Quality lighting can make or break a photo. That’s why reflectors are such invaluable tools for photographers of all skill levels. By bouncing and manipulating light, reflectors allow you to sculpt beautiful, flattering illumination on your subjects.
In this in-depth guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using reflectors for photography, including:
- What reflectors are and why they’re essential gear
- Factors to consider when choosing a reflector
- Reviews of the 5 top-rated photography reflectors
- Professional tips for using reflectors to light your shots
- Reflector accessories and DIY alternatives
So read on to master photographic lighting with reflectors!
What is a Reflector and Why Do You Need One?
A reflector is exactly what it sounds like – a device that reflects light. In photography, reflectors usually consist of a circular or rectangular screen covered with a reflective surface. Common materials include white, silver, gold, and black fabric or foam.
Photographers use reflectors to redirect ambient light back onto a subject. This allows you to:
- Brighten shadows
- Create directional light
- Soften harsh sunlight
- Add a catchlight to a subject’s eyes
- Illuminate backgrounds
- Fill in uneven lighting
Compared to flash or constant artificial lighting, reflectors have some advantages:
- Less expensive than lighting gear
- More portable – easy to position and move around
- Create natural-looking illumination
- Don’t require electricity
Reflectors are hugely versatile. You can use them for:
- Portrait sessions
- Fashion and beauty shots
- Still life and food photography
- Macro photography
- Filming videos
- Outdoor sports and action shots
- Product photography
Basically any scenario where you want to manipulate light for a professional finish.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Reflector
With such a variety of reflector types and options on the market, it can be tricky to select the right one for your needs. Here are the key factors to consider:
Reflector size impacts the quality and intensity of reflected light. A larger reflector surface will produce softer, more diffused light. While mini reflectors are great for travel or tight spaces.
Larger reflectors around 30-50 inches are suitable for headshots and half or full body shots. Mini reflectors can be effective for macro and product shots.
Collapsible, foldable reflectors are ideal if you plan to take it on location shoots. They fold down into a smaller size for transport. Circular reflectors with fixed hoops are less portable but offer sturdier support.
Having a carrying case is also useful for protection during transit. Some reflectors come with cases, handles or shoulder straps.
The most common shapes are circular and rectangular. Circles produce catchlights in a subject’s eyes which look attractive. Rectangular reflectors are good for full-body shots or groups.
The surface type affects the color, diffusion, and quality of the reflected light:
- White – Produces neutral, soft light. Great for outdoor fill lighting.
- Silver – Creates a cooler, bluish tone for accent lighting. Crisper than white.
- Gold – Warm golden glow, perfect for sunsets or skin tone.
- Black – Cuts out light rather than reflecting it. Use to subtract light.
Some reflectors feature reversible white and silver or white and gold surfaces. Or you can buy multi-surface 5-in-1 reflector kits.
- Handles make it easier to position the reflector.
- Stands/booms allow hands-free use when you don’t have an assistant.
- A storage bag protects the reflector when not in use.
- Durability – professional grade reflectors withstand wear better.
Now let’s look at reviews of the top 5 reflectors for taking your portraits, product shots and more to the next level.
The 5 Best Photography Reflectors
1. Neewer 43-Inch Collapsible Disc Reflector
With its generous 43 inch diameter, lightweight design, and budget-friendly price point, the Neewer Collapsible Disc Reflector is a workhorse for photographers.
The main features include:
- Sturdy steel support frame
- Choose from silver, white, gold, and translucent surfaces
- Folds down into included carrying bag
- Weighs just 2lbs
In terms of versatility, it’s hard to beat this reflector kit. The collapsible round shape creates pleasing catchlights. And you get 4 cover options to manipulate light. Use the silver side to add dramatic accents or go for the white interior’s soft illumination.
For full length portraits, the 43-inch span helps bend light around your subject. Yet it’s still easy to transport and manage on your own thanks to the compact storage size.
Just be aware that the light stand mount could be sturdier. And the cover materials are serviceable but not thick professional-grade.
Overall, it’s an incredible value reflector to start out with or add to your kit. The Neewer balances performance, portability, and price for photographers on a budget.
2. Falcon Eyes 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector Disk
Up your light shaping game with the Falcon Eyes 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector. This versatile kit features interchangeable covers to achieve any lighting look.
- 33 inch diameter
- Silver, white, black, gold, and translucent covers
- Sturdy steel frame
- Carrying case included
- Weighs under 2 lbs
While compact, the 33 inch size still nicely feathers light on portrait subjects. And the round metal edge allows for catchlights.
The covers easily attach using velcro tabs. Mix and match them as desired – silver for edgy contrast, gold for warmth, or white for open shade fill lighting.
Thanks to the collapsible design, the reflector condenses down for travel. Note the translucent panel diffuses harsh sun for ultra soft illumination.
For the price, you’d be hard pressed to find a more versatile reflector. Use the Falcon Eyes to replace flash or unflattering overhead light indoors too. Ideal for studio product shots.
This 5-in-1 kit truly lets you shape light any way you need.
3. Impact Collapsible Circular Disc Reflector
The Impact Collapsible Reflector offers outstanding performance and durability for the price. Serious hobbyists will appreciate these pro-level features.
