Photo Ideas # 4 of 10: Photo Reflectors Made from Aluminum Foil !
Like many commercial photographers, I use photo reflectors in the studio when photographing indoor subjects. Much like hand-held mirrors many of us played with as children for shining sunlight onto something, circular or rectangular shaped photo reflectors use a shiny reflective surface to redirect light toward a subject or scene. While a camera’s flash is often useful for brightening a close-up subject, it can also produce unwanted shadows or even scare certain subjects like animals or children. A reflector, on the other hand, simply and quietly disperses light to brighten darker areas of a subject.
Reflectors are also useful when photographing close-up subjects in landscape scenes when the subjects are in partial or full shade. In the outdoors, reflectors are used to create either fill light or hard light. When the subject is at an angle to the sun and partially hidden in shade, the reflector is placed on either side of the subject and the redirected sunlight helps to fill or brighten the shaded areas. Hard light is used when the sun is directly behind the subject. In this instance a reflector, placed in front of the subject, redirects light so it lights the front of the subject. In the two photos below, the sun was located above and behind the subjects and reflectors were used to brighten the front of those subjects.
Small and easily carried collapsible photo reflectors are available from photo supply stores for roughly $40-100 US (about £30-75). In my early days of photography and before I could afford such accessories I created simple reflectors by covering a small piece of cardboard with aluminum foil. Even today on extended backcountry photo shoots and when there is no space available to pack a collapsible photo reflector, I always carry several large pieces of folded aluminum foil and a small piece of cardboard from which I can quickly fashion a reflector.
In the two photos above, the sun was located behind and above the subjects. In each instance, a reflector fashioned from cardboard covered with aluminum foil was placed in front of and slightly below the subject to redirect sunlight toward the leaves (left) and icy branches (right) which had been hidden in shade.
Commercial photo reflectors come in various sizes and are a great way to redirect light onto a close-up subject in a landscape scene. As mentioned above however, you can also use cardboard covered in a reflective material like aluminum foil because the materials are inexpensive and easily available in almost any grocery store. I also know several photographers who use aluminum baking or cookie sheets as reflectors. Large subjects, like horses, often require larger reflectors. In situations like this it’s possible to make a reflector from a large piece of plywood or heavyweight cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil. A larger reflector can also be fashioned from an inexpensive sheet of “aluminum foil-faced foam board” used in home construction and sold in most building supply stores in sizes up to 4×8 ft (1200×2400 mm).