It’s senior picture season, and the one tool you must have is a 5-in-1 reflector. Many of us will be on the run with seniors — they want more locations and more wardrobe changes than ever before — but you should still keep excellent lighting at the top of your mind.

If you just do cute poses but neglect good lighting, you’ll end up with blown-out skies and Instagram-ish filters on every picture. But when you use good light, your pictures will stand on their own and then you can decide if you want to make them look like everything else on Instagram with presets.

Use white

Using a reflector is easy. Just put the white cover on it and get it as close to your subject as possible. In this photo, the reflector is resting on her elbow, and I’m holding the other end while I hold the camera, too. Rather than getting a round reflector, get a large oval-shaped one. This is better because it’s longer and you can do more with it yourself, like holding one end of it during a picture. My favorite is one like this 40 x 60″ oval.

Position it as close to your subject as possible so that the light reflecting off it is as concentrated on your subject as possible. When I use it, it is right outside the picture, and often an edge of the reflector is in the picture, but it’s in a place I know I can crop it out later. Usually, you should position it to the side of your subject, but sometimes underneath, as in the above picture is OK. Just beware of making the light from underneath too bright — the brightest light should not usually be coming from under your subject’s face because it’s ghoulish.

And here’s a video to show you an easy way to fold your reflector up.

Hide the metallics

For best results, just put away the gold and silver covers. They are too harsh and too obvious and you’ll get better results if you just use the white cover and the translucent center as a scrim/diffuser.


It’s time now to grab your neighbor’s kids and go make a whole lot of portraits with that reflector. There are lots of articles right here on Photofocus to help you use a reflector well, but they all require you to get proficient using it yourself. It’s the most versatile and simplest to use lighting tool on the planet, so make sure it’s a part of your senior portrait kit.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.