Modifying Light Part 1: Reflectors and Diffusers {Free Beginner Photography Class}

There are situations where the image you want to create cannot be done well in the available light.  When this occurs, it’s time for a little light modification.  We’re going to explore the most simple forms of light modification here for those situations where you want to improve your imagery.


A reflector is anything that bounces light back at your subject.  Photographers use both natural reflectors in our scenes as well as hand held reflectors.

Using a reflector is all a matter of angles.  Lets say we’re side lighting a portrait but would like a little more light on the dark side of the face.  Solution: hold up or use a natural reflector to angle light back into the portrait from the opposite side.  Using a reflector during mid-day shoots is must for reducing those under eye shadows.  Finding the right angle will be a matter of experimentation unless you’re good with visual geometry.

Natural Reflectors

Natural environmental reflectors are all around us.  For instance, the white walls of a house will naturally reflect whatever light enters the home.  Other natural reflectors include water, white/tan sand, light colored cement, white walls, and just about anything white/pale gray that will bounce light back into your subject from your environment.

With a natural reflector that’s immobile you’ll likely have to move your subject around to find the angle that works best.

Handheld Reflectors

I have used white poster board, towels, and burp clothes as handheld reflectors. You don’t have to buy a specialized piece of equipment, but if you want to buy  here is a cheap one on Amazon (affiliate link).  Purchased reflectors will have different colors: often silver, gold, and sometimes black to block light.

Examples when using a Handheld Reflector

The reflector used in this shoot is much larger than the one I linked, but this will give you a visual of using one.


Diffusers soften light and are great for those times where you can’t avoid mid-day portraits.  Holding a diffuser over a subject will soften that overhead light.  Diffusing light through a sheer white curtain will make window light softer in your portraits.

Like reflectors diffusers can be purchased, but for your purposes, a sheer white curtain panel and a white sheet/length of fabric should be perfect should you ever need to use one.