A Foray Into Educated Photography With The Use Of Reflectors


Reflectors are used to direct light onto a subject, to eliminate undesirable harsh shadows on their face. I say harsh shadows, because a complete lack of highlights and shadows can again make your image very flat.

So whether you are using lights or the sun to shoot your subject indoors or outdoors, need almost always arises for a secondary and softer light source.


Situation: indoors or studio

When you are shooting indoors with a built-in or portable flash or natural window light, you can find that some part of the subject’s face or body is abruptly underexposed. To correct this, you can either use a secondary light, which can eliminate all shadows and give a flat image, or use a reflector, which adds light without taking away all dimension.

Many people believe that reflectors are always supplementary to artificial light sources. They are mostly right, because to get rid of bad shadows and the focus of flash or strobes, you need to redirect light onto the subject. What most people do not realize, however, is that reflectors find use in outdoor situations too.


Situation: outdoor portrait session on a sunny day

Regardless of the time of day, the sun on a hot, cloudless day is too strong and direct. When your subject faces the sun, you get a very harsh shadow on their face. Not to mention the squinting and watery eyes from direct sunlight. As a photographer, what do you do to solve this problem? You position the subject with their back to the sun. This eliminates any choppy highlights or shadows on their face and adds a nice halo effect to their hair and body outline.

But you now have a new problem - your model is too underexposed. If you try to adjust your exposure, you end up with a well lit model with an overexposed background and a lot of flat light!

This is where reflectors find their use. You can redirect the light from the sun onto the subject from literally any angle, because you control the positioning of the reflector. The reflector essentially becomes another light source! It’s a light source with a natural colour and tone, much unlike artificial light.


Types of reflectors

Reflectors come made of many different types of materials, but hard surface reflectors and fabric reflectors or scrims, are used most often. Scrims have an advantage over other varieties - they are easy to fold, store and travel with & come in many different colours sold together as sets.

In any typical 5-in-one set of scrims you will find the following.


White reflector

This is a matte reflector, and casts a soft light on the subject. Since its reflecting power is not very high, it needs to be positioned closer to the subject.


Silver reflector

This colour is a metallic silver. The light from it is cool and creates harder highlights. It works very well in black and white photography, because it creates a good contrast (black and white photographs need contrast, since they don’t have contrasting colours to create definitions).


Silver-gold or white-gold or soft-gold reflector

This is basically a colour between silver and gold. The light redirected by it is warmer than silver light, and also stronger than white light, so you can stand some distance away from the subject and still light them up.


Gold reflector

Gold reflectors reflect a strong and warm light. These can be very resourceful on cloudy days with cold light. They do, however, tend to overpower subjects placed in hard light, so use them from some distance away to get a nice rich look.


White Diffusion Panel

This is not a reflector but a diffuser - it diffuses light to make it softer and duller.


Make your own reflectors

Broke but crafty photographers have been known to fashion reflectors out of tin or aluminium foil, hula hoops or pizza boxes. You can do the same thing, because while reflectors are an indispensable part of serious photography, but you don’t really need to spend a fortune for them.

Just try to find metallic foils in gold and silver and wrap their shiny side around two dimensional things with large surface areas. To make a white one, use chart paper. To make diffused reflectors that cast softer light, just use crinkled foil.