The reflector is a convenient additional light source that doesn’t shine! It’s more affordable than a studio monoblock, it doesn’t need batteries, sockets or a synchro. This accessory won’t break even if it falls in water or from a great height. Plus, it’s easy to take with you. You don’t even need a tripod! Although you can use one, too.
Here’s what reflectors are for, what they are, and how you can get good reflector photography with them.
What is a Reflector in Photography
A reflector (sometimes called a reflector or light disk) is a hollow frame with a special fabric stretched over it. It can be reflective, absorptive or diffuse. It depends on the color and material of the cloth. Deflectors are most often round, elongated rectangular or triangular with rounded edges.
The fabric surface of the reflector “repels” the sun’s rays, pulses of flash or studio light. This gives the photographer another source of light, which simply has to be directed in the desired direction.
Why do you need a reflector?
To remove unnecessary shadows from the model if half of the face is not lit. This can happen if you work with one light source. You don’t need to buy a second light source, or any accessories like tripods or light shaping attachments, just a reflector!
This will even out the lighting on the hero in terms of brightness. In fact, a reflector can serve as a source of fill light.
When shooting on a bright sunny day, when the direct sun gives harsh, harsh shadows. A reflector will illuminate the face, giving a softer light and shade pattern.
Many people can’t face the sun – they are constantly squinting and crying because of their high eye sensitivity. In that situation a working option is to shoot against the sun with the model’s back to the sun. Without additional light source there are two possibilities: either the model’s face will be in deep shadows, or the background will turn into a textureless white spot. To avoid this, use a reflector that will illuminate the face and form a light and shadow pattern.
Create a drawing (modeling) light on the model. It is responsible for the light and shade pattern, it allows the viewer to read the volumes and contrasts in the photo.
To do this, you need to place the reflector on the side of the model. Then one half will be illuminated more than the other. Light and shadow contrasts will appear on the face.
Cut off unnecessary light with a special black surface, if the reflector has one. This way we can remove the parasitic light source that spoils our light scheme.
Dissipate direct light. Then the light is soft instead of hard. Shadows will be lighter and softer and glare will be less bright.
Types of reflectors
Reflectors differ from each other by:
The larger the size of the reflector, the larger the area it illuminates. For example, an 80×80 reflector will do for a single shot of one person, a small 30cm reflector will do for subject and macro shots, and the biggest reflector 150x200cm will even light a small group of people.
Round and triangular reflectors are most often used for chest shots and large portraits. Rectangular reflectors can illuminate a full-length person or small group of people – naturally, if the reflector is the right size.
Why a photographic reflector needs different colors
- Reflectors come in silver, gold, black, white and white translucent. The color determines the properties and effect of reflectors.
- White reflector. Neutral light output. Ideal if you do not want to change the color temperature of the light, keep the natural colors.
- Silver Reflector. Gives a powerful, cooler light output. Colors your subject in cooler colors. Suitable for overcast days, in winter.
- Gold Reflector to give the subject a warm glow. For portraits, this can create a slight tan effect, making the picture sunnier in mood.
- A white translucent reflector. Also known as a clear-cut reflector. It gives a neat stream of light of little power, slightly brightening the object. It can also be used as protection against too harsh light, when the light from the source falls on the model through such a reflector (therefore “on the light”). In this case, the rays are scattered, giving a soft light with “shaded” shadows and highlights.
- Black reflector or flag. Absorbs light. Can enhance shadows, reduce the intensity of glare. Or a reflector can cover the model from an unwanted light source.
A large number of colors does not mean you need to buy five reflectors. There are special designer reflectors for sale. They can be reversible, 3 in 1 or even 5 in 1 and contain all reflective surfaces at once. In addition, there are 7-in-1 models (for example, the FST RD071 reflector), which also have blue and green colors. They are used as a background to make objects easier to cut out in further post-processing.
How to use a reflector in photography – principles and tips
- Add a reflector to your light scheme as a last resort! First place the model in relation to the main light source – flash, sun, monoblock, window. Then choose the desired reflector color, “catch” the light and choose the angle at which it will illuminate the model optimally.
- Adjust the strength of the reflector with the distance from the model. The closer the reflector, the more light the model gets. On a bright sunny day the reflector can be 2-4 meters away from the hero/heroine.
- Remember, the farther away the reflector, the more soft and diffuse the light! If you want darker shadows and more pronounced highlights, place the reflector closer. This rule is true for any light source.
- Small reflectors can be held by the photographer or model themselves. There are accessories that have built-in handles for more convenience. For example, the white GreenBean Flex reflector has two, and the triangular Andoer 76cm has one. If the reflector is large, or needs to be placed far away from the object, you will need an assistant or a special stand.
- Try to make sure the reflector is slightly above the model and that it shines downwards. Otherwise, unattractive shadows may creep over the face, bruises under the eyes may become more pronounced, and obese people will have a double chin. Naturally, you can illuminate the model with a reflector from below, but you need to be careful about the angle at which it is positioned.
- Don’t dazzle the model by directing the reflector light directly into her eyes. The reflected rays are as blinding as the sun in the zenith! Let the light fall slightly to the side or ask the model to turn slightly away from the reflector.
- If you are shooting on a sunny day, put the model against the sun and put a reflector on her so that you not only light up her face, but also get a nice backlight that will outline the silhouette of the hero/heroine.
- The smaller the reflector, the closer it should be to the subject.
- Gold and silver will give a stronger and more intense light than a white reflector, but will change the color temperature.
- Use the reflector as a background! That way you get a black, white, gold or silver background in a minute.
- Create a warm reflex with a gold reflector by placing it behind the model. This way one reflector can replace a monoblock with a reflector and an orange light filter.
- For shooting on a bright sunny day a white reflector is fine. Gold and silver may be too strong, blinding the model.
- When shooting outdoors, a white or silver reflector will give a nice glare in the eyes.