Photography Tips: How to Use Natural Reflectors

It is all about light! Whether I am scouting locations for a portrait shoot or looking for a spot in my home to take a snap shot of my kids, I am always first considering the natural light that is available. I love using natural light to my advantage and one way to do that is by using natural reflectors. What is a natural reflector? Any object around you that reflects the light can be considered a natural reflector, such as a wall or the floor. You can invest any where from $20-$150 on a portable collapsible reflector such as the ones below from B&H.

(photo source)

But let’s face it, there are many cases when a moment is happening and we just do not have time to take out our collapsible reflectors, position them correctly, and take the picture before the moment passes.  Sometimes we just have to use what is around us. But how?

By looking around to find the natural reflectors and placing your clients in that beautiful soft light. Or by finding the light being reflected and purposely encouraging your children to play in that area while you snap photos.

Let me show you some examples.

These first examples were taken in my kitchen. Please excuse the mess. We were in the middle of unpacking, but I had to stop to play with my kids.

Below is a perfect example of using natural reflectors to illuminate your subject. The light you see on my son’s face has not be altered in post processing. This image is straight out of camera. The light is coming in from the window, hitting the floor in front of him, and reflecting back into his face.

Some things to note:

When you find reflected light, put your subject slightly behind it. In the image below, sorry about the view, my son is playing directly in the light coming through the window. This light is harsh and not the best for portraits.

You will have to move your subject around to find the light.

In the image below my son is not in the pathway of the reflected light. He is in the shadow and thus is face is dark.

But with a little coaching I got him to move forward just a little and BAM. We found the sweet spot of the reflected light!

Again this image is straight out of camera. No editing needed. I love that about using natural reflectors. There is so much drama in this image thanks to the available light and my white floor reflecting it back into my son’s face.

In the second example of using natural reflectors we went outside to use a wall below our apartment.

There is a tunnel below our apartment that is a great place for taking photos. Lovely natural light floods in from both sides. When we took this photos it was a rainy, overcast day. So I was worried that we would not have much reflected light. But that was not the case at all. The light still reflected off the walls and thanks to the clouds it was soft and diffused.

So here is what you need to do to use natural reflectors outside.

1. Find the light source, the sun.

2. Determine which wall is the reflector.

3. Figure out where the reflected light is landing. This can be done by trial and error. Put your subject where you think the light is being reflected to and them move them around until the light hits them just right.

4. Decide where you, the photographer, will stand to take the photo.

It really is simple once you start training your eye to look for natural reflectors. So give it a try and you will be amazed at how great your images can look straight out of the camera.

It will take practice. So let’s get to it. Look at the image below and see if you can find the light source (direction the light is coming from), the natural reflector, the location for the subject, and the location for the photographer. (Hint: this is the opposite side of the tunnel.)

Were you able to locate them all? See, you can totally rock natural reflectors. Once you have identified them you can now encourage your kids to play in the area with the best reflected light and snap away. This is exactly what I did as I snapped the images below.

I hope this post helps you better understand what natural reflectors are and how to use them to enhance your photography. One of my biggest goals when taking photos is to get the best possible image I can straight out of the camera.  Using natural reflectors is one of the ways I can achieve that goal. And now, hopefully you can too! Happy shooting and as always feel free to ask questions in the comment section.

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March 23, 2016 - 10:50 am

Nick English (http://www NULL.nickenglishphotography NULL.com) - Great article! Thank you for sharing, love working with natural light 🙂

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