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This post was most recently updated on September 25th, 2022

In photography, lighting has the ability to make or break a picture and an entire shoot if you do not have the correct tools. One of the most important tools in photography is lighting tools and one lighting tool you should have on set whether you are indoors or outdoors is a reflector.

Once you introduce a reflector into your professional kit it is likely you will never be without one again. If you have never used a reflector before this is the perfect guide to introduce you to the basics of what a reflector is, when they should be used but most importantly how they should be used.

What Are Reflectors?

A reflector is a piece of equipment used by photographers to manage light. It is used to redirect or block existing light that comes from an artificial or a natural source. Reflectors can be used in place of more expensive lighting equipment and when used correctly they can significantly enhance and also improve your photography.

The Shape And Size Of Reflectors

Reflectors are available in a range of sizes making them convenient to bring on remote shoots. Prices range depending on the size of the reflector and so it is possible to find budget-friendly options. Reflectors come in different shapes, with the most common shape being circular. You can also purchase them in square, triangular and rectangular shapes.

Sizes and shapes are used for different purposes within photography. Larger reflectors diffuse the light over a broader spectrum while smaller reflectors can be used for individual portrait shots where the space you are filling is smaller. Depending on your needs, there are also several different colors that you can purchase reflectors in. Each color has a different impact on the light it is put against.

The Effect Reflectors Have, Depending On Their Color

Reflectors are available in five different colors and each color has a different effect on light. Some are used as diffusers and some block light entirely. It is important to understand what you want the reflector to do as this will help you to accurately choose and understand what reflector would be best for you.

  • White Reflectors: white reflectors create a neutral bounce light that can be used as a fill light source.
  • Translucent Reflectors: using a translucent reflector diffuses the light while producing a wide, soft light source.
  • Black Reflectors: these are the darkest colored reflectors and, unlike other reflectors, they do not bounce or diffuse light. Black reflectors are used to block or subtract light from your shot.
  • Gold Reflectors: a golden reflector produces a warm, golden fill light which is often used for sunset shots or indoor portraits. Photographers need to be careful when using golden reflectors as often the color these reflectors cast can look unnaturally orange.
  • Silver Reflectors: these light metallic colored reflectors increase highlights, yielding a high contrast image. These reflectors are best for video or black and white photography.

When Should A Reflector Be Used?

Reflectors are used by photographers to rectify bad lighting. This means that reflectors are used to diffuse harsh light, bounce light over a broader spectrum or block light entirely.

You should consider using a reflector to enhance light, both artificial and natural, as the reflector gives you the ability to direct the light in a specific direction, illuminating the subject you are photographing.

How Do You Use Reflectors?

How Do You Use Reflectors

Reflectors can be used in a number of ways, however, there are certain ways that will hugely benefit your photography. Reflectors can be set up on a stand or if you have an assistant you can have them hold it in a certain spot.

Stands can be purchased specifically for supporting and holding reflectors of different sizes and shapes but they can be heavy and so having a helping hand on remote shoots rather than a heavy stand would be useful.

Terrains on remote shoots are not always perfectly flat which can make it incredibly hard to set up a supporting reflector stand. See below how to achieve a number of different effects through the proper use of reflectors.

  • Use a reflector as a main light source – if the subject you are photographing is lit from behind, by either natural or artificial light, place the reflector in front of the subject so that it catches the light from behind and bounces it back onto the subject, resulting in the subject being illuminated.
  • Use a reflector for fill light – this allows you to reflect light onto shadows. When shooting a portrait, position the reflector at the subject’s waist to light up the dark areas of their face.
  • Create dramatic shadows by using a black reflector specifically – this is a fantastic way of adding more depth to your shots. Sometimes shadows can enhance your images, don’t be afraid to play with this technique.
  • Use a reflector to block light – this is ideal for shoots in shaded areas, under a tree for example. Position the reflector above the subject to block the light and to prevent shadows.

These are only a few examples of ways you can incorporate reflectors into your photography shoots. Depending on the color and the size of the reflector you are working with you will be limited to what you can do. It is important to try your reflector in different ways to learn how best it can work for you.

Are Reflectors Needed For Studio Photography?

While reflectors can be used in both indoor and outdoor environments they can be extremely time-saving when used in a studio space. Often in studio shoots, sessions are a certain length of time.

Changing the lighting set up between different takes can cause precious time to be wasted and as a result, you miss out on the large number of shots you could be taking.

By using reflectors during studio shoots there is not a need to change the lighting set up as you can use different reflectors which take a few minutes to set up and they can then change the lighting whatever your needs may be.

Building up a collection of reflectors of different sizes and colors will be useful to allow you to achieve different effects, both in and out of the studio.

Reflectors are highly versatile pieces of photography equipment and should definitely be a part of both your roaming kit and studio kit. As reflectors have the ability to manipulate artificial and natural light they are perfect for both outdoor shooting and studio use.

Make sure that you take the time to learn what reflector would benefit your work and what size and color would suit your photography, as soon as you begin to use these tools you will instantly notice a difference in your photography.