Lighting, next to your camera and lenses, is one of the most important and expensive pieces of equipment a photographer can own. If you have the itch to buy another strobe for fill light, or you’re struggling with natural light, then you should consider buying a light reflector as an alternative.
Reflector Types and Surfaces
The most common type of reflectors on the market are made of cloth on a spring tensioned circular frame. The frame allows the reflector to be folded down to 1/4th the original size for easy storage and transportation. Foam-Cor or Gatorboard rigid foam panels are also common inside the studio but are cumbersome to transport and handle for location work.
A foldable reflector’s surface comes in 6 different finishes: silver, gold, silver/gold zebra, white, translucent, and black. A 5-in-1 foldable reflector will include all these finishes except black and are usually the best value for the price.
Silver, gold, and silver/gold zebra surfaces will reflect a sharper light, usually the perfect compliment to a sharp key light like the sun or an unmodified strobe. The gold surface will reflect a warmer light onto the subject, the silver/gold zebra surface a slightly warm light, and the silver surface a neutral light.
Matte white surfaces will reflect a diffused neutral light, great for filling in a soft key light like a softbox. A translucent white reflector will reflect a diffused light with lower intensity. Translucent reflectors are best suited as scrims to reduce the intensity and sharpness of a key light like the sun.
A black surface isn’t for reflecting at all. Black reflectors, or flags, are used to absorb light when you don’t want it. They’re great opposite your key light for contrasty, low key portraits, or for controlling spill light in a studio with white walls.
Reflectors come in many different sizes depending on their use. Foldable reflectors come in varying diameters from 8″ all the way up to 60″. Foam-Cor and Gatorboard also come in differing sizes, with 48″x96″ being the most common for studio work.
Foldable reflectors around 40″ offer the greatest amount of flexibility. They’re large enough for most situations including studio and location work while being easy to hold with one or two hands.
Smaller foldable reflectors have their place too. 12″ reflectors can fill in under the chin or on the side of the face for portraits. The smallest size, 8″, is used for table top and food photography. 8″ silver reflectors can create catch lights in the eyes that will make portraits on overcasts days come alive.
Using a reflector can be deceivingly simple. Light reflects at the opposite angle that it hits the reflector’s surface. Placing your reflector perpendicular to your key light guarantees success but what about trickier situations?
On location you may find pockets of light trough trees or other cover difficult to deal with. Reflecting light at oblique angles might seem like a challenge, but a little practice in the field should have you aiming light at your subject in no time.
Remember a reflector will act like any other light source. The closer a reflector is to a subject, the softer and brighter the light.
There are many types and sizes of reflectors that you can use in your photography. Pick one up and you’ll be shooting more vivid, well lit photos in no time.