How a Simple Light Reflector Can Make a Big Impact on Your Portraits

Irrespective of the high-end, modern-age photography gear you own, nothing beats the charm of an analog film camera. Film cameras have been used for decades to churn out some of the best, classiest portrait photography. Even today, quite a lot of photographers opt for conventional film cameras for portrait photography.

Like any other genre of photography, portraiture requires add-on photography equipment – apart from the film camera itself. While we have all the expensive gear in place, we tend to miss out on the cheapest yet most effective equipment – a reflector! So today, we will be talking about everything you need to know about reflectors and how they can have a significant impact on your portraits. Let’s get started.

What is a Reflector?

A reflector does what its name suggests – it reflects light. It is a simple tool that helps a photographer manipulate light by providing an additional surface for the light to bounce off. A reflector does not create light, but it simply directs or redirects the existing light from a source. The best part about reflectors is that they are super inexpensive and can form part of your photography kit, irrespective of the budget.

Now there are different types of reflectors, and you are free to choose one that fits your photoshoot requirements well. Take, for example, the silver reflector – with this reflector, the highlights will be more specular. Anything shiny in the frame will be further accentuated, thanks to the cool light from silver reflectors. Likewise, a gold reflector adds a warm tone to the image. It almost imitates the sun and gives the subject a subtle, warm glow.

Depending on the lighting conditions in the shoot, you can also choose to reflect light from a flash or natural light from the sun. However, if there’s abundant natural light flooding the scene, you might want to use a reflector to reflect the sunlight. Using a flash and a reflector to reflect light from the flash would be a better idea if the natural light isn’t enough.

Different Ways to Use a Reflector

Use a Reflector as a Fill Light

The whole purpose of a reflector is to help you create something magical out of ordinary light. Reflectors are perfect for fixing odd shadows, which are a common occurrence in portrait photography. The placement of the reflector depends upon where the light source is – for example, if the light is directly behind the subject, you need to place the reflector directly in front of the subject. It would help prevent a silhouette while instantly enhancing the quality of your image.

Similarly, if the light comes from any direction, place the reflector on the opposite side. It is a great technique to help fill in the shadows. There are also situations where large objects block the light. Here, placing the reactor close to the object would help.

Use a Reflector as a Catchlight

A simple yet effective use of a reflector is to add a catchlight in the eyes when shooting portraits. Catchlights created with a flash or LED can look unnatural – especially if using a beauty dish. If the portrait has a high level of detail, you can see how the subject was lit. It’s a little off-putting to see a square or hexagonal catchlight in the eye and LED ring lights to make the eyes look unnatural.

However, with the use of a reflector, the catchlight looks more natural. And the bigger the reflector the more natural that important drop of light will look in your model’s eyes.

Use a Reflector to Block Light

Natural light is an element that you cannot control, but instead, the only option you have is to make the most of it. In scenarios where too much light bounces into the frame or onto a spot where you don’t want it to be, you can use a reflector to block this excess light. Also, light bouncing off glass, metal, or water can be countered with the help of a reflector.

You can also consider using a reflector to tackle lens flare and haze. All you have to do is position the reflector to block light from hitting the front of the lens. The black reflector is the perfect equipment to block light – it creates darker shadows, which help bring out the best features of your subject.

Use a Reflector Instead of a Flash

If your shooting scene has a lot of natural light flooding across it, you wouldn’t require a flash. Instead, you could use a reflector to help concentrate this scattered light and focus it on your subject. Place the reflector opposite the glaring light source to accentuate your subject.

Here, you also have the freedom to experiment with different positions and angles, each of which will deliver different results. The best way is to try out different angles and then finalize the one that best suits the shoot requirements.

Have Your Model Hold a Small Reflector for Portraits

Getting your model to hold the reflector is a great alternative, especially if you don’t have an assistant. So make sure you explore this option as well. You would have to instruct the model on how you would want them to hold the reflector to get the best effects. Most clients are more than happy to oblige once you show them the difference a reflector can bring into their photographs.

Holding the reflector opposite the light source is not the only option – you can also consider different placements to achieve desired results. Consider under-eye shadows; to help get rid of these, you would have to place the reflector on the ground on the subject’s lap. It would instantly brighten up your subject’s eyes, giving the portrait photograph a more defined look.

By far the best approach to using a reflector is to keep it at a higher angle and level. The reflected light will come down on your subject as opposed to bouncing up at them. Keep in mind that you are using a reflector to control and replicate natural sunlight. So it makes sense to use the reflector to angle the light from the side or at a higher angle.

Experiment with every angle and review your results to build upon your skills. Trial and error is the best teacher.

Summing Up

While you can invest in different reflectors (white, black, silver, and gold), you also have brands that offer all of these in a single, foldable format. It is an even better option, as this single product will be well-suited for the dynamic requirements of portrait photography.

Reflectors are excellent tools to add depth to portrait photography. They also happen to be the perfect equipment for beginners learning the tricks of lighting in photography. They might not be as fancy as strobe kits, but yes, reflectors do deliver excellent results in different photography genres. Once you use a reflector, you’ll notice the vast difference it brings to your images. And trust us, after that, there’s no turning back!

The team at The Darkroom has 45 years of experience in photography – not to mention the culminated experience of each team member. We are in the business of bringing the best out of your film photography experiences through our expertise in developing, processing, and scanning film. If you go to the effort to use a reflector to optimize your photos, we’ll do our bit to make them shine.

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