I'm going to do occasional posts (101 series) that will let you dip your toe into some fundamental practices in photography - so if you're a vet in the photo community this may be redundant. For the rest of you, I hope this is helpful information.
Today we're talking reflectors. But to talk about reflectors, we have to address the element which we are reflecting: light. Oooooh light, how wonderful it is. Golden hour. Soft light by windows. But then, oh no! What happened? Mid-day sun! Dark basement with no natural light! Shadows playing with your subject's skin! Weird shapes and highlights from your studio lights!
Without light, there is no photography. Every image would be simply black. And there'd be no life on earth...but that's besides the point. We need to understand light. Once we understand the basics of how light works and interacts with shape and color, we can then use it, work around it, or shape it.
We're skipping past a bunch of lighting basics today and going right to reflecting light. I can do other tutorials/posts on some basics of off camera light, etc. but for today we're going to assume a basic understanding of directional light in or out of studio.
A few great things about reflectors :
- They are cheap
- They are portable
- They provide directional light without needing another speedlight or strobe
- There are lots of options (size, color)
Pick up a $10-20 reflector from Amazon or your local photo store and pop it open. I recommend a 5-in-1 reflector that allows you to choose from gold, silver, black, white, and translucent (like this Fotodiox 20" 5-in-1 reflector for just over $10). Place it directly opposite your key light by having an assistant hold it, clamp it to a lightstand, tape it to the wall - whatever - positioning it directly opposite the sun, speedlight, or strobe, will offer you the most bounce-back. As you turn it from side to side, you'll lose power but it may be the look you're going for. You may want just a bit of fill...it's all personal preference. You can also move in towards or away from your subject...again, personal preference.
The silver reflector will bounce back more than the rest but can cast harsh light. Gold is similar but offers a warm tone. White is the softest and will most naturally replicate the key light. The translucent form is something you won't really reflect with...you can shoot through it or use it for double diffusion.
Think about your end goal when setting up the reflector. What are you trying to do? In the image below, I offer a simple example of a before/after to see what a silver reflector can do on your subject's face.
As you can see, there's suddenly this entire face to work with (sorry for the creepy expression) and it no longer blends into the black background. Of course, you can add a hairlight, etc. to separate your subject but then you're getting into multiple lights. Keep it simple for today. The result you prefer is just that - personal preference. I actually am more drawn to the first image without the reflector but knowing how your reflector works is significant so you can fine tune your portraits in any given environment.
The image below was shot with a reflector beneath the subject. The key light was pointed down which would usually create "raccoon eyes" and harsh shadows, but with a white reflector just out of the frame, there are very few harsh shadows on his face at all. It's a dreamy and soft effect.
Hopefully those examples help somewhat. Granted, they're in a studio environment but the same principles apply anywhere. In summary:
- Reflectors are great for fill light and do this by kicking back/reflecting a fraction of the key light (sun, strobe, etc.)
- The metallic options will be the most potent but may be harsh on the skin
- Aiming the reflector directly opposite the light source will yield the most power
- Reflectors are not really meant to replace another light when it's needed, but more often act as fill to soften shadows.
- The size of your scene determines the relative size of your reflector. AKA you're not going to use a 20" reflector for a full-body shot of 2-3 people.
That's about it...feel free to ask any questions in the comments. A few links to useful reflectors: