Tools of the Trade The Collapsible Reflector

by Valerie Johnston | April 20, 2012

What is it and how do I use it? A collapsible reflector is a wonderful tool for "filling" your images without using the dreaded flash. In general, a reflector is anything that can be positioned in the light and which then redirects the light into the area being photographed.

Thus, a large sheet of white paper can be referred to as the reflector, but most photographers prefer something a bit easier to manage. This is why the collapsible reflector has been designed for field and studio work.

"Okay," you think, "I understand the idea, but why is it needed?" Here's a good explanation from VisualDepartures.com:

When the contrast between your light and shadows is too extreme, the sensors in your camera will "crush" the highlights or shadows, ruining your exposure and washing out all your detail. Using a reflector to "fill" the shadows or soften direct light brings your subject within the range your camera can capture reliably.

The collapsible reflectors tend to be large discs that you can hold or mount to a special stand in order to put them to work. Some of the best models have black, white, silver and gold panels that can be changed to suit the lighting conditions or the needs of the photographer.

collapsible light reflector, photo gear, lighting gear, digital photography

Using a Reflector

How can a novice photographer put a collapsible reflector to work in order to make better shots of the family or the kids? Is the reflector the only tool that can deliver these results?

To answer the first question we'll use an illustration: You have taken the family for a weekend beach getaway. You want to snap a group photo on the beach. You have midday sun shining down and flooding every possible space and yet you snap the shutter and see that most of the people seem to be in shadow...what the heck just happened?

This is your camera deciding to underexpose certain areas in order to deal with the bright conditions. If you have a collapsible reflector, however, you could position it to one side of the group and bounce light into the areas that need brightening. When the camera next decides how to shoot this scene, it will be in a way that is more natural and successful.

Now let's say that you are in a shady area and you want to get a good shot. You fire away and see that there is a "blue" tinge to the whole scene. This is the camera's white balance seeing that the lighting in the shadowy area is cooler and adjusting itself accordingly. You can instantly overcome this problem by using a white or silver reflector to put warmth back into the scene without reducing the nicer cool hues of the shady areas.

Now, do you HAVE to use a collapsible reflector to do these things? No, we already indicated that white paper or large sheets of poster board would do the trick, but why lug them around when a small and easily collapsible disk of photo friendly material is so affordable and available? For less than fifty U.S. dollars, you can own a reflector that is easy to tote around and even easier to use!

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Tips-n-Tricks #284

Rainy days prevent most photography sessions from happening outside. But if you have a brave enough subject who is willing to withstand the elements it could be the most fun photo shoot you have ever done.


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