DIY Reflector - Wear a White T-Shirt - Digital Photography School

DIY Reflector – Wear a White T-Shirt

White-T-ShirtYesterday I was chatting to a photographer and the conversation got on to using reflectors to light portrait subjects.

While he uses reflectors he shared that at times when he’s shooting in locations where a reflector is not possible he’ll wear a white T-Shirt and use his body as a reflector.

The key is to position yourself close enough to your portrait and with the sun shining on you in such a way that the T-Shirt reflects light back up on your subject.

I must have looked a little doubtful as he told me this but he assured me that it actually works and has the added bonus of not having a large setup which can overwhelm your subject and make them feel uncomfortable.

Bonus White T-Shirt Tip: he went on to share with me another white T-shirt tip. When shooting with a flash and wanting to diffuse it’s impact he often bounces the flash off himself. This way the light is indirect upon his subject – but the light of the flash remains a white natural light – rather than bouncing it off a colored surface.

What would have known that a white T-Shirt could be such a useful photography accessory.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://anitabower.aminus3.com/ Anita Bower

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • T-Will

    Good ideas, but if you don’t have a flash that can be separated from your camera then you’re kind of outta luck. Any sample shots using this method?

  • http://www.filmmakerinterviews.com Anup Sugunan

    Great tip. Related tip: I was helping out on big shoot once and the DP asked me to hold his white-balance card so he can set his camera. It turned out that my new crisp white t-shirt was whiter than the card, so we tossed the cards and just used my shirt.

  • http://mclatchyphotography.blogspot.com Rodbotic

    now you just have to avoid coffee, ketchup, mustard,..,eating or drinking before a shoot. or lose all cred as a pro with a big stain on your shirt.

    unless you wanted the light to be tinted some……

    @T-WILL: you can use the sun for a light, and use the shirts reflection as a fill light.

  • http://www.stuvel.eu/ Sybren Stüvel

    I often wear white trousers. Because my legs are considerably thinner than my torso, I haven’t used them for reflecting. However, they are great for white balancing!

  • http://digital-photography-school.com/blog Darren

    speaking of white legs – I think I could use my untanned legs (or chest) for a reflector :-)

  • http://sheymouse.blogspot.com SheyMouse

    Quite an interesting tip. An extension of that perhaps would be to carry a white piece of cotton in your kit. It folds up small and is considerably cheaper than one of those ‘proper’ reflectors.

  • http://www.shedblog.co.uk unclewilco

    interesting..

    right now to get mrs unclewilco to show me how not to turn white t shirts pink when I do the wash…

  • macdane

    Interesting tip, but I can’t imagine getting that close to my subject would be conducive to a good portrait. I guess I’ll reserve judgement and try it first!

  • http://www.stuvel.eu/ Sybren Stüvel

    Judo coat also works great, as can be seen in .

  • http://www.samlampphotography.com Sam

    Great idea, who would have thought clothing would become a lighting accessory!? LOL
    I must agree with having a smaller setup to, recently I had the opportunity to have my photo taken for a magazine and I had never sat for photographs myself, not to mention I prefer landscapes to people. Anyway although it was a head shot it was a bit overwhelming with the lights and the camera and the fact you have to continue to smile endlessly it seems like.
    I think a white t-shirt would also benefit in helping the subject feel a bit more relaxed, and at ease with the photographer. Keeping things casual in a sense.

  • lilia

    Nice idea! but I’m only wondering what happens when the photographer such as myself is shorter than the subject..reflections can only go so far upwards ;)

  • http://www.jenniferangeloro.com LeAnne

    Neat idea. I too wonder if I would be close enough to my subjects for this to work. i’ll have to try it though!

  • http://www.miraluka.com jliu

    The white t-shirt technique, and some variations, are actually discussed by photographer Erin Manning of HGTV and DIY tv networks in a Frommers.com podcast which you can find here:
    http://www.frommers.com/podcast/article.cfm?articleid=4830&t=Frommers%2Ecom%20Podcast%3A%20How%20to%20Take%20Better%20Vacation%20Photos

    Kind of interesting, most of it is pretty common sense, but it was kinda cool to see the white t-shirt theory discussed somewhere else, just after I saw it here.

  • Melissa S

    How cool! Will need to put this idea in a little book of gems!

  • rav

    I also heard a story about a German sport photographer using his white baseball hat to bounce the flash light. Just his colleagues complain when he fires up his flash towards them :) But it works, really.

  • http://www.classyshots.com Mike Van

    While the shirt thing may work I’ve found that wearing white can be a real curse as far as it being seen in any reflective surface in your shot. Anything from chrome on a custom car at a car show to the eyes of a model will pick it up.

  • Jan

    Note that any photographer clothes other than neutral white, black or grey can inflence the photo tonality by reflection. I dress black cause it is neutral and because it makes me look thinner (though I am not the subject, but still…) – idea with white is interesting. I’m going to try it for this purpose.

