Using a Reflector for Portrait Photography

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reflectorA reflector can be a great tool to help improve the lighting for your photography.  Here are some tips on how to use a reflector for portrait photography.

A 5-in-1 reflector kit can be purchased relatively inexpensively.  This kit will include a silver, gold, black, and white sides, along with a white translucent diffuser disc. The diffuser will be discussed in another post.   For now I’ll talk about using the reflector.

If it is just you and your portrait subject, you’ll need a light stand with a reflector arm to hold the reflector.  Watch out for wind!  If someone else is with you, volunteer them the help hold the reflector.  You’ll have a free assistant!  I much prefer having someone hold the reflector.  It is much easier to direct a person to adjust the angle, then to have to constantly adjust the light stand.

outdoor reflector for portrait photographyOften indoors or outside, the main light isn’t enough to fill in the shadows.  I generally don’t use on-camera flash to fill in shadows unless I have no other option.  The alternative to fill in the shadows is an off-camera flash, or to reflect light into the shadows.

If the sun is bright, it is not always good to use it as your main light.  The high angle can cause dark shadows under the eyes, and the brightness can cause squinting.  An alternative is to use the sun as a backlight or hairlight.  Then, use a reflector to bounce the sunlight back into your subjects face.  If the sun is very bright, use the white reflector, if the sunlight is diffused by trees or clouds, use the silver or gold.  The silver can reflect light very well, so be careful of your subject’s eyes.  The gold reflector will give a warmer tone to the image, but can still be somewhat bright when reflecting direct sunlight.

If you do choose to use the sun as your main light, the shadows can be filled in by placing the reflector below the subject to bounce light back up towards the face.

Below are a few examples of using a reflector outdoors.  The sun is behind the portrait subjects, acting as a hairlight.  The subjects are facing open sky- this is the main light for their faces.  The reflector bounces a little extra light to fill in some minor shadows.

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When indoors using natural window light, the reflector can help bounce light onto the shaded side of the face.

For studio lighting, I almost always use one light.  A reflector can help fill in the shadows that using only one light can often produce.  If used properly, the reflector can focus additional light on the face, making it the focal point (which it should be) of the portrait.

In the example below, the main light was blocked by the brim of her hat, so a reflector was used to bring light back up into her face.

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A reflector is an excellent tool to add to your photography gear, and can help improve your portraits in various lighting conditions.

Also, check out “Using a Translucent Diffuser for Natural Light Portrait Photography”.

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