How to Use Reflectors in Photography: 12 Tips

How to Use Reflectors in Photography: 12 Tips

Reflectors are widely used by professional photographers and filmmakers who either purchase or DIY a reflective surface. Thanks to such equipment, you can direct lighting to certain areas to take a flattering photo. While reflectors are quite cheap, they can fully transform your pictures.

How to Use Photography Reflectors for Perfect Lighting

Whether you enjoy taking photos outdoors or want to learn more about studio photography lighting, you will find this information quite helpful.

1. Choose the Appropriate Color

types of reflectors in photography colors

Translucent fabric helps diffuse light and make it softer.

Silver is handy when you need to add highlights and take a high-contrast photo. It is perfect for recording video footage, taking photos of products and stunning black-and-white pictures.

Black is handy when you need to block other light sources. Unlike other types of reflectors in photography, black ones can be used for light subtraction too.

White works nicely if you need to use the fill light to get rid of shadows and use neutral lighting for your pics.

Gold is great for warming up your model’s skin tone and casting golden light over your subject.

Those who need to use reflectors of different colors can purchase the reflectors that come in 4-in-1 and 5-in-1 colors.

2. Choose the Appropriate Size

types of reflectors in photography size

You’re probably asking yourself: “What size reflector should I buy?”. A reflector board comes in many sizes that are suitable for specific types of photography.

10-14-inch reflectors don’t take much space. They are especially great when it comes to macro photography or taking pictures of products for ads.

20-42-inch reflectors enjoy wide popularity among photographers. They are suitable for all types of headshots. While they are quite big, they can still be considered as portable as they are easy to fold. You can use them with or without a reflector stand.

52-inch reflectors allow for taking fantastic 3/4 length portraits and capturing small groups of people.

42 x 72-inch reflectors are useful when you need to take a full-length picture, or take a photo of large groups.

Keep in mind that larger reflectors are designed to provide softer light. So, if you opt for a smaller one, shadows will be more prominent.

3. Use a Reflector for Fill Light

how to use reflectors in photography fill light

Most people need a reflector to eliminate shadows when they put the light source in front of or above a model. For portrait photos, you need to put a reflector on the floor or ask a model to hold it on their lap. It will help avoid shadows under the eyes.

It is easier than to hold a reflector opposite the source of light. If you don’t know how to use reflectors in photography, pay attention to this tip as it is great when you need to make the person’s wrinkles less visible and brighten their eyes.

4. Use a Reflector as a Key Light

how to use reflectors in photography key light

If you decide to use a reflector as a key light, it can reflect natural or artificial light and cast it on a model. This way, you can add depth to your photos without using expensive equipment. You can read in detail about this technique in my article that offers useful backlit portrait tips.

To use a reflector in this way, you need to put the light source behind your subject. A reflector will reflect the light and cast it on your model’s face. The light will get softer while creating a stunning effect around a person’s head. However, it’s vital to take a position that will help you avoid the light coming into your lens and producing the lens flare effect.

This reflector position works especially well in combination with golden hour photography. This combo will create soft lighting and catchlights in the eyes.

5. Use a Reflector as a Flag

fixthephoto portrait retouching before after fixthephoto portrait retouching before after

If you have a black reflector, it’s possible to use it as a flag to block the unwanted reflected light. For instance, many photographers have issues with the light reflected in water, glass or metal surfaces. Occasionally, a similar problem occurs when you try taking photos near trees on a sunny day and need to block sunbeams.

Another advantage is that it will help you protect your subject from direct sunlight when you take photos outdoors on a hot day.

6. Use a Black Reflector to Create Shadows

how to use reflectors in photography creating shadows

If you need to make shadows more prominent, you can use a black reflector as it absorbs light better. It is one of the best reflectors for photography. Such equipment can be used as a negative fill and it will make the shade contrast 1.5 stops higher.

Thanks to this technique, we could enjoy the iconic photo of Steve Jobs where he holds his hand on his chin. A photographer put a black reflector to the Jobs’ side, thus creating a deeper shadow on his face.

Besides making your photos more dramatic, this technique is useful for taking flattering photos as it allows you to make a person’s face look less wide and to hide the second chin.

7. Use Reflector to Diffuse Light

how to use reflectors in photography diffusion

Even if you take photos inside or in the shade, you might still want to soften the shadows. It is quite easy if you use a white photography reflector with stand.

This method is especially useful for all photographers who specialize in children and newborn photography. It can also help you take better children portraits if you work outside.

It might be dangerous for children with sensitive skin to be exposed to sunlight. That’s why you can use a white reflector as a light diffuser. By putting it over or in front of a child, you can soften the lighting and take a beautiful portrait.

White reflectors can also be used for creating catchlights and highlighting the child’s eyes.

8. Use Reflector with Artificial Lighting

how to use reflectors in photography studio

While taking studio photos, it’s impossible to work without a reflector. If you are interested in useful headshot photography tips, try putting a reflector on the opposite side of your model from the main light. This way, you won’t need to set up multiple light sources and will obtain the perfect light ratio. Thus, you will be able to reduce shadows and easily adjust your main light to take a great photo.

This tip will be especially useful for those who can’t afford to spend money on expensive equipment and don’t own a studio lighting kit.

9. Use Natural Reflectors or DIY a Reflector

If you are on a budget, you can opt for other ways of obtaining equipment that is similar to reflectors. For instance, you can experiment with DIY photography lighting techniques or find a replacement for a reflector outside.

Many objects can serve as natural reflectors. That’s why you need to learn how to use a reflector in bright sunlight. Walls and buildings painted in light colors, the pavement, light-colored cars, mirrors and windows can help you improve lighting for your photos. It’s better to use these reflective surfaces on sunny days.

If you wear white clothes, the light will bounce from it on your subject. It might be quite useful in case you need to highlight the person’s eyes. This way, even if you don’t see any natural reflectors in the area, you will still be able to take fantastic pictures.

10. Use Reflectors as Backdrops

how to use reflectors in photography backdrop

I have explained in detail how light reflectors can be used traditionally. However, there are many other appliances. For instance, a reflector might come in handy if you need a portable backdrop. If its size is large enough, you can use them to reduce background noise. If you own a 5-in-1 reflector, you can use it as 5 different backgrounds.

This option might be especially handy for those who specialize in portrait photography. You just need to choose a color that matches the color scheme of the shooting location and the model’s clothes.

11. Take Distance into Account

how to use reflectors in photography distance

Don’t forget to check the distance from a reflector to your model. If you put a reflector closer, it will be able to reflect more light. When you need to make lighting softer to take a perfect portrait photo, try putting the reflector right near your subject. However, if you need to use the harder light, set it farther so that there is a long distance between them.

It’s important to consider the size of a reflector as well. If it’s quite large, lighting will be softer. Smaller reflectors are helpful when you need to use the harder light.

12. Consider Who’s Going to Be Holding It

When you purchase a reflector, you need to decide how to set it up. If you have an assistant, the task might be pretty easy. Otherwise, you can learn how to use a reflector by yourself, ask your model to hold it or purchase a reflector stand.

As for me, I prefer working with my assistant. It is quite convenient if you need to take a photo of a moving subject or if you work outside in different locations. If you don’t change your location often, it might be better to use a stand. It is especially important when a reflector is big and you need to place it above your subject’s head. It might prove to be impossible to hold a reflector in this position for too long in your hands.


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Sunny Day

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