How to use a reflector to control natural light

Photography tips: how to use a reflector

Photography tips: how to use a reflector

A reflector is undoubtedly a handy piece of kit, but when it comes to portrait photography it’s absolutely essential. Shooting outdoors using natural light can be tricky, with the position of the sun often causing harsh and unflattering shadows. Fill-in flash will help, but if you want natural or warm tones a reflector will help to lift shadows, apply effects and tackle tricky light conditions.

Reflectors are available with many different surfaces, such as gold (which adds a warm glow to faces) and white (which helps to lift shadows and balance light). You can even get reflectors with multiple surfaces.

Whatever style of reflector you go for, here are a few easy techniques you can use to quickly lift your shots.

How to use a reflector for different effects


How to use a reflector - step 1

Lift the shadows
To help lift ugly shadows cast by strong outdoor light, try holding a white reflector at an equal angle between the light source (the sun) and your model. If the sun is high in the sky, position the reflector at chest height to help lift shadows under your subject’s eyes.

How to use a reflector - step 2

Getting warmer
A gold reflective surface can be used to add an attractive warm glow to your subject’s face. Depending on the brightness of the light, take a step back from your model to ensure that the influence of the reflected colour doesn’t turn natural skin tones orange or yellow.

How to use a reflector - step 3

Add sparkle to eyes
Eyes can often get lost in outdoor portraits, but a simple catchlight effect will add an attractive sparkle. To get the effect, use the silver or white sides of your reflector. Move it so that the reflected light catches the eye, creating highlights in the dark pupils.

How to use a reflector - step 4

Diffuse the light
In a similar way to a softbox used with a traditional indoor studio lighting set-up, a diffuser can be used to soften the light and reduce harsh shadows created by the sun (check out our 3 stupidly simple lighting techniques for your indoor studio). Simply position the diffuser between the light source and your model to gently soften the light’s effect.


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