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Photoflex Lighting School

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Reflector Size = Size of Reflection

Lighting Equipment

Reflectors are important tools for a photographer. Like any other kind of tool, one reflector may be more appropriate for a given shot than another reflector.

This lesson covers the importance of using a reflector that is large enough to light the subject. The rule of thumb is easy - the reflection cannot be larger than the size of the reflector.

We often talk to photographers that want to use a small reflector because it is convenient to carry and easier to set up and use. However, if the reflector is not large enough, it will not cover the area that you want to fill in the shadows or get a reflection on.

(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  •     Choosing your reflector size
  •     Reflector size vs. subject size

We used a highly reflective bread box in this demonstration, because it is easy for you to see how the reflector is working in the reflections of the subject. Just remember that if you are shooting people the same rule will apply; the smaller the reflector, the smaller the potential reflection.

Customers ask us if a 32" or 42" reflector will work for a full length portrait, and this demonstration will show you why we always tell them, "Not if you want to fill in the entire length of the subject."

We set up our main light to the right of the breadbox. We are using a medium Starlite Kit for the main light (figure 1).

Figure 1

The breadbox is about 20 inches across, so we set up a 32" white/soft-gold LiteDisc reflector with the white surface facing the breadbox. We used a 32" reflector because it is larger than the 20" breadbox. When we set it up about 2 feet away from the box, the reflection still covered the front.

We positioned the reflector to catch the light from our main light and bounced it onto the face of the breadbox to fill in the front (figure 2).

Figure 2

This photo from above clearly shows you that the reflector set at this distance will still be larger than the subject and should cover the area we want it to (figure 3).

Figure 3

The results photo shows that our breadbox now has a smooth, even reflection, or "fill", on the front of the box with no fall-off in the corners (figure 4).

Figure 4

Next, we set up a 22" white/ silver LiteDisc reflector on the LiteDisc Holder and put it in the same position as the previous 32" reflector (figure 5).

Figure 5

From above, it looks like maybe the reflector can take the light from the main and reflect it out in a broad area across the front of the breadbox (figure 6).

Figure 6

The results, however, show otherwise. The reflection covers about most the front of the breadbox. This is not nearly enough to give us the result that we were looking for (figure 7).

Figure 7

Many of the people that we talk to think you can move the reflector back to make the reflection larger. Lets try moving the reflector away from the breadbox, about twice as far as the first photo.

Here is the 22" reflector in our new set up position about 2 feet away for the breadbox (figure 8).

Figure 8

From above, it looks like this farther away position will enable the reflector to broaden the angle that the reflector will bounce the light, filling the front of our breadbox with light (figure 9).

Figure 9

The results show that the exact opposite has occured. The reflection is now smaller that it was when the reflector was closer to the breadbox (figure 10).

Figure 10

Now you have learned a new lighting principle; "the farther the light source is moved away from the subject, the smaller it becomes. And conversely, the closer the light source is moved to the subject, the larger it becomes."

We will talk more about this principle in another lesson.

In conclusion, we have demonstrated that you should have a reflector that is larger than your subject if you want to have the reflection, or "fill", cover your entire subject.

Remember this same principle applys to portrait photos. So, if you are shooting full length portraits, you should use our 39" x 72" LitePanel reflector or our oval LiteDisc reflector.

Here are the three results side by side for you to compare one last time (figure 11-13).

Figure 11

Figure 12

Figure 13

Related Lessons

Following are Web Photo School lessons related to this topic.

Creating Reflective Shapes with a LiteDisc
Learn to use the shape of your reflector to add form and visual interest to your product shots.

Creating Cinematic Lighting the Easy Way
LitePanel reflectors and existing light can offer great results outdoors.

Creating Custom Reflections
Learn how to control the size, shape, and softness of reflections.

Lighting Equipment

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