  • http://lasermobiledisco.com Andre

    Very inteisting I can alsow ask my partnet asistant to wear a white t-shrt to so add more light around the subject. We can ask the bride maids(dressed in white) to gather around the couple for extra light.

  • Wayne VanWeerthuizen

    “Great tip. Related tip: I was helping out on big shoot once and the DP asked me to hold his white-balance card so he can set his camera. It turned out that my new crisp white t-shirt was whiter than the card, so we tossed the cards and just used my shirt.”

    Just realize that for a white balance reference, whiter is not always better.

    Actually, good white balance cards are light neutral gray so that the white balancing is done closer to the middle of the camera’s sensitivity range, for more accurate results. And a properly made and maintained white balance card (e.g. don’t let it get bleached by the sun when not using it.) is more accurately neutral in color than a white shirt or piece of paper. It is common to have “white” t-shirts that are actually too yellow or even too blue (many fabric cleaners use bluing agents to make whites look whiter), even when they look plain white to the eye.

    A surface that is too white could also give bad readings if it is overexposed during the white balance check and any of the color channels are clipped at the maximum sensor value. What’s worse, many camera models won’t give you any warning if this occurs when setting white balance… they’ll just use the bad data as if nothing is wrong. Shooting a white balance card as the first in an image of RAW images. then white balancing them later in a photo editor is usually better than using custom white balance in the camera and shooting JPGs. Just make sure to check that the image of the card is not overexposed on any color channel when you take the shot.

    Of course, how picky need to be depends on what you are trying to achieve. A lot of photos do not actually need perfect white balance. Many times a warmer image actually looks better.

  • Mike

    Great tips! My of our engagement photo sessions http://leapyearphoto.com/index.php/Engagements.html are at the beaches of Fort Myers and white shirts at sunset really do help! Both on the photographer and on our clients, the sun at sunset really looks fantastic as it turns the white to a beautiful rose color.

  • http://www.phototshirts.org/ customize t shirts

    Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate it

  • http://apestudio.in alpesh

    i would love to see some sample shots

  • http://www.ahh.biz Pat Elliot

    You can make your own portable photo reflectors and save some money. There are a few reflective fabrics with varying reflective properties take a look at these, samples of the material are available:

    http://ahh.biz/fabric/specialized/aluminized_nylon_ripstop.html

    http://ahh.biz/fabric/specialized/metallic_mirror_finish_nylon_ripstop.html

    http://ahh.biz/vinyl/vinyl_heat_shield_aluminized_mylar.html

  • http://sylvyrocks.tumblr.com Sylvy

    Brilliant idea. Thank you for sharing this tip!
    I’m curious to see some sample shots using this method.

Some older comments

  • Sylvy

    March 27, 2013 08:56 pm

    Brilliant idea. Thank you for sharing this tip!
    I'm curious to see some sample shots using this method.

  • Pat Elliot

    November 2, 2011 01:31 am

    You can make your own portable photo reflectors and save some money. There are a few reflective fabrics with varying reflective properties take a look at these, samples of the material are available:

    http://ahh.biz/fabric/specialized/aluminized_nylon_ripstop.html

    http://ahh.biz/fabric/specialized/metallic_mirror_finish_nylon_ripstop.html

    http://ahh.biz/vinyl/vinyl_heat_shield_aluminized_mylar.html

  • alpesh

    May 19, 2010 08:33 pm

    i would love to see some sample shots

  • customize t shirts

    January 22, 2010 11:12 am

    Thanks for sharing, I really appreciate it

  • Mike

    June 21, 2009 03:44 am

    Great tips! My of our engagement photo sessions http://leapyearphoto.com/index.php/Engagements.html are at the beaches of Fort Myers and white shirts at sunset really do help! Both on the photographer and on our clients, the sun at sunset really looks fantastic as it turns the white to a beautiful rose color.

  • Wayne VanWeerthuizen

    February 3, 2009 10:10 am

    "Great tip. Related tip: I was helping out on big shoot once and the DP asked me to hold his white-balance card so he can set his camera. It turned out that my new crisp white t-shirt was whiter than the card, so we tossed the cards and just used my shirt."

    Just realize that for a white balance reference, whiter is not always better.

    Actually, good white balance cards are light neutral gray so that the white balancing is done closer to the middle of the camera's sensitivity range, for more accurate results. And a properly made and maintained white balance card (e.g. don't let it get bleached by the sun when not using it.) is more accurately neutral in color than a white shirt or piece of paper. It is common to have "white" t-shirts that are actually too yellow or even too blue (many fabric cleaners use bluing agents to make whites look whiter), even when they look plain white to the eye.

