The Usefulness of DIY Reflectors

One tool photographers can use to great effect is a reflector. Not only does it serve to help illuminate dark areas, but you can also make some with items that you already have at home.

If you have only one light source, reflectors can provide fill light by bouncing off the light to the darker portions of the subject or the scene. Reflectors are also used as a solution to the not so pleasing effect of flash directly hitting the subject, causing too much brightness on the façade and hard shadows in the background. The flash can be bounced off at the reflector instead and the light is reflected at the subject in a more diffused way.

Reflectors are usually made up of big flat sheets that are colored white, gold or silver. These ‘sheets’ can be bed sheets, table cloths, illustration boards, plywood covered in aluminum foil, foam boards, pillow cases, and the like. If your subject is small, then a white sheet of paper or even tissue will do. Bear in mind that some of these sheets, such as the ones made of cloth, will have the tendency to crease or move with the wind. You can make them sturdier and more stretched out by framing them or you can get someone to assist you in holding the edges during the shoot. Aside from being accessible, reflectors are portable and they use up no power at all. They offer additional illumination by reflecting the light from your light source.

As mentioned earlier, reflectors are often colored white, silver or gold. Each color has a corresponding effect. White is neutral because it just reflects without making any changes. Silver provides cool tones while gold reflects warm tones. The colors also impact the hardness or softness of the reflected light. Again, white does not affect the light intensity, it just bounces whatever is reflected off it.  However, silver and gold reflectors give off harder light.

Aside from color, the size and shape of reflectors also influence how the extra light falls on the composition. Large reflectors give off softer and more diffused light while small reflectors provide more focused and harder light. Some reflectors like thin opaque plastic are flexible and can be bent to diffuse or to focus the bounced off light.

You can use these reflectors in your studio or on location. Next time you take pictures of people outdoors, try using a reflector to bounce the sunlight to light up the dimmer areas. For example, if the sun is behind your subject, a reflector can be used to light up the subject’s face which would otherwise be shadowed. They would also be ideal with still life shots. A white piece of cardboard can light up the shadowy areas of objects without you having to look for an additional light source.

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