Photography Lighting is supported by readers. When you buy with our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more

This post was most recently updated on June 26th, 2022

In photography, lighting is paramount to achieving your desired results. Photographs cannot be captured at all without it and it is essential when capturing photographs outside and when taking photographs in a studio.

One of the most essential yet underrated lighting tools that you should have at your disposal is a photographic reflector. These can be used to diffuse, dilute or bounce any form of artificial or natural light and once you have used one of these effectively, you’ll be more than pleased with the result.

How To Handle A Photography Reflector

The way to handle a photography reflector is entirely dependent on the type of reflector that you are choosing. Your reflector can be held by an assistant or you can prop it up into the appropriate position to maximize its capabilities.

Your subject can also hold it or place it in their lap or you can purchase a designated stand to hold it in position. If your subject is moving quite frequently then an assistant may be the best option.

If you are shooting your photographs in the same spot, a stand would be more preferable, especially if the reflector is positioned on the larger side of the frame or is needed to bounce light from a higher position.

Holding a reflector for this period of time will wear an assistant down easily and so you would need to take regular breaks if you are shooting in one position which is why a stand is preferable in this instance.

When using a reflector outdoors and utilizing natural light, you should also remind your subjects not to look at the reflector itself as it is bouncing UV light and can cause eye damage.

When you are shooting using natural light, you should take the backlighting into consideration. The effect of backlighting is not to be underestimated and natural light behind a subject can often cause a stunning rim light that outlines the entire subject or causes a softened glow in the background.

The only issue is that it can leave the remainder of your subject in an unwanted shadow, however, this is where your reflector comes into play as it will be able to bounce sunlight off of your subject in order to add lighting to the foreground of your shot.

This will inherently control the amount of shadows that fall upon the subject and add the necessary dimension to your shot.

Overcast conditions also cause heavy shading that can affect the quality of your creative vision. This is because, although the light is more evenly dispersed, it is actually a weak form of light. This weakened lighting inherently causes heavy shadows to form under your subject’s chin and eyes.

In order to counter the detrimental impact of these shadows, two reflectors should be used. One can be placed directly under your subject and another can be placed on either side based on where the most light is. The side reflector is key to ensuring that any shadows are displaced effectively.

You can also use your reflector to diffuse any artificial light that is created by a flash. Of course, the size of your reflector may affect your editing and cropping options so this is definitely something to bear in mind, especially when shooting indoors or in a location that has limited space.

How To Use A Photography Reflector For Fill Light

How To Use A Photography Reflector For Fill Light

The vast majority of portrait photographers have taken pictures where their subject’s eyes are laden with unflattering deep shadows. This usually occurs on cloudy days or when there is direct sunlight above our subject’s heads.

However, even in well-lit locations with perfectly directional light, a reflector can still helpfully divert softer light onto a subject’s face in order to lift any unappealing shadows that may form.

When taking photographs in shade, you are incredibly limited with the amount of light that you are able to bounce onto your subject so you will need to use the extra reflective silver side of your reflector in order to utilize an appropriate amount of light for this setting.

Adjusting the angle of your reflector will ensure that you can control your light outputs effectively. Alternatively, using the white side of the reflector is useful when shooting in more direct sunlight.

If you want to use the silver side in bright daylight then you would inevitably end up adding too much light which can provide that infamously unflattering ‘campfire’ appearance. Even if the reflector is positioned far away from your subject, this will still be too harsh to bring the best out of your subject.

The white, softer side of your reflector will shadow the shadows effectively without overpowering them.

Using A Reflector As A Key Light

One of the best features of utilizing a reflector is the portability of this product. When used as a key light, this essential tool can bounce any natural or artificial light onto your subject in order to provide a beautiful sense of depth without the need for an entire studio full of equipment.

Using A Reflector For Headshots

Headshots make up a large part of many photographer’s portfolios and you can use as many reflectors as you need in order to obtain that perfect shot. This is particularly useful when photographing actors who may be asked by their agents to pose in a very specific way.

You can create a complex and intricate setting or you can strip back your location entirely in order to use basic fill lighting which is the type of lighting that is traditionally used for actor’s headshots.

A reflector can also be placed on your subject’s lap or you can pivot it just in front of them at a specific angle in order to accurately and effectively soften any sharpened features or shadows that may have formed under their eyes and chin.

To conclude, using a photographic reflector will undoubtedly enhance the quality of your photography and enable you to maximize your creative vision to its utmost potential. Bouncing light off of your reflector will inherently provide a larger softer light that is able to be utilized both outside or inside a studio.

These products are inexpensive and yet incredibly versatile. They also come in a variety of sizes and differing shapes so you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Whether you are offsetting a harsh shadow or utilizing the sunlight, a reflector will redefine your photography and take it to a whole new level and these products are undoubtedly a worthy investment as they will ensure that you can illuminate your subject’s best features whilst ensuring that any unflattering qualities are diluted.

The best part is that a reflector is portable and so you do not have to worry about lugging masses of expensive equipment to different locations in order to achieve the best shot.