Master the Reflector lighting tool


Master the Reflector lighting tool

 It is such a simple tool, yet so diverse. It can add a subtle or overwhelming effect to your image.

 Reflectors are pretty diverse, they can be a high end device like the Suncatchers or a simple white sweater.

 A reflector works with existing directional light.  Reflectors can be matte or highly reflective. They can be white, silver, gold or even black.

 I know black doesn’t reflect, its an absorbing reflector, sucking up the light. I will explore this more fully in an upcoming post.

 Select your reflective surface, silver or white, matte or reflective, based on your image needs.

 Silver reflectors, which act like mirrors, bounce back a cool specular light, giving you a hard edge to the light. White reflectors give a softer more natural look.

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 Angling the reflector is a bit like playing pool. It’s a chance to use your old Trig math skills. Essentially, whatever angle the light hits the reflector surface at is the angle it bounces away.

 Working with a bright light hitting a highly reflective surface you can dramatically see what the light is doing. You need to be a bit more observant with a weaker light and a matte reflector.

 The reflector, as a fill light source, should be subtle. If the effect is obvious, then you have over done it. Unless you are looking for drama, then the reflector actually becomes the main light.


 The common mistakes to working with reflectors are:

Placing the reflector too low. It can create secondary shadows that look odd and add out of place catch lights in the eye.

 Wrong reflector type. For example: using a polished silver reflector in a soft light setup. The fill light gives a crisp lighting effect in the shadows, so the eye goes there. Or its a warm reflector filling a coolly lit subject.

 Having the reflector too close or too far. Too close to the subject can make it too bright or unnatural looking and being too far away from the subject it can lose any effect you hope for.

 On location you can use what is at hand. For example; I used a white sweater when I was photographing my grandmother when she was in her late 80’s. We were working with window light and I needed the shadows softened. It was a bit comical though; every time the sweater was brought closer to reflect the light, she thought she was supposed to put it on.

 I have used people with white shirts or jackets as living reflectors, even white car doors angled to bounce the light. In one case we used a tall white building by moving my subject closer to it.


 In my studio I often use a large diffusing screen when I light my subject. To dramatically open up the shadows I have the raw light from the flash spill over the diffuser edge so it can hit the white reflector board on the opposite side of the subject. When I was photographing a watch among some chains I used a mirror to kick a hard edge back light to the rusty chains. Mirrors make exciting reflectors.

 When I photographed beverages with a coloured liquid we would put a strip of white or silver reflector behind the bottle to lighten up the look of the liquid.

 A friend used to break up mirrors so he wound up with oddly shaped shards of mirrors. He would use the uneven mirror shape to bounce a hard edge bright light into a shadowing image; usually on the subjects face or eyes.

 Reflectors make for a very inexpensive lighting tool in your kit. They can add incredible dimension to your image. They are the pinch of spice that will transform your image into something amazing.

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