Using a Reflector

When I photograph food I do my best to use as much natural light as possible. The images above both have natural, diffused sunlight coming in from the right with a reflector to the left, but there is a slight difference between them.

Can you see it?

In the image on the left there isn’t enough fill-light hitting the subject. The reason for this is that the reflector wasn’t pointing to the part of the image that needed light. It was angled the wrong direction – completely parallel to the window (you can see that the background is a bit lighter in that shot). I needed the light to hit the glass at an angle, so I turned the reflector so it was facing the front-left part of the glass that was in my view. (See the diagram to the right for the final setup – click on it for a larger view.)

It’s important that you not only have your reflector filling in the subject opposite the main light, but also that you make sure it’s angled in a way that it’s pleasing to your photograph. You don’t need anything fancy to use as a reflector – a large piece of foam-core will do the trick. But if you do have a traditional reflector (this is the one I use) then you are also able to bend and warp it to wrap more light around your image.

By | 2016-12-18T17:01:25+00:00 January 25th, 2010|16 Comments

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Portland, Oregon, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

16 Comments

  1. Hilari January 25, 2010 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Wow! That really does make a difference! I am definitely a beginning photographer and it’s easy to get bogged down by all the terminology and equipment. This post was short, sweet and VERY helpful! Thanks!

  2. Ryan January 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tip! I don’t do much photography that requires setting up much…but this I will use! Out of curiosity, what color on the reflector did you choose to use and why?

    This is how I spend my lunch break :)

    -Ryan

  3. Nicole January 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Ryan – for this setup I used the silver side of my reflector. When I photograph food it’s what I use most often.

  4. uberVU - social comments January 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by nicolesy: New post at NicolesyBlog.com – “Using a Reflector” http://bit.ly/7PMCLu #photography…

  5. Jeremy Hall January 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    I used this exact set up to take a food shot for my wife’s recipes she’s compiling. Your posts have been helpful in thinking of new presentation, lighting and processing for these food shots. Thanks!

  6. Amy Kelly January 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    What a difference! Do you have any more tips on how to create your own reflector? You suggested using a large piece of foam core… what would you suggest covering it in? Aluminum foil?

  7. Nicole January 25, 2010 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Amy – you could just get a piece of white foam core, and wouldn’t need to add anything else to it to get a reflection. The white will make it a very soft light. If you wanted more reflection you could add aluminum foil to it as well. :)

  8. Cam January 25, 2010 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Hi Nicole, this is such a helpful article. I noticed Amy asked about the white ‘foam core’ you mentioned. Do you mean like the big pieces of white protective foam one might find in say a T.V. that is being shipped, etc.? -Cam

  9. Nicole January 25, 2010 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    You can get them at craft or office stores – they are large “display” foam boards.

  10. Memoria January 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Great post. I use a white binder (yes, a school binder) as my reflector, and so far, it has worked just fine. I would love to upgrade one day, though.

    I’m looking forward to more tutorials.

  11. Charles January 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    That was really helpful! Especially the diagram!

  12. Amy Kelly January 25, 2010 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Nicole! I just ordered a Canon XSi (my old camera, a point and shoot, recently died) and I look forward to trying out this little trick with my new gear.

  13. deana January 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Really great post… thanks for the great advice on bounce…it’s most generous.

  14. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicole Young, Eric, Daniel King, AndreaG, John Roberts and others. John Roberts said: RT @nicolesy: New post at NicolesyBlog.com – "Using a Reflector" http://bit.ly/7PMCLu #photography […]

  15. Glen June 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks Again. Great Tips

  16. Rob August 10, 2011 at 6:49 am - Reply

    Thanks for the post, I am a very amateur photographer who is about to embark upon food photography for the first time and your clear and concise tips are greatly appreciated.

    p.s. I’ve just pre-ordered your new book “Food Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots” on Amazon, looking forward to it arriving in the near future!

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