The telltale way of finding out how a shot was lit is to look in the eyes to see the light source.  In this case you can see the specular highlights from the window light and my reflection in the subjects eyes. To be honest it takes me a long time to write a post, writing is not a strong point of mine. If you can’t afford to get a top quality three light system, the best option is to buy just ONE good quality light (rather than 3 cheap—and mostly useless—lights). You could light an entire set, with as many light sources as you want, with only one actual light and homemade or inexpensive photography reflectors. We are always looking for more interesting and insightful photography tips and techniques to share with our readers. The first thing any portrait photographer learns is that lighting will make or break your image. For a short tutorial on how to use both the gold and silver reflectors, check out this AdoramaTV video with veteran photographer Rick Sammon. Oh no!  What do you do when you are photographing and it’s just way too contrasty?  Or when the sun is right over head and you want to avoid those “raccoon eyes”?  Reflectors are the best way to combat both of these issues!  And they are super easy to use!
There are many different sizes and shapes of reflectors.  For the purposes of this post, we will talk about the two that we use here at Frameable Faces, the full sized 48”x72” stand up reflector and our on-location reflector, also known here at our studio as Reflecto (He’s about a 36” disc reflector).
The reflector gently fills the shadows on the subjects face without “flattening” the final image, so you can still get the true “depth” of the face and the facial features.  You can use the reflector on any color background, just make sure that it’s close enough to the subject to successfully bounce the light onto him or her, but not so close that it will be a photoshop nightmare to clone out the shadows on the floor.  Trust me, that’s not fun! If you are using the reflector on a black or white background, it is easier (in my opinion) to move the reflector closer to the subject, allowing a more intense bounce light.
With a little bit of practice, it’s pretty simple to use reflectors to implement soft fill light into your photographs.  But what if you don’t have a reflector already? Depending on how much, or how little, light needs to be reflected (or blocked in some cases), a homemade or purchased reflector can definitely help take your photography to the next level. Ally Cohen is a co-owner of Frameable Faces Photography with her husband Doug in the Orchard Mall in West Bloomfield, MI.
When it comes to portrait photography, one of the simplest and easiest things you can do to improve your images coming straight out of the camera, is using a reflector.
5-in-1 reflectors typically come with a pop-up diffuser, and then a reversible zippered pouch to fit over the diffuser that includes white, silver, gold, and black sides. All that said, I’m a visual learner, and need to actually see something in order to understand it best. I started by having Courtney hold the white side of the reflector under her face, about chest-high (above right). Then we flipped the reflector to the gold side, and had Courtney hold the reflector at waist-height under her face (below left). Skin tone is also particularly important when it comes to the gold side of the reflector, and you will generally find the most success when using the gold side of the reflector on olive skin tones or people who are very tanned. So, even though I personally tend to like the coloring of the silver side best, I most often elect to begin with the white reflector, simply because the silver side tends to be very difficult for my clients unless they have had lots of modelling experience. The part of the reflector that I end up using more than any other is actually the diffuser.
Do you see here how the tree is creating mottled light on Courtney’s face (below left)?
The image above right is a pull-back of my husband holding the diffuser over Courtney’s head (and both of them just generally being silly). I hope that seeing examples of different colored reflectors used in the same setting has been helpful.
On the picture attached I actually lowered the flash so it was below waist height, still angled at the ceiling and with a diffuser on (don’t have a softbox). Next time I try this I’ll need to stand further away from the background and reduce the depth of field a bit I think.
I think you’re right that you might benefit from a reflector on the left side of your photo. Also, wanted to include this article from DPS that talks about building a portable portrait studio in case you hadn’t seen it already–seems right up your alley! The lens was actually at head height on a tripod, however the picture has been cropped a bit.
Yes, the large reflectors are very difficult without an assistant–any little bit of wind will send them flying!

