Above: I photographed the model above using just natural light and an inexpensive silver auto windshield sun shade as a reflector. In the other photo, taken a few seconds later, my assistant is shown holding the sun shade from a few feet away from the model.
I’m a big fan and owner of quite a few commercially available reflectors (also commonly referred to as fill cards). They are generally affordable and serve many creative lighting purposes. However, there are times when I am on a trip, or just walking around a town or city with my camera, and due to the size or weight of many commercially available reflectors, I won’t always have one on-hand to use. In other cases, such as when I’m on a busy street, using a large reflector may not be appropriate. In addition, some reflectors are of little use without a light stand, tripod or assistant to hold them.
There are other times when I may need to fly or take a train, and space is at a premium. If I know where to find inexpensive (even disposable) reflectors at or near my destination, that’s one less thing I need to carry with me or have shipped in advance.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some suggestions for a few inexpensive “Go Anywhere” reflectors. Below are five main suggestions, and I hope that they help you to expand your creative options:
1. Auto Windshield Sun Shades: The sun shades often used to keep cars cool on sunny days can serve as excellent fill cards. Some even fold up nicely into a small circle, like more expensive options from photo-related companies. The Axius Basix Magic Shade is one specific product that I’ve used successfully, and I like the fact that one of their products is matte silver on one side and black on the other. To find many more options, search for the term “Car Sun Shade.”
2. Aluminum Foil: I’m certainly not the first person to write about using aluminum foil as a reflector. There are so many ways in which aluminum foil can be made into “Go Anywhere” reflectors, from draping a roll of it over the side of a chair, ladder or light stand, to wrapping sheets of it around cardboard or foam board. In fact, you can create an entire “metallic wall” out of cardboard boxes, rolls of aluminum foil and some tape. And in most cases, one side of the foil will be a shiny silver color, and the other side will be matte silver, which allows for different lighting effects.
3. Sheets, Towels and Fabrics: Bed sheets, towels and fabrics come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. They can serve multiple purposes on photo excursions or in a studio as reflectors, backgrounds, or surfaces on which subjects can be placed (or on which models can sit, stand or lie). They are also easy to fold up and can fit into many different types of bags.
4. Person with white clothing: Don’t laugh, but when you see a great shooting opportunity and need a quick reflector, a great option is to have someone wearing white clothing (for example, a white t-shirt) stand within a foot or two of your subject. The “live reflector” can be faced front toward the subject, or with his or her back turned toward the subject. Because of the way in which light can bounce and be reflected off of white surfaces, a person’s clothing can have a significant effect on the overall look and feel of a photo. This approach can also be helpful when trying to block the sun or wind. Dark clothing can also be useful for when you want to create dark edges or similar effects on a subject.
5. Curtains and Shower Curtains: Window curtains and shower curtains are very versatile and are widely available in a huge array of colors, sizes and styles. They can serve as great reflectors, backdrops or surfaces upon which subjects can be placed. One of the other advantages of curtains is that they are usually very lightweight, and they are also easy to hang on a rod or even a strong piece of string or rope.