How to use a reflector in outdoor photography

Outdoor photography can be extremely rewarding, capturing nature’s beauty and the essence of life. However, natural lighting can often be challenging to manage. This is where reflectors come into play, offering a simple yet effective solution to elevate your outdoor photos. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how to use a reflector in outdoor photography, helping hobby photographers and photography enthusiasts achieve stunning results.

What is a Reflector?

A reflector is a tool used to redirect light towards a subject, balancing the lighting and minimizing shadows. Reflectors come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, each serving a specific purpose in photography. The most common types include:

  • Silver Reflectors: Enhance highlights and provide a bright, contrasting light.
  • Gold Reflectors: Add warmth and a golden glow to your images.
  • White Reflectors: Provide a soft, natural fill light without affecting color balance.
  • Black Reflectors: Act as a light absorber, deepening shadows and adding contrast.
  • Translucent Reflectors: Diffuse harsh sunlight, creating a softer light on the subject.

Why Use a Reflector in Outdoor Photography?

Using a reflector can significantly improve your outdoor photography by addressing common lighting challenges such as harsh shadows, uneven lighting, and lack of light on the subject. Reflectors offer several benefits:

  • Control Light: Reflectors allow you to manipulate natural light, filling in shadows and illuminating your subject evenly.
  • Enhance Colors: By choosing the right reflector, you can enhance the colors and tones in your photographs.
  • Portable and Affordable: Reflectors are lightweight, easy to carry, and generally inexpensive, making them an accessible tool for photographers at all levels.
  • Versatile: Suitable for various photography genres, including portraits, landscapes, macro, and product photography.

Choosing the Right Reflector

Selecting the appropriate reflector depends on your specific needs and the effect you want to achieve. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide:

  • For Portraits: A white or silver reflector is ideal for reducing shadows and providing a natural light fill. If you want a warmer skin tone, opt for a gold reflector.
  • For Landscapes: A translucent reflector can be used to diffuse harsh sunlight and create a softer light on specific elements in the scene.
  • For Macro Photography: Smaller reflectors are ideal for directing light onto minute details, enhancing the subject’s texture and colors.
  • For Product Photography: Silver or white reflectors can help eliminate shadows and ensure even lighting on the product.

How to Use a Reflector in Outdoor Photography

Step 1: Assess the Lighting Situation

Before using a reflector, evaluate the natural lighting conditions. Identify the direction and intensity of the light source, and observe how it affects your subject. Look for shadows and areas that need additional light.

Step 2: Choose the Reflector Color

Based on the lighting assessment and the effect you wish to achieve, select the appropriate reflector color. Remember that silver and white reflectors provide bright and natural light, while gold adds warmth.

Step 3: Positioning the Reflector

The reflector’s position is crucial for achieving the desired results. Here are some tips for effective positioning:

  • Fill Light: To fill in shadows, place the reflector opposite the light source, directing light onto the shaded areas of the subject.
  • Catch Light: For portrait photography, position the reflector below the subject’s face to create catch lights in their eyes, adding depth and sparkle.
  • Backlighting: When your subject is backlit, use the reflector to bounce light onto their front, balancing the exposure and preventing silhouettes.
  • Diffused Light: On a bright sunny day, use a translucent reflector above the subject to diffuse harsh sunlight and create a soft, flattering light.

Step 4: Adjust the Angle and Distance

Experiment with different angles and distances to find the perfect balance of light. Moving the reflector closer to the subject will intensify the light, while increasing the distance will soften it. Adjust the angle to ensure the light falls evenly on the subject, avoiding any harsh spots.

Step 5: Use a Stand or Assistant

Holding the reflector in the right position can be challenging, especially if you’re working alone. Using a stand or enlisting an assistant can help maintain the reflector’s position and allow you to focus on capturing the perfect shot.

Step 6: Combine with Other Tools

Reflectors can be used in conjunction with other lighting tools for more advanced setups. For instance, you can combine a reflector with an external flash to fill in shadows and add catch lights. Experiment with different combinations to achieve your desired effect.

Practical Tips for Using Reflectors

  • Practice and Experiment: The best way to master using reflectors is through practice. Experiment with different positions, angles, and reflector colors to understand how they affect the light.
  • Observe and Adapt: Outdoor lighting conditions can change rapidly. Stay observant and be ready to adapt your reflector’s position as needed.
  • Use Natural Reflectors: In addition to portable reflectors, look for natural reflective surfaces like walls, water, or light-colored ground to bounce light onto your subject.
  • Keep It Simple: Start with basic reflector techniques before moving on to more complex setups. Understanding the fundamentals will help you achieve consistent results.


What size reflector should I use?

The size of the reflector depends on your subject and the desired effect. For portraits, a medium-sized reflector (32-42 inches) is usually sufficient. For larger scenes or group shots, consider a larger reflector (52-72 inches).

Can I use a reflector without an assistant?

Yes, you can use a reflector without an assistant by using a stand or placing the reflector on a stable surface. Some reflectors come with handles or loops for easy attachment to stands.

How do I avoid harsh reflections?

To avoid harsh reflections, adjust the angle of the reflector so the light is evenly distributed on the subject. You can also use a diffuser to soften the light before it hits the reflector.

Can I use a reflector in low-light conditions?

Reflectors are most effective in natural light conditions. In low-light situations, they may not provide enough light. Consider using additional lighting sources like external flashes or continuous lights.

Do I need multiple reflectors?

While having multiple reflectors can offer more versatility, it’s not necessary to start with. A single reflector with interchangeable covers (silver, gold, white, black, and translucent) can provide a wide range of lighting options.


Using a reflector in outdoor photography is a powerful technique that can transform your images by controlling and enhancing natural light. Reflectors are versatile, portable, and affordable tools that can help reduce shadows, balance lighting, and add depth to your photographs. By understanding the different types of reflectors, choosing the right one for your needs, and practicing proper positioning and techniques, you can elevate your outdoor photography to new heights. Happy shooting!