Improving Your Lighting with a Reflector

Written by Backdrop Express Photography Team on . Posted in Photography Tips, Studio Equipment, Studio Lighting

Improving Your Lighting with a Reflector | Backdrop Express Photography Team Photo lighting is an art form unto itself; without it, those magical images you love to create wouldn’t be possible. Photo lighting can be completely natural, artificially orchestrated, or somewhere in between. Whether you’re out in direct sunlight or working with studio lighting, one of the most effective tools for enhancing and fine-tuning photography lighting is the reflector.

Reflector Options

If you’re new to using reflectors, doing so can be overwhelming initially. There are a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors on the market, ranging from large to tiny; they’re available in oval, round, rectangular and even triangle shapes. Colors can be white, silver or gold, or a combination of colors. There are also multi-pack and 5-in-1 reflector products. Your size choice should be based upon your subject matter size, but anything above 36″ is a pretty versatile choice. As for color, white is mid-range, silver is highly reflective, and gold offers a much warmer tone.

Reflector Colors


Metallic gold casts a radiant, warm light, so use it carefully and sparingly. Some reflectors feature both white and gold together in alternating bands to help tone down the warmth a bit.



If you’re a beginner, a silver reflector is a great tone to start off with, as you’ll be able to see its effects and results easily. (White is much more subtle and has almost no effect in low lighting situations.) Silver is excellent whenever more light is needed; however, avoid using it in strong existing light such as bright sunlight.


Once mastery of a silver reflector is achieved, you can “graduate” to a white reflector. White is many photographers’ most-used color, as it casts a clean, soft, all-purpose light.


The back sides of reflectors are usually black; these surfaces can be used as “flags” to offset light and cast artful shadows in the image as desired. It is used when there’s too much light and some of it needs to be cut back. There’s also a diffuser in the center of some reflector frames; this translucent material can be used to soften sunlight or raw strobe lighting that’s directed at the subject.

When put to use, reflectors can be mounted with a stand, held manually by an assistant or the subject, or leaned against something nearby. (Take care not to blind yourself or your subject with reflected lighting, especially if outdoors in full sun!) Ideal positioning is key; the larger the light source, the softer the lighting will be on the subject. It all depends upon what sort of result you’re looking for. Experiment with different distances in varied lighting conditions to see what’s possible.

Using Reflectors in the Studio

Reflectors can help to streamline things in the studio. Instead of using multiple lights and worrying about adjusting their ratios just perfectly, a reflector can be placed opposite one studio light on the other side of the subject. Using this technique guarantees that the ratio of the fill light will be ideal and align perfectly with adjustments made to the light. Combining reflector use with a soft box on the opposite side can yield some beautiful results. Still another option with studio lighting is to bounce the light from a flash off of the reflector.

Improving Your Lighting with a Reflector | Backdrop Express Photography Team

Optimizing Natural Light

If you’re shooting outdoors in overcast conditions, a reflector under the subject’s face can make a world of difference, eliminating shadows beneath the eyes. Even the most beautiful natural lighting can be dampened by a dark element in the shot such as dark grass or asphalt, and this darkness can cause shadowed areas on the subject. Angling a reflector on the ground close to the subject can help to offset this effect. You can also use it as a key light for directing sunlight into an otherwise shady area. Of course with lighting, sometimes less is more, so use your discretion when deciding whether or not to fill a shot.

Many photographers consider reflectors a simple and affordable way to optimize photo lighting both indoors and out. With a wide range of sizes, shapes, colors and materials to choose from, there’s one for every style and preference. Pick one up and get started — or pick up several. You’ll be glad you added this versatile and effective tool to your studio and on-location arsenals.

Do you prefer shooting portraits in the studio or on location?

-Backdrop Express Photography Team

Interested in reading more about photographic light modifiers? Check out How to Use Photo Umbrellas!

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