You often need to control light when shooting portraits and reflectors are a great tool for this. Various brands make reflectors and they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours.
The left image was taken without a reflector and the right with one in-place. The difference in our studio is subtle but as you'll see from the close-ups further down the page, the shadow on the neck and chin isn't as harsh and more detail can be seen in the hair that falls under the face.
When Are They Useful
If you're shooting outside or using natural light indoors, you can find that light is much stronger on one side of the face than the other. Another problem, particularly apparent on bright, sunny days, is harsh shadows appearing under the nose, chin and if they're wearing a hat, most of the face can appear shaded. However, by holding a reflector to the side when the light on their face is unbalanced or by holding a reflector below them when you have shadows under the nose, you'll bounce any available light into these areas and as a result, the shadows will be removed.
Working On Your Own
By putting your camera on a self-timer you can hold the reflector yourself but if you can, get a friend to act as an assistant or if you're cropping in tightly the model could hold the reflector for you. Stands and reflector holders are also available if you don't have a spare pair of hands available.
Positioning The Reflector
You need to get quite close to your subject with the reflector but make sure it's not in shot. Just under your subject's face is a good place to start but do move it around as you may find a different angle will remove even more shadows.
You can use them in bounce light back into shadows, but you can also use them to create shadow too. When the sun is high in the sky doing this can make contrast control in your portraits much easier.
Above: Without reflector. Below: With Reflector.
What Type Of Reflector Should I Use?
Different types of reflectors will change how your final image looks. White reflectors are a safe bet as they work well in most situations. Silver reflectors produce a brighter, reflected light while gold ones are good when you want the light to be warmer and more subtle. However, do be careful as the effect silver and gold reflectors create can be too strong in bright light.
Reflectors usually come in two finishes, one either side, so white/silver is a great start if you don't own one yet. Some reflectors can fit different coloured covers which can be slipped over the basic reflector frame so you might find one of this type will fulfil all your reflector needs.
The fold-out reflector is the type to have as they are large when in use and fold up nice and small when you are on the move. A couple of different sizes, say 20in and 30in, should be enough for most situations.
Fancy A Bit Of DIY?
If you don't have a reflector you can create your own from tin foil and a large sheet of white card or look for a light object, such as a table, and pose your model in such a way so you can use the light that bounces back off the reflective surface in your shot.
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