go buy a reflector, now. an experiment with a reflector

I’ve previously talked about how the placement of external flashes can have drastic effects on how images turn out. The type, configuration, and strength of your lighting can affect all sorts of things including, but not limited to: contrast and white balance. If you want to, see this post about flash placement and to see pictures of how it’ll affect your images.

Today, I want to talk about the reflector. You know, the thing you see a lot during photo shoots? For many years, I used to think that a reflector would do absolutely nothing for me in terms of improving the quality and visual appeal of my images, but I was dead wrong. I made the incorrect assumption that reflectors were only needed for portrait photography and wouldn’t help me in any other way. For a while, I was interested in doing some portrait photography, so I went ahead and bought one of the cheapest all-in-one reflectors I could find. I knew I wanted something portable, because I would be doing most of my shooting in either secluded areas or places that required travel. For the most part, I didn’t need anything for illuminating too large a swath of area, so I went with the Fotodiox 5-in-1 22” Premium-Grade Professional Collapsible Disc Reflector.

The reflector gets the job done, I’ve had no problems with it, and it’s versatility impresses me. At it’s heart is a diffusor panel, which is great for buffering out a harsh flash or holding out in the sun to make sure things don’t get blown out too much. It also has four different colors: black, white, gold, and silver, which are easy to change with a quick unzip, flip, and zip-up.

The 22" Fotodiox reflector

The 22″ Fotodiox reflector

Here are the things that I want to point out as things that I’ve learned from owning a reflector:

  • Product photography benefits a lot from the same treatment as portrait photography, so having a reflector or diffusor in this case is extremely helpful. I love using it to fill in the shadows in areas where light just won’t reach.
  • Reflectors are awesome outside and are great light modifiers, just like a white piece of cardboard would be. The sun usually creates very harsh shadows and if you’re looking to lighten those up, get a reflector. With that said, reflectors are also brilliant for indoor product or portrait shots, depending on your lighting situation and the tone you want to set.
  • Reflectors bounce light like crazy. It does exactly what it sounds like – reflects light, as long as you’re using the white, gold, or silver side. A lot of the time, I’ll fire my external flash right up at my reflector and use the reflector to both soften, diffuse, and bounce the light in the direction I want it to go. This way, I don’t have to keep manipulating my flash unit.
  • Tip: the reflector, especially when you’re using a light source like the sun, needs to be a lot closer to your subject’s face than you would think. Experiment and see what works best for you.
  • Black: it’ll prevent light from bouncing back. White: bounces light back in a relatively neutral manner. Gold: Bounces light back with a slight yellow-green tint and acts like a warming filter. Silver: It’s a little stronger than the white side, but I find it preserves more details and diffuses a little less. It’s still relatively neutral like the white, but leans a little toward the cooler side.

In the pictures below, I’ve placed the reflector about 45 degrees to the right behind the product and I have a Yongnuo YN560-III on the left pointed at 45 degrees and a Minolta Auto 200x on the right pointed at 45 degrees.