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How to Use Reflectors for Digital Films

There are so many ways to use light to create that perfect scene in your DSLR film. Consider using a reflector to help you enhance the effect of creative lighting.

Use reflectors to complement film lighting

Sometimes the light on the scene needs some assistance filling in the nooks and crannies. That’s where a reflector comes in handy. By reflecting light off its surface, the reflector fills in shadowy areas while controlling highlights.

This shiny or white flat accessory comes in various shapes and materials, but they all do the same thing when you hold them opposite the light source: redirect light to open up shadow areas in the scene. You can mount the reflector to a stand, clip it to whatever a clip fits around, or have an assistant strategically hold it.

Basically, it takes on the function of a fill light without you needing to power it up.

Reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and reflective surfaces:

  • White: Provides a clean bounce to balance highlight areas and add exposure to the shadow without affecting color balance.

  • Silver: Its reflective surface produces an increased reflection value.

  • Gold: Produces a warmer reflection. Excellent for capturing people, this provides a little boost when ambient light is on the cool side of the color spectrum.

There are many uses for a reflector. Here are few that work well:

  • Use it just below the subject’s face. This opens up the shadows and can provide more depth to facial area.

  • Move it evenly with the subject. For those situations where the subject is moving through the scene, be sure the assistant holding the reflector mirrors the subject’s movement.

Improvise a reflector for your film

Maybe your budget can't cover the cost of a reflector, or maybe you only need one from time to time. The good news is that you can find a suitable alternative or make your own. Here are some ideas:

  • Find a white foam core board. These white boards found in art supply stores cost a couple of bucks and are pretty durable for simply diverting light to the subject.

  • Cover a white board with tin foil. Need a little more reflective power? Cover the board with tin, er, aluminum foil.

  • Try a car shade. Those windshield sunshades work wonders as a reflector. They are light, flexible, and many have a highly reflective silver surface. They’re pretty inexpensive, and if you already have one, it's free.

  • Use a white sheet. Wrap it around a board, pole, or anything that it fits and fill in large sections of the scene.

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