Shooting Backlit // Using Reflectors

Well hello! I’ve been getting such awesome feedback on these shooting backlit posts so I’m going to keep going as long as I can! Today, we’re going to talk about using reflectors in your backlit photography but first, in case you need to recap:

So. Reflectors. In case you’re new to this concept, reflectors are round disks which are white, gold or sliver and their purpose is to reflect light onto a subject’s face. They are my absolute favourite photography accessory and I have them in many different shapes and sizes. My favourite is a Lastolite 5-in-1 reflector so it can be white (nice soft light), gold (warming), silver (super bright, most reflective), black (used to sort of soak up too much light) or transparent (can be used above your subject to filter the light). The size I use is 32″.
Reflectors can be used to create beautiful catch lights in your subject’s eyes like in this example photo below:
When I first started out, the entire concept of  light was foreign. I didn’t understand how light behaved and the thought of employing flash in my photography was super scary. But when I started playing with reflectors, it all started to click. The way light affected my photography and the way it could be bounced around, controlled and told where to go.

courtesy of Daily Life Photography

The photo example above was taken on an overcast day so it’s not an example of reflectors in backlit photography, but check out this photo (click to enlarge) –>  This photo was taken by a reader named Jen Golay and I wanted to use it as an example of the most excellent use of reflection in backlit photography. It may be too bright in the face for some, but to me it’s got a very editorial/catalog feel and I love it.
So you can see that the sun is coming from behind the subject because of the way it’s shining through her hair and you can see that the sky is bright and blown out which places the subject at the center of attention. There is a silver reflector lower camera left bouncing the sunlight up onto the subject. This means that she’s totally wrapped in light, being lit from both the front and behind. Jen also overexposed by 1/2 a stop to give it her signature bright photography style.
If you haven’t ever experimented with using reflectors in your photography, try it this week! If you don’t have one yet, try a white foam board, tin foil, a cookie sheet, a bright building. Anything you can use to aim the light back at your subject.
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  • Andrew Mills

    A reflector like the one shown above is perhaps one of the most important accessories for anyone at least half serious about photography. Not only can you can use it for portraits as above, but also for product shots and anywhere else where you need to modify light close in to a subject.

    And the best thing? They’re cheap! Especially if you get one off of eBay where you can get various shapes and sizes starting for less than £10.

  • lisa

    I love using reflectors, but I don’t have the luxury of aving an assistant…what do you do when shooting outdoors and don’t have anyone to hold it?  Second, can reflectors help with dappled light?  Thanks! 

  • Anonymous

    Oh excellent points! I hold it myself by contorting in all sorts of crazy positions, balancing it, leaning it. There are cool stands with bendy arms you can use too. And no, a reflector won’t nix dappled light.

  • I’m really loving your series on backlight photography because it’s something I’ve been struggling with and have been wanting to get a better grasp on!  Thanks so much!!!!


  • Marion

    I have a reflector, but am afraid to say that I have  not used it other than to shade a person. My problem is that I don’t have an assistant and I don’t know how I can keep the reflector in the correct position while taking the photo. What do you do? I would love to know so I can finally get my money’s worth out of my reflector. Thanks so much!!!

  • Anonymous

    I just hold it out with one hand or lean it against my own body.

  • Beck

    I tried using refletors for the first time a few weeks back for a portrait shoot on the beach. But to get the light on the subjects face, I was at the same time blinding them with the reflecting light (silver reflector). How can I avoid this and what was I doing wrong? PS.. love your posts!

  • Anonymous

    Hello! Yes, silver can be quite extreme at times. You can either:

    pull it back further
    angle it differently
    switch to white

    White is perfectly good and I use it more than silver.

  • I just got my 5-in-1 reflector set yesterday, so I can’t claim to be an expert, but I “intend” to have my camera mounted on the tripod with a Yongnuo wireless flash trigger, i.e. frame up the shot first, then stand wherever I need to with the reflector and trigger the shutter remotely. As an alternative, the subject can even trigger the camera themselves so you can use BOTH hands on the reflector. :)

  • You can also buy an arm that holds the reflector steady. They attach to a light stand. Both pretty inexpensive. I got one on ebay.

  • Stephen Soukup

    Sometimes if it’s a headshot the model can hold it themselves under them to bring light back into their face.

  • Stephen Soukup

    Agree. On or off camera flash will do wonders for your outdoor shots and you can make it look real not overly flash-like if you know how to balance it. Check out the Tangents blog by Niel van Niekirk.

  • Stephen Soukup

    Hire your kids to come along as your assistants or a teen who needs a side job.they need money for video games and mp3 music. ;)

  • Stephen Soukup

    Silver side is best when it’s cloudy/overcast and you need to get MORE LIGHT pushed back at your subject. When it’s already bright use the white side.

  • Geoff

    Reflectors are great, but I’ve noticed even if your subject is backlit, you can still cause them to squint from the reflected light. I much prefer the white reflector over the silver.