When asked what the most important element is in creating a great portrait, most photographers will always say light. Sure, having an engaging subject and an awesome location helps, but when it boils down to it, the light will make or break an image.
One of the most versatile and inexpensive tools for manipulating light that you can pick up is a reflector. Often when photographers are shooting portraits outdoors without any artificial light they run into the problem of either exposing an image for the subject’s face and blowing out the background or exposing for the background and then the subject’s face ends up too dark. Another potential problem is that the sun can create some really harsh shadows on the subject’s face, especially under the eyes and under the nose, which can be quite unflattering. A reflector comes in handy to be able to place in front of your subject to bounce the light back onto them so that you still get that awesome backlight and proper exposure on their face.
Reflectors can also be useful in a indoor studio setting. For instance if you are using window light for your portrait, you might not be able to get enough light on the subject’s face, but placing a reflector just outside of the frame at a 45-degree angle facing can help fill the light in and soften the shadows. The same thing can be applied when using strobes or continuous lighting.
When shopping for a reflector, you’ll find that they come in a multitude of shapes and sizes depending on your wants and needs, but a good place to start is one that’s big enough to cover one to two people, but small enough that one person can hold it, whether that be the photographer or an assistant. A favorite among photographers is the Westcott 40 inch 5-in-1 Reflector. This one is great because it gives you different color options as well as being a great size. There are many different color combinations out there, but here’s a basic rundown of what different colors can be used for:
Gold – Adds warmth to your photo
Silver – Highly reflective, cooler tone
White – Creates a softer reflection, easier on your subjects eyes as well
Translucent Fabric – Diffuses light, great for creating shady spots
Black – Pulls light from the image, good for blocking light
Having a reflector on hand can also be useful for temporary shade on a hot day, a surface to change gear on, something to block the wind, and even a back drop if it’s big enough! What other uses have you found for your reflector?