    A surface that is too white could also give bad readings if it is overexposed during the white balance check and any of the color channels are clipped at the maximum sensor value. What's worse, many camera models won't give you any warning if this occurs when setting white balance... they'll just use the bad data as if nothing is wrong. Shooting a white balance card as the first in an image of RAW images. then white balancing them later in a photo editor is usually better than using custom white balance in the camera and shooting JPGs. Just make sure to check that the image of the card is not overexposed on any color channel when you take the shot.

    Of course, how picky need to be depends on what you are trying to achieve. A lot of photos do not actually need perfect white balance. Many times a warmer image actually looks better.

  • Andre

    July 5, 2008 04:25 pm

    Very inteisting I can alsow ask my partnet asistant to wear a white t-shrt to so add more light around the subject. We can ask the bride maids(dressed in white) to gather around the couple for extra light.

  • Jan

    March 1, 2008 05:49 am

    Note that any photographer clothes other than neutral white, black or grey can inflence the photo tonality by reflection. I dress black cause it is neutral and because it makes me look thinner (though I am not the subject, but still...) - idea with white is interesting. I'm going to try it for this purpose.

  • Mike Van

    February 4, 2008 03:15 pm

    While the shirt thing may work I've found that wearing white can be a real curse as far as it being seen in any reflective surface in your shot. Anything from chrome on a custom car at a car show to the eyes of a model will pick it up.

  • rav

    January 30, 2008 07:31 am

    I also heard a story about a German sport photographer using his white baseball hat to bounce the flash light. Just his colleagues complain when he fires up his flash towards them :) But it works, really.

  • Melissa S

    January 26, 2008 11:54 am

    How cool! Will need to put this idea in a little book of gems!

  • jliu

    January 11, 2008 05:27 am

    The white t-shirt technique, and some variations, are actually discussed by photographer Erin Manning of HGTV and DIY tv networks in a Frommers.com podcast which you can find here:
    http://www.frommers.com/podcast/article.cfm?articleid=4830&t=Frommers%2Ecom%20Podcast%3A%20How%20to%20Take%20Better%20Vacation%20Photos

    Kind of interesting, most of it is pretty common sense, but it was kinda cool to see the white t-shirt theory discussed somewhere else, just after I saw it here.

  • LeAnne

    January 5, 2008 08:51 am

    Neat idea. I too wonder if I would be close enough to my subjects for this to work. i'll have to try it though!

  • lilia

    January 4, 2008 10:00 am

    Nice idea! but I'm only wondering what happens when the photographer such as myself is shorter than the subject..reflections can only go so far upwards ;)

  • Sam

    January 4, 2008 06:20 am

    Great idea, who would have thought clothing would become a lighting accessory!? LOL
    I must agree with having a smaller setup to, recently I had the opportunity to have my photo taken for a magazine and I had never sat for photographs myself, not to mention I prefer landscapes to people. Anyway although it was a head shot it was a bit overwhelming with the lights and the camera and the fact you have to continue to smile endlessly it seems like.
    I think a white t-shirt would also benefit in helping the subject feel a bit more relaxed, and at ease with the photographer. Keeping things casual in a sense.

  • Sybren Stüvel

    January 4, 2008 03:03 am

    Judo coat also works great, as can be seen in .

  • macdane

    January 4, 2008 12:33 am

    Interesting tip, but I can't imagine getting that close to my subject would be conducive to a good portrait. I guess I'll reserve judgement and try it first!

  • unclewilco

    January 3, 2008 11:03 pm

    interesting..

    right now to get mrs unclewilco to show me how not to turn white t shirts pink when I do the wash...

  • SheyMouse

    January 3, 2008 08:06 pm

    Quite an interesting tip. An extension of that perhaps would be to carry a white piece of cotton in your kit. It folds up small and is considerably cheaper than one of those 'proper' reflectors.

  • Darren

    January 3, 2008 07:01 pm

    speaking of white legs - I think I could use my untanned legs (or chest) for a reflector :-)

  • Sybren Stüvel

    January 3, 2008 03:28 pm

    I often wear white trousers. Because my legs are considerably thinner than my torso, I haven't used them for reflecting. However, they are great for white balancing!

  • Rodbotic

    January 3, 2008 01:57 pm

    now you just have to avoid coffee, ketchup, mustard,..,eating or drinking before a shoot. or lose all cred as a pro with a big stain on your shirt.

    unless you wanted the light to be tinted some......

    @T-WILL: you can use the sun for a light, and use the shirts reflection as a fill light.

  • Anup Sugunan

    January 3, 2008 12:04 pm

    Great tip. Related tip: I was helping out on big shoot once and the DP asked me to hold his white-balance card so he can set his camera. It turned out that my new crisp white t-shirt was whiter than the card, so we tossed the cards and just used my shirt.

  • T-Will

    January 3, 2008 09:17 am

    Good ideas, but if you don't have a flash that can be separated from your camera then you're kind of outta luck. Any sample shots using this method?

  • Anita Bower

    January 3, 2008 08:49 am

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing!!!

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