Welcome to this weeks portrait tips and techniques. This week is about using portrait reflectors outdoors and how to choose the right one for each situation. Firstly, what is a reflector and why should you use one?

A portrait reflector can be any flat object that is preferably neutral in colour and larger than the area you wish to lighten. Some examples would be a white piece of foam core, white sheet, newspaper, brides dress, white shirt, light coloured wall, white beach sand, light coloured tiled floor and the list goes on. Any of these will lighten shadows, which in turn reduces contrast.

The more popular reflectors are the portable fold up types, available in various sizes. For outdoor half length and closer portraits I use the 30-42″ sizes, of course in the studio large sheets of white styrene are great, but for outdoor portraiture they need to be portable and quick to use. The list of examples above all have their use at various locations, so when you are looking for light direction also consider the elements around you and what effect it will have on the final result.

The image above is an example of increasing the depth of shadow on his left by placing him beside a dark doorway(subtractive) and filling under his eyes with a white reflector. The image below shows the set up.

The aim is to fill without actually noticing.  If you bring the reflector up too high and directly under the face it can look unnatural. I find the best way is to move the reflector towards the subject,  until you start to see the effect, then back off. When I’m looking for dramatic light I place the reflector more to the main light side, as shown above, this keeps the side shadows deep, but cleans up the eye area. When using a reflector from under the subject, you should notice reflections at the bottom of the eyes and this will also increase colour and texture in the eyes. (shown below)

CHOOSING THE RIGHT REFLECTOR – to me it’s “horses for courses”, on a bright day in the shade, I would opt for white, on a slightly overcast day I would use white again or a white/silver mixed reflector, on a very dull day a soft silver reflector (not a shiny silver). For my style of portraiture white is my most used and also a translucent white has an advantage as demonstrated further down. I personally don’t use gold reflectors, I prefer neutral ones and I can adjust the colour temperature more evenly in photoshop. If you are a film user and you are in the shade,  attach a 81c or 85c warming filter and use a neutral reflector.

TIP – if you are seeing the effect, the reflector is too close.


Hats and caps can cause dark shadows around the eyes, so a reflector is definitely an advantage to put some sparkle back into the eyes. Notice the reflector in the bottom of the eyes.The other catchlight sitting at 10 o’clock is the natural light reflectance from light coming in under the overhang (see subtractive lighting)(The pin light source in the pupils is from the distant natural light from behind the camera, in case anyone was wondering if it was flash)

There are other ways to control fill light outdoors such as flash, but reflectors are just part of the tools you need for quality outdoor portraiture. Used properly they can give your portraits more impact. If you don’t have any professional reflectors start by using a piece of white board or foamcore, the results will be very much the same and when you are ready you can purchase a more portable reflector.

Until next week, happy shooting




  1. Hayley Says:

    Great tips once again Wayne. I love your pullbacks,very helpful!
    Thank you!

  2. Hennie Says:

    Thanx it is fantastic.Your
    discasions is vry straight foreword
    and easy to understand.I did purches your e-book Black and White photography Tips volume 1,looking forward to volume 2

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