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Choosing light reflectors for on location photographers

Updated on February 19, 2015

If you are going to be a serious on location photographer you will have to get serious about using reflectors. Reflectors come in many different shapes and sizes and even in different colors or reflectivity. When you are outdoors and need extra light that is flattering to your subject reflectors help a whole lot. Reflectors are much more light weight now a days and most of them can fold up for ease of carrying. For example the two most commonly found reflectors are the round and the oval reflectors.

The round reflector can have up to 5 different panels that can be used. Translucent, White, Black, Silver and Gold. The most common of these panel would be the silver and gold, mainly because most photographers do not know when to use the colors. Its actually quite simple. If you are shooting in mid day sun light and have your subject in a shaded area but not getting good light on them you can use the silver panel to reflect that daylight onto your subject. If you are near a brightly lit area such as on the beach its best to use the white panel.

Types of Light Reflectors

Light reflectors maily come in two different styles, collapsible or frame and panel.  The purpose of the reflector does not change merely because the type changes.  Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is up to the individual photographer to decide which he or she will use.  Some photographers may use both types in various different shapes and sizes, but again the overall purpose of the reflector does not change.

The collapsible reflectors are often used by photographers that like to travel light. a small 5 in 1 reflector can take up little space when trekking into the wild with a model.  Such a reflector can be more valuable to that photographer than flash units when shooting outdoors. The draw back is that they are light and can be easily swayed by the wind even if they are attached to a reflector stand.  Often an assistant will have to be present to hold the reflector in place while the photographer makes subtle adjustments.

The frame or panel reflectors do carry a little more weight and bulk than the collapsible reflectors but the frames or panels make them more durable and stronger. Trekking far into the woods with a panel reflector will no doubt add a few extra ounces that on a long hike will feel like pounds.  The good news light wind will not disturb your reflector as much as a collapsible.  The draw back is that some panel reflectors can become a land sail in breezy situations and like the collapsible will require and assistant to control it.

Reflector Shapes

Once you have decided the type of reflector you are going to use, its time to make a decision on the shape you are going to use.  The most common shape is the circular reflector, these are usually of the collapsible kind.  This is because they can reflect light smoothly onto your subject without any awkward shapes. The circular reflector is often used to reflect light on a particular secion of the model or subject such as from chest and above for a nice head shot.

Another common type is the oval reflector.  These reflectors are often used when the photographer wants to reflect light on the entire body of the subject instead of pinpointing a particular section.  A circular reflector can also cover the entire body but it will have to be a large reflector.

The square reflector is mainly a preference by the photographer depending on his or her style of shooting and is not a common site on a photo shoot, however the triangular reflector has been gaining popularity within the photography world.  This is mainly due to the fact that the triangular reflector usually has a grip at the narrowest part of the reflector, thus allowing the photo assistant to hold it more precisely and adjust quicker.

No mater what the shape of the the reflector the purpose does not change.  A light reflector is used to reflect or bounce light onto your subject illuminating and dark or shadowy areas.

Sunbounce reflectors

If you are shooting in the early morning or the late evening with that orange type sunlight then it is best to use the gold pane. If you want to subtract some of the light hitting your subject you can use the black panel and if you want to get diffused look on your subject you can use the translucent panel to block some of the sun light. These simple ways of using the reflectors are basic uses, there are many other techniques you can use while utilizing the reflectors.

While reflectors are great for location photography there are some draw backs. Most often you will need an assistant to help position the reflector in the right place to capture the light and reflect it on your subject. Since most location photographers when they are just starting out will be by themselves this poses a problem. There is a way to fix this, you can use a tripod with a reflector arm holder in place of that assistant. That solves the assistant problem but now you're faced with another. The reflector holder becomes unstable and is easily swayed by just a little breeze. Its not consistent. So what do you do? should you give up?? Of course not! Your not the first person that this has happened to so by nature human beings will find a way to make life easier, hence better reflectors were made.

One of the best light reflectors I have come across is the sunbouce reflector. Its light weight but not flimsy, its durable yet versatile and when placed on a tripod will not move with light or moderate wind. If you are going to be a serious location photographer it is best to have good equipment. Flimsy equipment will break sooner or later causing you more money to replace, however if you purchase good durable equipment at the beginning then you have no need to worry about buying the same equipment over and over again.

Let's vote on it

have you ever used light reflectors

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    • profile image

      Lorenzo P. 

      4 years ago

      Nice wright my friend!!

    • Darrylmdavis profile image


      5 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

      Very useful. I've been looking at investing in some cheap collapsible reflectors recently but wasn't I am. :-)

    • lilnassau profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Nassau Bahamas

      @Jimmyfifer I live in the Caribbean its not a matter of capturing light its a mater of controlling light and reflecting it where you want it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub, very useful!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      @Jimmyfifer - You are obvously not a serious photographer or you would know it doesn't matter the location, even lighting is essential. Reflectors are sometimes needed even on the brightest sunny day. Geeesh, grow up.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      if you have a problem capturing light in california mate you need to jack it in..... jeese.. only in america..


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