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This post was most recently updated on November 13th, 2022

When it comes to taking photographs, you cannot do much without light. In fact, photography literally means ‘writing with light’ – with the ‘photo’ meaning ‘light’ and ‘graphy’ meaning ‘writing’.

Even though it is standard to think of a full light set-up when it comes to something like portraiture or product photography, whether you are outside or inside of a studio, the reflector is a really important piece of light equipment.

Using this lighting tool is convenient, simple and more often than not invaluable for outdoor photography. It bounces the light around you to create a dazzling picture, almost as if you have used a studio light outdoors. It can even be used inside a studio to diffuse or enhance the artificial lighting.

Basically, the possibilities are endless when it comes to light and using a reflector. Seeing as you have stumbled across this article, it looks like you are either thinking of buying a reflector or have bought one but feel clueless on how to use it. It is a good thing then that we have put this simple guide together to help you out.

Read on to find out how you can use a reflector during your next photoshoot.

Choosing The Reflector

It might seem a little scary at first because of all the different reflector types out there, but in theory they actually all do the same job. There are slight differences but we shall look at those in more detail.

What Are You Planning To Use It For?

There are many reasons why people use a reflector, but the main one is for portrait work. It is a great tool to use if you are on location outdoors and need extra light to fill in shadows on a person’s face, for example.

Rather than using a studio light, you can bounce the natural light onto a subject or take it away. It means you can even be creative with light outdoors.

In a studio, it enables you to do the exact same thing, which is very handy if you only have the one light set-up.

How To Use it

There are many ways to use a reflector, and it can be difficult to know where to start. If you have a friend that can help, they can hold the reflector in the position you need them to. This is always helpful because it means you can have the reflector stable, as well as able to move to different positions.

If this is not the case, the subject can place the reflector on their lap out of shot. This can be useful, but is not always a good idea if the light bounces onto their face wrong to cause shadow lines.

Another way is to invest in a reflector stand. This is a lot more useful if you are shooting within the same space for a while. It does limit movement and it may fall over in the wind, but it is still a really good idea if you work alone.

Lastly, you could attempt to hold it yourself. It can be done, but you will need a really steady hand if you are photographing one-handed – though a fast shutter speed in bright lighting should fix that.

The Importance Of Color

You can buy reflectors that only have one or two colors, but many on the market are available as a 5-in-1 so you can change the colors around to suit the project you are currently working on. Whilst at first glance it may seem a little strange that there are different colors to use, they each have their own properties when it comes to getting that perfect shot. So, let us look at the colors in more detail.

  • Gold – This color creates a warm glow that if used incorrectly can cause the person to have an Oompa Loompa kind of apprecreance. It is best to use this one quite sparingly, but it is worth testing it out to see what works best for you.
  • Silver – The brightness of the silver will help to enhance highlights and cause a contrast between light and dark. Just a tip, this is also great to use in black and white photography.
  • White – Probably the most used color within photography and acting, white produces a wonderfully natural light that evens out the light source. This helps when the sun may be particularly harsh on the subject.
  • Translucent – If the sun is really bright, then it can be held above the subject to soften the light. This is particularly useful if you are shooting in the full sun but need to create a softer look. The sun can also cause unwanted shadows on the face.
  • Black – The black color is completely different to the rest and works in the opposite direction. Instead of bouncing the light, it blocks it, helping to create shadows.

Size Of The Reflector

When it comes down to size, the first thing you want to think about is if you are using it on location. Size matters if you need to transport it, as the bigger the reflector is, the likelihood you will not be able to use it on location quite so easily.

Most of us will not have an assistant to help us hold the reflector, so we will be doing it ourselves. With this in mind, it is always best to go on the smaller side.

In the studio you can go bigger because you are not transporting it around. It will also help with filling out light over a larger surface area.

How To Use A Reflector Outdoors

How To Use A Reflector Outdoors

Using a reflector on location is an extremely convenient way to produce fantastic results. Use these tips the next time you are out on a photoshoot to see the difference within your work. Remember, practice makes perfect when it comes to lighting the subject well.

As a Key Light

Even though it can be a little bit more advanced, we will get this lighting style out of the way first. A reflector will become your key light as you will be using it as your main light source, even though you are using it to reflect available light onto your subject.

Instead of just using a reflector on its own, another option is to use a speedlight to bounce light off the reflector and onto the subject to create an almost studio lighting effect. It is worth playing around with this to see how it works for you. It is quite a fun one to try.

Tip: Using this technique can really change the way we see the final image. Playing around with lighting techniques is a great way to learn about why lighting is so important within photography.

Photographing in Direct Sunlight

A lot of the time we shoot portraits in direct sunlight due to not being able to control the weather, and because we will be doing most, if not all, of our outdoor photography work during the day. When this is the case, sometimes you will be photographing in full harsh sunlight.

Any other color will be too strong on the subject, so this is where the white color comes in as your savior. It will soften any shadows and will help to fill the light. You can also do this in a light shaded area to fill any shadow gaps on the face.

Tip: Never photograph your subject facing the sun. Have them turn away from the sun so their face is shaded, and use the white reflector to soften the light on their face.

In Full Shade and Overcast Weather

When you are in full shade, you will want to bounce as much light as you can possibly get, so the silver side comes in handy in this situation.

Tip: When using the reflector, move it around in different angles to find the best place to position it. You can also adjust the distance between subject and reflector for different impacts.

Final Words

Learning about how to use a reflector can really change the way we see our finished photographs. Using one well can help to show you that photography most certainly is all about lighting, and that you are in control of it.

A reflector is an important piece of photography equipment. With so many options out there it can seem rather daunting, but once you find the one for you, the lighting options will become endless.