Three cheap and easy DIY reflectors you can use to take your portraits to the next level
Reflectors are one of the most valuable tools a portrait photographer can own. And we’re not talking about monetary value, but usefulness. Their cost is relatively inexpensive, but the value they can bring to your images can be pretty immense. But what if you’re just starting out and don’t want to buy one or several reflectors of varying sizes? Or what if you just don’t have the size and shape of reflector you need in an emergency?
Well, here’s Jay P Morgan from The Slanted Lens here to save the day with three DIY options that you can repurpose for use as very effective reflectors. You might already even own one or all of the things he shows off in the video and not even thought about using it as a reflector before.
The options presented in the video aren’t exactly new and revolutionary ideas, but they’re very handy for beginner photographers who have perhaps been led to think that they absolutely have to go and buy commercial solutions for every problem. But you can get a decent enough reflector for as little as a dollar, which is the first suggestion in the video. Simple white foam core board. you can use one here, or tape two together end-to-end to make a larger reflector for full-length portraits.
I’m a huge fan of foam core for reflectors, even on a tiny scale. They can make for fantastic little reflectors for product photography and still life images just to reflect little bits of light into specific places. After all, even a relatively small 12″ square of white foam core is like a big soft cloudy sky to a tiny product. Just like light sources and modifiers like softboxes, the size of the reflector will determine how hard or soft it is. Cut it into smaller pieces for a harder light or tape multiple sheets together for a larger, softer reflected fill.
The second solution presented is a cheap windshield cover. You know, the sunshade kind of thing you stick inside your car across the windshield to stop it from heating the vehicle too much when the only space in the parking lot with shade from a tree is already taken? Yeah, those. These are available in white or silver (amongst many other weird and wonderful patterns and colours) and often only cost a couple of dollars. But these can make for fantastic reflectors in an emergency.
Finally, scaling things up a bit, there’s insulation foam. This is readily available in places like Home Depot and is usually white (protected by a large sticker) on one side and silver on the other giving you the best of both worlds for a softer or a more specular reflected light. Seal up the edges with black gaffer tape to stop them falling apart so easily! You can keep these large at their original 4′ x 4′ size or cut them down to whatever size fits your need (or the space you’re shooting in).
The great thing about reflectors, whether you buy one or go the DIY route is that they’re useful for both natural light and flash. They’re also very useful when shooting videos, too.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.