Reflector Photography: How to Use a Dish for Stunning Portraits

Mirror Photography: How to Use a Mirror for Stunning Portraits

a guide to reflector photography

How exactly does a reflector work? And how can you use a reflector to capture beautiful portraits ?

A reflector is one of the simplest photography accessories you can buy – yet a basic, $40 reflector can make an crazy difference to your portraits. Being a seasoned portrait shooter, We never leave home without a dish, and not should you .

In this article, I explain everything you need to know to use a reflector just like a pro, including:

  • The different types of reflectors and which one you should buy
  • How to position a reflector for flattering results
  • A simple trick to create reflector photos, even when you don’t have a reflector handy!

When you’re ready to become a mirror photography expert, then let’s get started.

What exactly is reflector?

The reflector refers to any item that bounces, or reflects , gentle toward your subject. Theoretically, a reflector can be made of anything – a mirror, the hood of a car, a shiny pocketwatch – yet photographers tend to use good sized sheets of fabric that will look like this:

group of men holding a reflector

Many reflectors fold up so you can carry them with a person everywhere , and that’s part of the magic of reflectors: they’re extremely portable and take about two seconds to unpack.

But here is the real reason why reflectors are helpful:

They let you control the quality and path of the light hitting your subject – even when you’re not able to adjust the primary light source.

If you’re shooting outdoors at midday, there’s nothing you can do to alter the sun’s light, however, you can add a reflector that will softens the shadows in your subject. And if you’re firing in the studio but you can’t get the gradual light falloff you’re after, you can stay in a reflector opposite the primary light for a softer effect. Make sense?

Common reflector types

You can find reflectors in many colours and styles, but the main options are:

  • White
  • Silver precious metal
  • Gold

Many 5-in-1 reflectors offer all of the above styles, as well as two extra types:

  • Black
  • Translucent

So what’s the difference? White reflectors tend to be both soft and neutral; when you use a light reflector, you’ll get a quite flattering, even result. While silver and gold reflectors create harsher light (and gold reflectors also give a very cozy result, so they match properly with the light of the environment sun).

Black reflectors, on the other hand, aren’t actually reflectors. Instead, they make shadows, also known as negative fill , that is nice for dramatic photos but not so great if you’re after conventional portraits. Then you will find translucent reflectors, which are simply handheld diffusers – place one between your subject as well as the harsh sun, and you will get a softer effect. The latter is useful if you often take in harsh light (especially if you can’t find wonderful shade).

Unless you’re dead place on a specific reflector type, I’d really recommend you decide to go with a 5-in-1 option. They’re very cheap, and you can test out each type to determine what you like best for every situation.

Tips on how to do reflector photography: five simple approaches

In the next section, I talk about the practical details of reflecting light photography. I present how to use a reflector when shooting outdoors and in the particular studio, plus I clarify how to use natural reflectors when you’re outside.

Starting with:

1 ) Use a reflector to create fill up light

It is the simplest way to do reflector pictures: Just add more light into shadows on the subject .

This is hugely useful when you’re shooting close to midday and the harsh sun is creating shadows through your subject’s nose, eyes, and chin. And even if you’re shooting in the shade or on a cloudy day, a dish can help alleviate darker dark areas.

For the image on the left (below), We shot without a reflector – but then I added a reflector under my subject’s chin to get the image on the right:

with and without reflector examples

In the photo for the left, my subject is normally photographed in soft lighting, but there are still pretty heavy shadows under her eyes and chin. Thanks to the power of the reflector, however , We lifted the shadows for the more flattering result. If my subject were an older person with more textured pores and skin, the difference would be even more spectacular.

Note that your own subject can often hold the mirror on their own:

subject holding a reflector

2 . Use a reflector as the main light source

athletes with reflector lighting

This is one of our go-to reflector moves, plus it’s an easy way to incredible your friends and family.

You will want to start late in the day, when the sun is definitely low in the sky. Place your subject with the light hitting them from at the rear of (backlight), then use a mirror to bounce the light to their face.

You will get nice soft light on your subject, plus a dramatic rim light source on the back again of their head (thanks towards the setting sun). The gentle frontlight on your subject ought to add plenty of illumination, as the rim light should make depth and separate your own subject from the background.

