What Is a Reflector for Photography and How to Use It

Did you know that a reflector can really improve the lighting of your photos?

Photography is an art. Dedication and daily practice brings a lot of knowledge, it is necessary to study the place where the photo will be taken to achieve a good final work.

Having a fair amount of lighting in the photo scene is essential for taking good shots. Natural light (the sunlight) should be used in favor of the photo subject/object. There are some accessories that can really help to correct bad lighting when you’re photoshooting.

Reflectors are very useful accessories to correct scene lighting. There are reflectors for outdoor and indoor photography, they are produced in different colors for different types of photo scene.

Different Types of Reflectors in Photography
Man Positioning a Reflector for Photography

In this post you will discover what is a reflector for photography, how this device works, which are the types of reflectors and how you can use them to take better photos.

Let’s get started!

A few words about light incidence in photos

Before we get into the details about reflectors, let’s understand the two types of lighting used in photography: hard light and soft light. Those concepts are important for the topic being covered here.

Hard light and soft light are the extremes of light quality. The hard light comes straight from the source (the sun) and the soft light bounces or refracts the hard light.

The main feature of hard light is the well-defined shadows and the very bright illuminated parts that it produces in a photo, it is easy to know where the shadows begin and end. In addition, photos taken under hard light have a high contrast range.

Soft light produces when the sun light passes through an element such as a cloud or a glass window, so the hard light (from the sun) loses its intensity and reaches the element that it’s lighting in the form of small dispersed rays. This causes an effect completely different from hard light, resulting in a diffused lighting with softer shadows and less contrast.

Now let’s talk about reflectors.

Types of Reflectors for Photography and Their Purposes
Reflector Being Used in Photoshoot of a Street Wedding

What is a reflector for photography

A reflector is an object that has different sizes, shapes and colors and is used to
soften the shadow areas caused by “hard” or excessive light where you’re shooting photos. This accessory allows you to lighten or soften shadow areas of your photo subject/object regardless of whether you’re in a studio or in open spaces (outdoors). Reflectors are essential to improve the quality of the photos because they work on its lighting, and aim to improve the ambient light by correcting light excesses and by emphasizing details in the photo.

Different types of reflector and their purposes

There are many types of photography reflectors, they are categorized by color and each one suits a different purpose:

Black Reflectors

This type of reflector absorbs excessive white light and attenuates the most extreme colors. Although it’s hard to see, ordinary fluorescent lights emit green light. The problem is that if the green light gets in contact with the white light produced by camera flashes, it can cause color distortions, yellowish effects in darker tones like brown and purple and a series of chromatic aberrations.

How to Use Photography Reflectors
Silver Reflector (On the Ground) Next to Photography Umbrellas (On Tripods)

Even the sunlight can be an obstacle because it is reflected by mirrors, cars and metals in large urban spaces, which damages some photos. So the Black Reflector can absorb those bad reflections and guarantee an ideal photo lighting.

White Reflectors

This type of reflector can enlarge the camera flash, bounce the light and project dark spots with delicacy, producing neutral colors. It should be used in places with disproportionate light, low light and low dispersion. Many objects need color neutrality, such as metallic objects, clothes with strong colors and excessive contrast. The White Reflector keeps the neutrality and relevance of the photo focus subject/object.

Silver Reflectors

The Silver Reflector does not alter white shades in the photo, it has a stronger and clearer reflection that only accentuates the photo highlights, giving it more outline and vibrancy. This type of reflector is used to target objects that make a difference in the photo and to highlight accessories such as necklaces, earrings, shoes, bracelets and even details on clothes.

Gold Reflectors

Photos taken on cloudy days or places under low light usually get a background with intense white, reducing the colors’ contrast. With a Golden Reflector, this issue can be solved because this type of reflect makes colors warmer, producing effects similar to the natural lighting of the sunset and the sunrise, which enhances the skin color of people in the photo scene and increases the contrast ranges, highlighting the photo focus subject/object.

Translucent Reflectors

Continuous light such as spotlights and torch flashes usually generates thick and unnecessary shadows that can be easily reduced by a Translucent Reflector. With this accessory, extreme shadows are minimized or even removed altogether. This type of reflector is better for closed spaces (indoors) and photo studios.

Chroma Key Reflectors (Green and Blue)

Chroma Key Reflectors allow you to edit the background of your image with computer software. However, you need to position it correctly and have adequate lighting at your disposal between your subject and the infinite background. That makes it easier for your editing software to recognize the existence of an infinite background. Chroma Key Reflectors can have either a Green Screen or a Blue Screen, both of them work the same way.

What Are Reflectors in Photography and Their Benefits
Man Holding Camera Under a White Reflector (Top Right Corner)

Tips to use reflectors correctly

You can use reflectors in many different ways to get better results in your photo shootings:

Using reflectors as the main light source

A Silver Reflector has a stronger reflection and it can be used as the main light source. If you’re taking photos of a person, for example, the Silver Reflector as the main light will turn the sunlight into a support light to emphasize the person’s hair.

This lighting setup can also be replicated in a studio using a hard light source in the backlight above your subject’s head (the person you’re taking photos of) in a direct line and opposite to the camera’s positioning. Remember that in this backlight setup, it is essential to use a sun visor on your camera lens.

Using reflectors as Fill Light

Fill Light is the term to name a light source used to reduce the contrast of a photo scene. You can use a reflector as Fill Light, the results will depend on what you want to communicate through your photo. The distance between the reflector and the focus subject/object of your photos will determine the contrast range of your shots: the further away the focus subject/object is from the reflector, the greater the photo contrast will be.

For this setup, you need to position the reflector on the opposite side of the light source, just above your photo’s focus subject/object forming an angle of 45 degrees. If you’re taking photos of a person, place the reflector above the person’s head.

Using reflectors as light diffusers

If you’re taking photos of a person and the photo scene lighting is producing heavy shadows on the person’s neck, nose or under the eyes, it is necessary to put a Translucent Reflector between the person and the main light source. In this way, the lighting level will decrease, adjusting the exposure. So, you need to pay careful attention to the photo background to avoid making it even brighter than it already is.

Using reflectors as a light subtractors

If you’re taking photos of a person, one Black Reflector can be placed one above the person’s head and another Black Reflector can be placed near one side of the person’s face, that will subtract black shadows that appear under the eyes in photos taken in the shade or under low light. This technique results in photos with soft lighting on one side of the person’s face and a light shadow on the other side, enhancing the portrait quality.

Tips to Use Photography Reflectors
Gold Reflector (Left) in Photo Studio


Great! Now you understand the importance of reflectors for photography and how this device can improve the quality of your shots very much! You also know the different types of reflectors are and how to apply many techniques to make the best use of them in your photo shoots. So don’t hesitate to put what you’ve learned into practice!

You can also share your thoughts in the comments below!

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