How to choose a good Light Reflector.
Most often when I’m doing a photo shoot I will use off camera flash because I like the control over light that I have and because in the end I have less editing to do on an image.
However there are times when its more convenient to shoot natural light and this is where I will have a small portable reflector with me to help in difficult situations.
Now this isn’t the only time I will use a reflector as I’ve used them in studio and outdoor with external flash units. So its safe to say that there are a few ways to use a reflector but many instances where one can help your overall image.
Types of Light Reflectors
If you are going to be a serious about your photography you will have to get serious about using reflectors.
Reflectors come in many different shapes and sizes and even in different colors or reflectivity, in a matter of speaking.
When you are outdoors and need extra light that is flattering to your subject, reflectors can help a whole lot. Portable reflectors are much more light weight than they used to be and most of them can fold up for ease of carrying.
Not to mention they are extremely low cost…cheap.
The reflectors you most likely have seen are the round and oval ones, although there are various sizes and shapes.
More on that in a bit for now its good to note that a good portable reflector should have up to 5 different panels that can be used.
Translucent, White, Black, Silver and Gold. The most common of these panel would be the silver and white, mainly because most photographers do not know when or how to use the colors but its actually quite simple.
If you are shooting in mid day sun light and have your subject in a shaded area but not getting good light on them you can use the silver panel to reflect that daylight onto your subject, its intense and can push that light further than the white panel..
If you want a softer look on your subject as the silver is very strong its best to use the white panel.
When in an area with no shade you can use the translucent panel to create your own shade. If you want to subtract some light you use the black and use the gold when you want that golden sunset look.
Light Reflectors mainly come in two different styles, collapsible or frame and panel and its good to note that the purpose of the reflector does not change merely because the type changes.
Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is up to the individual photographer to decide which he or she will use.
Some photographers may use both types in various different shapes and sizes, but again the overall purpose of the reflector does not change.
Collapsible vs Frame Reflector
The collapsible reflectors are often used by photographers that like to travel light. A small 5 in 1 reflector can take up little space when trekking into the wild with a model.
Such a reflector can be more valuable to that photographer than flash units when shooting outdoors. The draw back is that they are light and can be easily swayed by the wind even if they are attached to a reflector stand.
Also in some situations it will require you to have an assistant present to hold the reflector in place while the you make subtle adjustments in your distance and or light intensity.
The benefits however as stated is that its extremely light weight and can be carried into many places where larger items will be a hindrance. If you are by yourself it can limit you on the type of shots you can get based on distances.
An example of this is if you and your subject are in the shade but need that extra pop of light, you have a problem. You need someone to hold the reflector in the light and bounce that light on your subject under the shaded tree.
Its good to note you can get some light under a shaded tree but often its very little that can be reflected.
The frame or panel reflectors do carry a little more weight and bulk than the collapsible reflectors but the frames or panels make them more durable and stronger.
Trekking far into the woods with a panel reflector will no doubt add a few extra ounces on a long hike and will it will feel like you are carrying around extra pounds.
The good news light wind will not disturb your reflector as much as a collapsible. The draw back is that some panel reflectors can become a land sail in breezy situations and like the collapsible will require and assistant to control it.
What I do like about the framed panels is that they are often larger and can be used in a variety of ways but you will need the aid of a weighted stand or an assistant to help get things in the right position.
Once you have decided on the type of reflector you are going to use, its time to make a decision on the shape you are going to use.
The most common shape for the fordable reflectors are the circular reflector.
This is because they can reflect light smoothly onto your subject without any awkward shapes being projected and well because they are easy to narrow in on particular parts of the body or the whole body.
The circular reflector is often used to reflect light on a particular section of the model or subject such as from chest and above for a nice head shot.
Another common type is the oval reflector. These reflectors are often used when the photographer wants to reflect light on the entire body of the subject instead of pinpointing a particular section.
A circular reflector can also cover the entire body but it will have to be a large reflector. The oval reflector also can be used as a backdrop for head shots.
The square or rectangular reflector is mainly a preference by the photographer who want to simulate a window or building, this is usually depending on his or her style of shooting.
These larger reflectors are usually used in studios or indoors because they become a huge wind sail outdoors however don’t underestimate them as they can be very useful outdoors as well but with an assistant.
The triangular reflector has been gaining popularity within the photography world.
This is mainly due to the fact that the triangular reflector usually has a grip at the narrowest part of the reflector, thus allowing the photo assistant to hold it more precisely and adjust quicker. Its similar to the round reflector and usually a but more ridged.
No mater what the shape of the the reflector the purpose does not change. A light reflector is used to reflect or bounce light onto your subject illuminating any dark or shadowy areas.
If you are shooting in the early morning or the late evening with that orange type sunlight then it is best to use the gold pane.
If you want to subtract some of the light hitting your subject you can use the black panel and if you want to get diffused look on your subject you can use the translucent panel to block some of the sun light.
These simple ways of using the reflectors are basic uses, there are many other techniques you can use while utilizing the reflectors.
While reflectors are great for location photography there are some draw backs. Most often you will need an assistant to help position the reflector in the right place to capture the light and reflect it on your subject.
Since most location photographers when they are just starting out will be by themselves this poses a problem. There is a way to fix this, you can use a tripod with a reflector arm holder in place of that assistant.
That solves the assistant problem but now you’re faced with another. The reflector holder becomes unstable and is easily swayed by just a little breeze. Its not consistent.
So what do you do? should you give up?? Of course not! Your not the first person that this has happened to so by nature human beings will find a way to make life easier, hence better reflectors were made.
One of the most versatile light reflectors I have come across is the sunbounce reflector. Its light weight but not flimsy, its durable yet versatile and when placed on a tripod will not move with light or moderate wind.
If you are going to be a serious location photographer it is best to have good equipment.
Flimsy equipment will break sooner or later causing you more money to replace, however if you purchase good durable equipment at the beginning then you have no need to worry about buying the same equipment over and over again.
Finding a reflector that will work for you wont take as long as you think. The biggest type that is often purchased are the circular 5 in 1 reflectors. Most photographer would get on as a test and just stick with it. Its worth having one around as they can be used for many helpful situations.