It’s pretty simple to do, though you’ll have to position yourself so the gentle doesn’t go straight into your own lens and create lens flare (unless you like that look, of course! ).

using a reflector example

In the photo over, the sun is hitting the left side of my subject’s face and arm, while the reflector bounces some of the sunlight back to light up her face.

the reflector in action

Note that, by changing the distance between your reflector and your subject, you can achieve different effects. For the example above, I positioned my subject against a tree, while a friend shown a spot of sunlight from about 10 feet aside. At that distance, the sunshine from the reflector looked a lot more like it was coming from a grid spot or snoot (hard light) – in other words, it was the focused and dramatic light beam (notice the dramatic light falloff on her legs). Whereas the photo of our subject in the grass (above) used a closer mirror for a softer effect.

Pro tip: For any slight variation on this method, you can move the reflector slightly behind the subject and compose a profile photo. You’ll get a dramatic edge light on the face:

using a silver reflector

3. Use a reflector to block lighting

If you’re shooting on a sunny midday, it often helps to work in the shade – but what if you discover gorgeous, shady light, aside from a pesky sunbeam that will finds its way with the leaves?

Don’t make any adjustments, and the sunbeam will create an ugly spot of overexposure on your subject. But thanks to a reflector, you can block out the light and still get a good shot. (A light-blocking mirror is sometimes called a flag or a gobo ).

A few years ago, I was doing a maternity portrait photoshoot in a local park. I found some nice, shaded light, yet a bit of sunlight was streaming through the leaves. My reaction was to block the sunshine with my reflector, this is why below:

using a diffuser maternity shoot

That way, I was able to obtain a beautiful final result:

woman maternity shoot

Bottom line: Reflectors aren’t just for reflecting light! They could also obstruct stray lighting, which is another great reason to help keep one around.

4. Use a black reflector to create more dramatic shadows

Sometimes, you don’t want to fill shadows; instead, you want to deepen them, either to add play or depth. I use this method all the time in my headshot studio, with – you suspected it! – my reflector.

Below is really a photo of me using a white background. I have a sterling silver reflector opposite the main lighting, which has sent the light back toward my left quarter:

example with silver reflector

As you can see, the lighting on my face is very balanced , with hardly any difference between the two edges. But I often want more depth in my photograph of head portraits, so I’ll make use of my black reflector rather than my silver reflector to get this result:

example with black reflector

The lighting set up is identical, but the impact is pretty significant. The black reflector adds lots of negative fill and created a lot more interesting headshot. (You may also use this technique to give someone a photographic facelift; the shadow will trim lbs from the dark side of the face and under the chin. )

5. Use reflectors in the environment

Once you have the hang of reflectors, you will want to take your 5-in-1 dish everywhere you go, and that’s excellent.

Yet I’d also recommend a person learn to use natural reflectors. That way, if you’re ever shooting without a reflector and you require a little extra pop, you can quickly identify a nearby choice.

For instance, ever seen a white constructing getting blasted by the sun? That’s nothing but a giant reflector! Ever walk by a light car on a sunny time? That’s a reflector, as well! And you’re not enclosed to large reflectors, like cars and buildings; you can even work with white shirts, papers, sand, and more.

The more you look for organic reflectors, the more you’ll begin to see them. And pretty soon, you’ll be able to find reflectors in mere seconds .

Just who holds the reflector?

At this point, you may be stating to yourself, “Reflectors sound nice, but I don’t come with an assistant! Who’s going to support the reflector for me? ”

First, as I exhibited above, you can often inquire your subject to hold the reflector, especially if you’re using it to include fill. Alternatively, there will usually be someone nearby who will be more than happy to help, be it a family member, a wedding guest, or even a haphazard passerby.

And when you’re in the studio, or you’re outside without excessive wind, you can just appear the reflector onto a mild stand or clamp this to a tripod.

In the photo below, I used to be shooting wedding portraits on the beach in the Florida Tips. My reflector assistant that day was one of the bridesmaids, who truly enjoyed helping her friends out using their portraits.

woman holding reflector

And here is the final result:

wedding photography couple kissing

Reflector photography: final words

using a reflector child portraits

Although they may not be since impressive as strobe kits, reflectors can often yield comparable or superior results, plus they’re cheaper and easier to use.

So remember the guidelines I shared over. Learn how to work with your mirror. And capture some spectacular reflective shots!

Now over to you:

Do you plan to use a reflector? How do you plan to work it into your following photoshoot? Share your thoughts in the comments below!







  • GEAR







Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dennis Drenner

Dennis Drenner

is a Baltimore-based portrait and event photographer and photojournalist. He has photographed over 350 weddings , completed thousands of portraits , and worked for several clients such as the New York Times, Washington Post, American Red Cross, Lululemon Clothing Stores, and JP Morgan Bank. His work has won awards in the Pictures-of-the-Year competition, three Maryland State Arts Council grants and two Fulbright Fellowships.

I need help with…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *