It’s Not Like Buying Underwear

You’ve head the old saying, no two things are created equal, well the same holds true for photography reflector fabric screens. Some are cheaply made and then you have the higher-quality controlled California Sunbounce fabric screens, which come in many colors and characteristics. The most common fabric reflectors screens come in white, silver, and gold, plus silver and gold combined like zebra stripes.

Sunset Cozumel Sunbounce Reflectors

Rolando used California Sunbounce reflectors at his first exotic photography workshop in Cozumel in the Fall of 2003.

A white reflector is designed to give a subtle fill of shadows, or a “kick” of light that doesn’t totally eliminate shadows, but merely softens them. The quality of the reflected light is softer, more romantic, and provides less contrast than a silver or gold, or in the case of my favorite reflector fabric from Sunbounce is the “zebra” fabric screen.

While there are many brands of reflectors that sell the silver and gold combo, the best and the favorite of many top professional photographers is the California Sunbounce Zebra. One reason is because it’s handmade in Germany and the frame it fits on is durable and lightweight.

Their zebra photography reflector fabric screen is a combination of silver and gold in a herringbone pattern. A pattern designed to not appear on your subject’s skin, no matter how close you place the reflector to the subject. Plus, their pattern provides a 400K (Kelvin) reduction in the original light source, thus, a 5000K (midday sunlight) becomes 4600K, or a tad warmer than clear, neutral, boring light.

California Sunbounce notes their Zebra fabric outsells all their reflector surfaces two to one. Personally I like the fact that this combination of silver/gold provides a tad less of intensity and contrast found in the silver or gold solid surfaces. The amount of contrast produced by the zebra fabric is what I prefer for most of my photos. This fabric screen provides a bit more contrast than white, but less contrast than silver, a third the warmth of gold, thus a perfect match for photographing models or even children, that’s why zebra takes the “best of show” award when it comes to reflectors.

On occasion, I might switch to a solid gold reflector because gold provides intense warmth needed to cancel the cool light found in open shade outdoors. When you place a model under a tree, roof overhang, or a shaded area outdoors, the light is going to range from 6000K o 7500K, or a cold, blue light. A gold reflector from California Sunbounce is designed to reduce the light temperature by 1200K. So if my assistant “grabs” natural sunlight and directs it with the reflector onto my subject, the bluish cast will cancel out. This works great when a model poses slightly indoors through a doorway or open window.

If you decide to go with a silver California Sunbounce reflector, it will provide a harsher, stronger light. Silver creates harder shadows too, so normally it’s best to switch to silver when you have to increase the distance between the subject and reflector due to shooting conditions, and/or, if you want to keep your light temperature neutral. This also helps to outline or define lines or curves, and to make the highlights sharp and crisp. Silver is great for edge or rim lighting on the sides of your subject or for a backlight or hair-light.

The key to reflector surfaces or fabrics is to understand what each surface type will provide. White provides soft and subtle quality of light used to fill or soften shadows. Zebra is double the white effect plus a slight increase in contrast and intensity and added warmth. Gold adds a pinch more contrast and warms the light even more and is ideal in open shade and indoor areas. Silver provides the most contrast, no added warmth and is the surface that will give you distance when needed as it’s the most powerful reflector.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Please feel free to comment and share. It’s about spreading the gospel of photography. Thanks, Rolando.


Rolando Gomez is a professional photographer and author of five photography books that has traveled to 44 countries for assignments. The former soldier and U.S. Army combat photographer has taught hundreds of photography workshops for almost two decades. A 2016 and 2017 Top Writer for Quora, his partial credits include NewsweekParadePlayboyRangefinderMaximRangefinderNew York TimesStars & Stripes, and various other publications. You can find more of his work on AmericanoDream.com.  
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