Westcott has a series of 6 in 1 reflector kits that allow you to use both a diffuser and a reflector at the same time.
I’ve recently been using the gold reflector for outdoor photography, back lit by evening sunshine with -I think-great effect. Funny, a couple of days before your article was submitted we had a similar session in our local Photo Club (Denmark), so I recognize a lot from both sides in common. I have visited your web site with Family portraits, so just a question: Do you stick to the reflector or do you also use a flash?
You can have the prettiest model in the most beautiful location in the world, but if your light isn’t quite right, your results will be mediocre at best. And if you don’t have a reflector with you or you wish you had more light on your subject, MCP has you covered. There are many different sizes and shapes of reflectors, and the type of photography that you do most often will often dictate which size and shape you should purchase.
Do keep in mind that with this size reflector, you will probably need either an assistant or a stand to hold the reflector during portraits. When you’re first beginning to use the reflector, the most difficult part can often be deciding which color reflector is best to use. So yesterday afternoon, I borrowed my sister Courtney and went to the backyard to take some photos so that you can see what each color reflector looks like in a portrait setting. So, because the direction of light will change depending on the time of day and the objects around you, you will want to experiment with placing the reflector in front of your model, as well as at head-height (often angled up slightly) on either side of your model. You can see that this option brought a significant amount of warm light into her face, compared to the image with no reflector. Conversely, the silver or white reflector may be most flattering on people who have blue undertones in their skin. I don’t use the black side of the reflector very often, but it can be useful for increasing shadows in very dramatic images. The diffuser comes in handy when you’re in situations that may have mottled light, or direct sun overhead.
In other words, some parts of her face are very light while other parts tend to be shadowed. The first time someone taught me about the diffuser, it was a total light-bulb moment for me, so I’m glad to have been able to pass that on!
Have been trying a few self portraits at home in the kitchen with a black sheet as a background and one speedlight at 45 degrees to the right of the camera angled up at the relatively low ceiling. I’ve seen several kits lately that include both a 5 in 1 reflector and a stand that holds the reflector, which might be your best bet. A white bed sheet can be used like a white reflector also tinfoil can be used similar to a silver reflector. The gold reflector *can* be an awesome tool to have to help warm up portraits in the winter months, but you’ll have the most success with people who have olive undertones to their skin.
In general, I tend to use the reflector most often when it comes to portraits of one or two adults or teens.
My sister *a photographer* just upgraded her camera and has sold me her old Cannon eos xsi. Angle the reflective surface to be pointed at the top and back of the model’s head and reflect light into his or her hair.
With the judicious use of gels and cookies, you could “project” colors and patterns on the backdrop, too! Now if you expose for the light hitting the face, it is more than the light hitting the rest of the scene.
His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies. Reflectors, or surfaces used to to balance and redirect light, are some of the most useful tools you can use to balance, fill, and even bounce light onto and off of your subject.
As is often the case in photography, although there are some rules about when exactly to use each color reflector (my first photography professor in college used to tell us that a gold reflector was for indoor, studio portraits ONLY), the reality is that which color you should choose will vary based on your own style of photography and personal preference, and may or may not always follow the rules.
Each photo was shot in manual mode with exactly the same settings, and every image in this post is straight out of the camera so you can really see the difference a reflector makes without any post-processing. In this example, I had my model hold the reflector at chest-level in order to bounce catch-lights into her eyes and eliminate green color casting from the grass below.

If you like this look but find that it’s a bit too much light (as I think it is here), you can have your model continue to lower the reflector away from their face until you achieve a more natural light. The gold side of the reflector can be tricky, as it can easily make people look a bit radioactive if the reflector is placed too close to the model. Instead, the diffuser blocks those shadows, creating more even light and a much more pleasant portrait overall.
How (and which color) do you find yourself using it most often in your favorite style of photography? I feel the shots would benefit from a reflector to fill in some of the shadows on the left of the picture – though might have a problem holding it for a selfie!!
I have rigged mine up using duct tape and things like that in a pinch, but if you’re buying new, it seems like it would just make sense to go with one that includes a stand and make your life easier. The stand is made a bit weird and doesn’t tighten down the best so it creeps down just from the weight of the arm. There are many different brands available, but Cowboy Studio has a version on Amazon for around $20.
People who have blue and red undertones to their skin tend to be better flattered by the silver or white sides of the reflector.
I’m thinking of buying a small reflector set from a local camera shop, this has helped greatly, now I know how to use them. Thank you very much, especially for the examples because without them I wouldn’t really understand it. You have probably now figured it out, but I think I’d start with the white reflector–it casts the most neutral light in my experience, which will best suit multiple skin tones! This is the first time I used it this way, intuitively – my subject has an asian complexion, and I think the golden suits her especially in that lighting situation. The silver produces a natural light and also increases specular highlights, which yields a high-contrast image. I have found it most helpful to practice frequently with my reflector in a variety of settings so that I’ll have a better idea of a starting point when it comes to a real session. However, angling the reflector to bounce light from below can draw attention to the neck and chin and may not always be the most flattering way to light every subject.
I find that I use the gold side of the reflector almost exclusively in backlit sunset portraits, but if you tend to prefer a warmer look to portraits, you may want to reach for this one more frequently. For more on how to use a black reflector to block light readt this dPS article: How to use a Gobo to add Depth to Your Portraits with Subtractive Lighting. But, since that’s not always possible, a diffuser is a great thing to have in your bag of tricks as well.
I took a picture of a teen under a tree and it had many harsh shadows I used a reflector and it helped a little but If I had used the diffuser that would have been way better.
The lower part of your body is more prominent than your face because of the low angle of view. There is a bit of pop added to this portrait (processed in Lightroom), but actually came quite nice out of the camera. I live in Oregon and we perpetually deal with smoke from forest fires in the summer, so that was the case here as well, but this is also a good example of the difference that a reflector can make on a slightly overcast day.
So, experiment with holding the reflector at different heights and angles in order to see what is most flattering on your particular model with your particular source of light. I can’t also tell because I can see the bottom of your nose, generally not desired or flattering in portraits.
My oldest has olive skin and dark blonde hair, my youngest is a flaming ginger with porcelain blue toned skin. Regarding the size, I have quite a big one and it is a bit of a pain to use it if I dont’e have an assistant.

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