Without light we have nothing, with light we can make something out of nothing. There is one piece of equipment every photographer should have in his or her toolbox, a reflector—specifically, fabric type reflectors held by humans or light stands. Don’t confuse these reflectors with metal reflectors that attach to studio flash heads. All reflectors are modifiers of light, but unfortunately there are many myths when it comes to photography fabric reflectors. I’ll try to diffuse the four most common myths.
The first myth, reflectors are for reflecting sunlight only. Not true. Reflectors reflect any type of light whether it’s the sun itself, a flash, or even a continuous light source like tungsten or LEDs. The reflector fabric, or surface, determines how much light is reflected and to what quality that light is diffused.
As an example, the light intensity and hardness, or contrast, is higher when it comes from a silver fabric vs. a white fabric. The quality of light from a white fabric screen is softer and less intense than the light quality from a silver screen.
The second myth, reflectors are meant for outdoor use only. Not true. Reflectors are usable indoors too. If you can see light, you can reflect it. Without light we have nothing, with light we can make something out of nothing. The key to photographing a subject indoors in a photography studio is to pose your subject first, then light the pose.
Reflectors come in handy with portraits in a studio as a reflector can act as a “kicker light.” Basically you position the reflector to the side of your subject so it can capture and reflect any light fall off from the studio flash aimed at the subject. This bounce of light will help lighten shadows much like a fill light.
The third myth, reflectors only reflect light. Not true. They absorb light too. Pure white only reflects ninety percent of the light that hits it. Guess where the other ten percent goes? Nowhere, it’s been absorbed.
A photographer must understand that everything we see reflects and absorbs light, if it didn’t, we couldn’t physically see anything. So if a photographer understands there is always some amount of absorption, then we can use this to our advantage when we need to subtract light. This comes in handy for wedding photographers when it comes to photographing the bride in a white dress. Simply position a black reflector, out of camera frame, near the bride. Black absorbs approximately ninety percent of the light that strikes it, thus by placing a black reflector near the bride you will gain more detail in the final image.
I will expand on the use of black reflectors in future articles, but for now, that’s the four myths at their basics. I hope you enjoyed it, feel free to comment and share. It’s about spreading the gospel of photography. Thanks, Rolando.