A photography light reflector is essentially exactly what is sounds like. A device that reflects light, used by a photographer however in photography a light reflector can be more than a tool to bounce light around.

A light reflector is a tool used in photography to bounce a light source in another direction usually onto the photographers subject. This is done to add light to shadow areas of the subject to reduce contrast or can be used to intensify the amount of light or color of light on your subject.

Unfortunately a reflector does NOT offer its own light. It is not a stand alone light source, you will need a main light source to bounce the light off the light reflector. This can be the sun or a flash.

Although we will discuss portable light reflectors its good to note that many surfaces can be used as a light reflector such a white wall, a glass window or even a mirror.

Anatomy of a photography light reflector

The Bag

The parts of a light reflector are amazingly simple, as it is a simple photography tool. Reflectors often comes in a carry bag, of which the reflector can be folded to fit within a small space.

Ridged Outer Surface

The overall shape of the reflector is defendant on the ridged outer surface that help it keep its shape. This shape can vary but seldom differ from circular, oval, rectangle and triangular shapes.

Reflective surfaces

The reflector will have a reflective surface of various but typical colors such as;

  • Silver
  • White
  • Gold
  • Black
  • Translucent

A light reflector can have just one reflective surface or multiple surfaces. These surfaces help redirect a source of light into another direction and can also change the color temperature of the main light.

Although the translucent surface is not reflective it is usually the base or main surface attached to the ridged outer shaped surface of the light reflector.

Light Reflector Sizes

The size of a reflector varies depending on its use. In many cases a travel size reflector can range between 32 and 48 inches in diameter while in commercial use the range is wider, between a small 1×2 inch to a 8×10 feet reflector.

These handy tools can come in a variety of sized all depending on the genre of photography you are practicing.

The more popular portrait photography reflectors range between the 32 and 48 inch sizes

Photography light reflector shapes

A typical light reflector will be of four main shapes;

  • Circular
  • Oval
  • Rectangle
  • Triangle

Each of the shapes are often used differently but can be used interchangeably as well. For example portrait photographers in particular head shot photographers would prefer a circular reflector as it gives good highlights within the eyes.

However a fashion photographer would opt for a larger oval or rectangular shape is it will have the ability to bounce light over their subject entire body instead of a localized area.

The Triangular shape is a specialty reflector and is more commonly used by natural light photographers to adjust on the fly by holding one of the ends of the reflector while the shoot.

All in One or Multiple Light Reflectors

The beauty of a portable reflector is that you can have just one surface or multiple. You can have one shape or more and one size or many. What is even more awesome about portable reflectors is that you can have all surfaces in one size or the other.

The 5 in 1 light reflector is a popular reflector with photographers. Mainly because it saves on space to carry various surfaces and it allows the versatility on location to switch between the intensity of the reflected light.

There are however some larger reflectors that only come in one surface. In this instance you have to choose which color surface you will use the most. Typically for studio photographers white is the go-to surface for a larger reflector.

Environment and Non-Portable photography light reflectors

Once you have a good idea of what a light reflector is you tend to see them in everyday life. For example, have you ever had a burst of light hit your eye while walking or driving which turns out to be the sun reflecting off a window of a building or a car? Well there is an example of an environmental reflector.

White walls of buildings, the side of a bright delivery truck or in a smaller extent a white tee shirt all can act as environmental reflectors in everyday life. I have seen persons use a large sheet rock or even a white bead sheet as a reflector. All this can work well.

A non-portable reflector however can be a large piece of glass, a mirror on the wall, and those large foam boards. They are all too cumbersome to move around with, but they work great in a studio setting.

Now you know…

A photography light reflector should not be confused with a road sign reflector or a reflector of a jacket or bicycle. A photography light reflector is a tool used by the photographer to help add a bit of light and reduce the contrast of an image of their subject whether their subject may be a person or an object.