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Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

The difference between a portrait and a mere picture of somebody often boils down to one thing: Lighting. And one of the simplest and easiest light tools to understand and use is a reflector. A reflector is simply a flat surface that “reflects” light from any light source whether it’s a electronic flash or continuous light source including daylight. Reflectors follow the same rules as all lighting devices: Bigger sources close to the subject produce soft light; smaller sources further away produce harder light. Collapsible reflectors come in many shapes, sizes, and variations on a theme.

In the above image (at left) the window light portrait was captured with available light only using a Canon EOS 50D and 85mm f/1.8 lens in Program mode at ISO 400. The photo at right was made by placing a reflector at camera left. Because of the additional light added by the reflector, the camera adjusted the Program mode exposure from 1/500 sec at f/5.0 (no reflector) to 1/400 sec at f/4.5 (reflector.)

Reflectors are usually made of some kind of reflective fabric and are available in different colors to change the color of the reflected light and, more often than not, these reflectors collapse into a portable format for travel. My favorite reflector is Adorama’s Flashpoint 32-inch 5-in-1 Collapsible Disc Reflector that lets you switch the surface material to suite the photographic situation. The basic reflector is covered in diffusion material that’s useful for removing hot spots from a portrait subject’s face while softening the overall lighting. You can cover the reflector with a reversible skin that includes black to block light, gold to warm light, silver for strong fill-in light or white for softer fill light. The 5-in-1 Collapsible Disc Reflector is available in a 22-inch version that folds into a package small enough to fit in your camera bag. There’s also a 42-inch version that works great if you have an assistant or a light stand and adapter.

When photographing models that bring their husbands or boyfriends to a shoot, I always get them to hold a reflector. It gives them something to do and keeps them out of my hair and from disrupting the session. If you shoot alone or don’t have an assistant to hold that reflector at just the right angle, you’re going to need a way to mount the reflector on a light stand. Tip: You can never have too many light stands.

Reflectors can also be where you find them. When testing a digital SLR for Shutterbug magazine last year I handed the camera to photojournalist Barry Staver to photograph me using the light coming through the window at the diner where we were having breakfast. To add light to my eyes, Barry grabbed a menu and placed it on the table in front of me just out of camera range. It worked!

Joe Farace is the author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” the second book in a planned trilogy from Amherst Media. It’s available in all the best bookstores as well as Amazon.com.

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