a photographic face-lift by trimming layers from the dark side of the face and under the chin.

Using Reflector in Artificial Light

Shooting in a studio doesn’t necessarily demand the use of multiple lights and fixing the ratios between the light. Sometimes a simple photography reflector can do the job, just place a reflector on the opposite side of the subject from the main light source to get the perfect shot. If you are holding the reflector on the right side of the subject then position a large softbox on the left before clicking the shot.

This technique comes handy in taking headshots.

Reflector in Artificial Light
Photo Shoot with Reflectors in Studio (source)

Reflectors in the Environment

Once you understand how to use reflectors, you will probably view the world around you as a set of reflectors – buildings, trees, parking lot, newspaper, and even grass. A white building or a wall is nothing but a giant white reflector! Look around you and check how you can use the objects around you as a reflector.

A total selfie game changer, won’t you agree?

Who Holds the Reflector

An assistant is great to have around but you can manage it without one just well. You can either hold it yourself (if possible) or ask a friend, passerby, wedding guests (if you are at one), and if no one then there is no shame in asking the subject to give a hand with it, after all, it’s their photos that will reap the effects.

Person holding reflector
A Photographer Holding a Reflector While Shooting (source)

Which Reflector Should I Buy - Choose the Right one!

As mentioned earlier, photography reflectors come in many sizes, shapes, and colours. Choosing the correct size could be the first dilemma. Understand the purpose and the frequency of the usage. As we know, large light sources are softer, so if you choose a small reflector then it’s likely to create harsher shadows.

Again, if you pick a larger reflector then carrying it around could be a hassle and the wind will play with its steadiness, turning it into a sail. If you are a beginner and buying your first reflector then go for a 42” reflector – it’s allows a good, soft light and is hassle-free.

Shapes of the reflectors also play an important role in bringing out the desired effect. A reflector’s shape not only determines the shape of the light but also catches light which in turn decides the kind of sparkle you want in those eyes.

Here are a few photography reflector choices, check out!

Westcott Eyelighter Reflective Panel

Westcott Eyelighter
Westcott Eyelighter Reflective Panel

One of the best in the market, the Eyelighter is top notch when it comes to quality. Its curvy form smoothly reflects light in a way that creates a stunning effect. In portraits of subjects with glasses, the reflector helps reduce glare. The only drawback is its large size and may not be very convenient for outdoor shoots.

Price: Rs. 19196.36

Westcott Omega Reflector Kit (10-in-1)

Westcott Omega
Westcott Omega Reflector Kit (10-in-1)

This one throws a gentle glow and is great for portraiture. The Omega reflector boasts of a lifetime frame warranty and one year of fabric warranty. It is an excellent choice for blocking the sunlight or diffusing harsh light. That being said, the Omega is a bit expensive and boast functions which a normal user won’t need.

Price: Rs. 6392.60

Selens 5-in-1 Handle 43 Inch

Selens 5-in-1
Selens 5-in-1 Handle 43 Inch

Praised for its durable quality, thick frame, and attached handle that permits for one-handed use. Thus, you can hold it with one hand and aim with the other. It’s sticky zipper and no instruction manual can be considered the only drawbacks.

Price: Rs. 2935.22

ePhoto Collapsible Oval (43 x 66 Inches)

ePhoto Reflector
ePhoto Collapsible Oval (43 x 66 Inches)

This oval reflector has made photographers go gaga over its superb quality and simplicity in switching from silver to white reflections. Due to its fully collapsible feature, the ePhoto is quite portable. It’s larger surface area can also pass for a great background for headshots.

Price: Rs. 1855.07

LimoStudio 32″ 5-in-1

LimoStudio reflector
LimoStudio 32″ 5-in-1

A clever reflector set at an affordable price, the LimoStudio set is lauded for its variety of looks, durable material with strong rim, and a loop behind the reflector that makes holding easy while being used.

Price: Rs. 761.48

Neewer 5-in-1 Portable Triangle 24 Inch

Neewer 5-in1
Neewer 5-in-1 Portable Triangle 24 Inch

Although the Neewer may not reflect a huge light, it still has its own share of buyers. Photographers who may want to reflect only a small section of light can use this portable, triangular reflector. The side grips on both sides of the reflector assist comfortable holding.
Price: Rs. 895.22

Westcott 1032 42-Inch (6-in-1)

Westcott 1032
Westcott 1032 42-Inch (6-in-1

Along with the (five) standard reflector colours, the Westcott 1032 offers an extra colour – a mix of gold and silver to achieve that perfect sun-kissed look. The excellent reflector quality produces high-contrast images and natural fill. It's price tag and large size could be frown upon by some users

Price: Rs. 6718.31

Photography reflectors are one of the most essential and versatile tools that produce your envisioned photography outcomes. Lighting is a crucial factor in the world of photography and if only it obeyed our directions. But what we can do is manipulate it to suit our requirements. Sure, we can tweak photographs with modern photo editing tools but having a good base lays the foundation of marvellous things that you can do with editing later. Using photography reflectors in the right angle will yield pictures which (sometimes) wouldn’t require any airbrushing or touch-ups.