Basics - Using A Reflector

No reflector was used here light is from the left only.

No reflector was used here light is from the left only.

When it comes to photography there are certain terms that are used without a thought being given to those who are new to the hobby, descriptions of how a photo was lit can often include the term reflector or reflected light but what does it mean and how does it work? I aim to address just that here.

Basic Reflector:

A reflector is in its simplest term a way of reflecting light onto your chosen subject. This can be done with specially designed reflectors made by a multitude of companies, and with multiple designs and price tags, or by using a wall or other reflective surface (you will hear quite often the term ?bounced? flash this basically means using a wall or the ceiling etc. to reflect, or bounce, the light from your flash onto your subject). It is all about moving light to where you want it.

Why use reflectors

There are a number of reasons to use reflectors to move light, one of the main reasons is in order to reduce shadows. Imagine if you will you are taking a portrait of someone, they are stood in front of you and you have a light source (a window or a flash unit) to your left, The one thing you will notice is that the side of their face away from the light is darker with strong shadows, great if that is the sort of image you are looking for but if you want that side of their face lit as well what do you do? Well you could use another light source or you could reflect the light on the left back from the right using some kind of reflective surface. Not only will this reduce the shadows but it usually produces a more diffused light.

This same technique can be used in outdoors portraits as well, when there is a lot of light, areas that would be in shadow (the underside of the face for example) can be easily lit with reflected light.

Another use is if there is limited light available, your subject is stood in shadow (for example under a tree) a reflector can again direct what light there is back onto the area of the face you want lit.

Image with reflected light

with reflector

Same shot but with a reflector Hello Kitty was used purely as it was at hand I make no claims on the copyright of the toy.

Reflector styles:

There are plenty of different reflectors available on the market, to suit all needs and all pockets. From very basic cheap reflectors to specially designed easy to hold pop up 5 in one reflectors (see our 5 in one reflector page for details of how to use one of those). In sizes from very small ones designed to be easy to transport to massive reflectors that need to be held on a stand for use. It is worth looking around to see what you require.


It can take some practice to get used to using a reflector well (it often involves getting close to the subject while keeping out of shot) and reflectors can be costly (some of the top manufacturers can charge hundreds for a reflector) but they can be fairly cheaply made at home, a simple white sheet of card will suffice at a pinch, these aren?t as maneuverable as a specially made reflector but at a fraction of the cost make a useful learning tool.

We list plenty of manufacturers of reflectors under either our Photographic lighting page or our photographic accessories page.

DISCLAIMERThe images used here are of a toy my daughter owns all copyright is with the manufacturers I am not trying to infringe on their copyright in anyway.

Ashley Beolens