- 47 inch diameter
- Interchangeable white, silver, gold panels
- Sturdy steel support hoop
- Carrying case included
- Weighs under 5 lbs
At 47 inches across, this reflector provides exceptionally soft, even light. Position it close to your subject to remove shadows. Or farther back for directional lighting.
Despite the large surface, the reflector collapses down for transport. Foam lined handles make positioning easy. And the included light stand bracket attaches securely for hands-free operation.
While weighing a bit more than other options, that’s thanks to the solid steel hoop and reinforced reflective panels. They hold up better to frequent use without sagging over time.
For studio-quality results at a fraction of the pro price, pick up the Impact Collapsible Reflector. The premium materials stand up to heavy use.
4. Westcott 40″ Optical White and Silver Reflector
From portrait sessions to commercial work, the versatile Westcott 40″ Optical Reflector improves any shoot. The sleek design even looks professional on sets.
- 40 inch diameter
- Reversible white/silver surface
- Lightweight molded edge
- Includes carrying case
- Weighs just 1.1 lbs
Westcott engineered the circular reflector with an optical-quality surface. This creates smooth, even light – ideal for beauty and fashion images.
The white interior side brightens shadows naturally. Flip to the silver for refined contrast and directional beams.
At just over a pound, this super lightweight reflector is easy to maneuver into the perfect position. The molded edge allows for catchlights too.
True to Westcott’s reputation, it’s also well-constructed from durable materials built to last season after season.
While the size may limit full body lighting, it’s ideal for headshots, small products, macro work and more.
For a refined reflector engineered for optical precision, Westcott’s 40″ model is ideal.
5. Fovitec 5-in-1 Reflector Disc
Gain total control over your lighting with the Fovitec 5-in-1 Reflector Disc. At an affordable price, you get 5 interchangeable panels for any lighting scenario.
- 33 inch diameter
- White, silver, gold, black & translucent covers
- Lightweight foldable frame
- Carrying bag included
- Weighs 1.6 lbs
Like having a full lighting kit in one reflector, this multi-disc system does it all. Sculpt flattering portraits with the white interior or get creative with the gold side’s warm glow.
The silver surface produces focused beams to accent your subject. Or cut light altogether with the black panel for subtracted lighting.
Swap the covers in seconds thanks to the velcro tabs. Foam nylon handles allow you to direct light precisely.
Weighing under 2 pounds, you’ll have no problem packing this in your gear bag. Then unfold the sturdy steel frame at your destination.
Get the most diverse lighting from one reflector with Fovitec’s 5-in-1 model. With 5 cover options, it’s incredibly versatile for the price.
How to Use a Reflector for Great Photography
Okay, you have your reflector. But where do you start? Here are some tips on wielding reflectors like a pro:
Position It Strategically
The most flattering lighting comes from the side and slightly above eye level. Imagine where the sun would be 2 hours before sunset – that’s your magic lighting zone.
Position the reflector to mimic nice sunset illumination. Feather it so the light wraps around your subject for dimension.
Get a Catchlight
Nothing brings eyes to life like a catchlight. Angle the reflector so it bounces a sliver of light directly into your subject’s eyes.
With a circular reflector, rotate it until the curved edge aligns to produce catchlights.
Watch for Overpowering Light
When using a reflector, moderation is key. Avoid blasting your subject with too-bright reflected light. This can wipe out natural shadows and flatten the image.
Flag off excess light by placing a piece of black foam board between the reflector and subject. Or move the reflector further away and feather more.
Work with an Assistant
Having a second person to hold the reflector frees you up to focus on taking photos. But you can also use stands, boom arms and clamps to position reflectors hands-free.
Secure your reflector so it won’t topple over or blow away in wind. Sandbags provide stability outdoors.
Take Safety Precautions
Position the reflector so it doesn’t shine light directly into your subject’s eyes. This can be uncomfortable and unflattering.
Also, don’t allow sunlight to reflect off your reflector straight into your own eyes or your subject’s face. Both can potentially cause damage.
With these tips, you can wield reflectors to bathe your subjects in professional quality light. Size, diffusion, and placement are key.
Reflector Accessories and Alternatives
Don’t have a reflector on hand? Try some of these handy alternatives:
- Use a car sun shade – Foil-lined windshield shades double as impromptu reflectors. Angle to bounce light back.
- DIY with foil or white foam board – Cover cardboard with aluminum foil for an inexpensive reflector. Or use white poster board.
- Try a mirror – Compact plastic mirrors redirect light nicely. But avoid glass for safety.
- Bounce your flash – Pointing your flash head back towards a wall or ceiling acts like a reflector.
- Use reflector cards – Mini foldable reflectors bounce light. Convenient for travel.
To enhance a real reflector:
- Light stands and boom arms allow hands-free positioning. Secure with clamps.
- Add diffusers like silk, tulle, or translucent plastic over the front to further soften light.
- A backdrop stand with expandable crossbars holds a reflector upright.
Start Sculpting Light Like a Master
There’s a reason reflectors are must-have gear for photographers of all skill levels. They allow you to harness natural light to create images with dimension, mood and professional polish.
Hopefully this guide covered everything you need to know about shopping for and using reflectors for stunning photography.
The key is to observe light and then recreate the most flattering angles with strategic reflector placement. Finding their sweet spot to lift shadows takes practice, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
With these tricks under your belt, you’ll approach shoots with the confidence and finesse of a lighting master. Now grab your new reflector, and let’s make some photographic magic!