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Reflectors and Diffusers

Light is often said to be the most important element in photography and this is why most photographers will shape light, to get the desired effect they want. Even when ambient light is the main light source used, there are tools to soften and reflect this light.

Here are some of the most often used light shaping tools and what they do:

White, Silver and Gold Reflectors

Reflectors come in many shapes, sizes and colours and are used to reflect (bounce) light (sunlight or flashlight) into your scene or onto your subject. They are made of material with a wire (or for larger ones tubular) frame. They are usually collapsible to make them small and easy to carry. The most widely used colour is white, as this will reflect light without adding color to the scene. White reflectors reflect light in a soft way and are great to use to brighten a models face when there is not enough light.

Silver reflectors are used when there is less light and a stronger reflection of the light is needed. They give a “cooler” look to the light. These are often too strong for mid-day light so if you are unsure which to us, start with the white. If you are taking portraits always start with the white, as the silver side can be harsh on the eyes if you are reflecting a lot of light.

Gold reflectors add a golden glow to the scene as well as reflect the light. These are often used when you need to warm up the light or add some color to your models face. It’s worth practicing with a gold reflector first, so you are aware of how much of a difference in tone you will get.

Black Reflectors

Black reflectors are not actually reflectors but absorbers of light. They take a bit of light away from the scene so that you can add a bit of depth and shadow. Black reflectors are often used to contour faces and add shadows onto areas such as the sides of the arms to slim them down. Black reflectors are also called “flags” which is a term from the movie industry for a piece of black material or matte foil that will cut out the light. Black reflectors can be used to absorb light or to hide some light by blocking some of the light from the scene.


Diffusers can be something as simple as some tracing paper placed over your main light to soften the light, or ready-made translucent material diffusers. Diffusers are generally used in bright sunlight to soften the light so that the hard shadows cast look softer. Wedding photographers will use them above the brides face if taking portraits outside, so that the light on the face is more even and complimentary.
Reflectors and diffusers can be made using simple materials. Some stiff white card or foam will work well as a white reflector and if you want a brighter reflection, silver foil can be wrapped around the card/foam.

A white bed sheet works well as a diffuser in bright sunlight. You will need some type of frame to stretch it over to keep it flat so the light can pass through it.

For a homemade black reflector a piece of black card works really well.

These tools seem so simple, but the dramatic difference they can make to your photography may be the difference between an average photo and a stunning one!

Enjoy your creativity!
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Content copyright © 2015 by Ewa Sapinska. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Ewa Sapinska. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Ewa Sapinska for details.


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