DIY Reflector for Natural Light Photography.

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Picture 17

I la la lava me a nice white photo reflector.  Catch me out on shoot or at a wedding and chances are, 9 times out of an even 10, I’ll have my trusty ol’ reflector in tow.  However it’s important to note that it’s also highly probable that I’ll have an assistant at my heels making certain I’m able to make good use of said reflector. What if an assistant isn’t a luxury you enjoy?  Even if you can work the reflector and shoot at the same time (which I’ve definitely done many a time, albeit awkwardly) it’s not always practical.  What happens if you’re shooting a rambunctious toddler?  It’s not realistic to balance camera and reflector, while trying to set manual controls (with what your tongue??) and simultaneously chase a 3 year old through a field of wheat.  Plus with all this economic uncertainty, let’s just be honest, it’s nice to be able to make use of something you likely already have lying around the house!

Here are 3 simple ways to use a white bed sheet as your DIY reflector (your pseudo assistant if you will) to enhance your natural light photography on a budget (though the uses are ENDLESS if you just get creative!!!).

1.  Stand/sit on it

If you have your subject sit, stand or lie directly on the sheet you’ll immediately eliminate the shadows under eyes and chin and soften deep wrinkles.  The light bounces easily into all the right places.  Plus the sheet is generally large enough to allow a kiddo plenty of wiggle room while keeping him or her well lit!

SIDE NOTE: It’s also just a great way to allow a baby to wiggle around at an outdoor session without ending up all itchy from the grass.  I’ve had kids flat out refuse to be set down on the grass.  At a session recently, a mom brought her own white blanket because she’s actually allergic to the grass.

2.  Place it just outside the shade

If you’re shooting in direct sunlight, you don’t have to be an advanced photographer to know that open shade is a welcomed relief.  However, occasionally that shade takes away some of the dynamic of the light on your subject’s faces.  White sheet to the rescue!!!  Place the white sheet in the sunlight right a the edge of where the shade begins.  Have your subjects step up to the edge of the shadow they’re standing in and voila!  You’ve got dynamic!

3.  Use it as a diffuser

In bright midday sun, you can use the sheet as a way to soften the harsh light.  Have mom and dad hold the sheet over the head of their toddler or even hang the sheet between two branches to create a nice, gentle, even light.

Got other ideas?  Share them in the comments below!! Have questions? Shout those out in the comments too.  I always do my best to answer. 🙂

Happy Shooting!!

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Natalie Norton

is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

  • G7

    This sounds great as Im always looking for a cheap remedy to buying new equipment. LOL. But I am always looking for new creative ways to bounce light on to the subject. Here in Jersey though, getting wintery and all, I’m curious to try this indoors.

  • Nice work, thanks Natalie.

    Here’s the mini-version

  • I have also used very cheap reflectors of another kind for some of my photography. Since I don’t normally shoot portraits–I mostly shoot nature and landscapes–I use reflectors of a size that better suits my needs. One of my local bakeries uses stiff cardboard under their cakes. The board comes in various sizes and can be had with either a gold or silver faced textured surface with a solid white back so it essentially does double duty depending on my needs These items make great reflectors for my kind of shots and the larger ones can even be used for portraits. One of the nice things about theses boards is that they are very light and easily stored and transported plus the cost (CHEAP) isn’t bad either.

  • Remington

    You could also buy a couple of cheap light stands ($30 each) and attached the sheet to the stands with some “A” clamps. The stands also come in handy if you’re using off camera flash.

    An even cheaper way would be to buy some PVC pipe and make a few different sized frames (i.e. 24 x 24 or 15 x 15). Example, 4 pieces of PVC with elbow connectors that pull apart so it travels small. Again, use a few “A” clamps to attached the sheet and you’ve got something that you can hold (or an assistant,parent or friend could hold) . Here you have the option of folding the sheet to create more diffusion and softness of the light.

    Cheers!

  • Angie

    Great ideas! Thank you.

  • Thank you for sharing! these are great ideas. Do you have a diagram of the #2? I don’t quite understand the exact positioning there.
    I was using a regular umbrella one time when I wanted to get rid of direct sun. t worked very well. I just the subject hold the umbrella in his hand and cover the sun. I imagine with the white sheet the result will be more radiant.

  • Jesse Kaufman

    As Katya said, i’m a little confused on #2 … otherwise, great article … it would be interesting (if nothing else) to see some “before/after” shots, too … i know what a good reflector can do, but it would at least be interesting 😉

    that said, perfect timing, because i just bought some supplies i’m going to be using as a DIY reflector … i *think* what i’m going to do with an upcoming portrait shoot is use a mic stand (i’m a musician, so I have a mic stand but not a light stand lol), a piece of foam board and some duct tape for my reflector … that way, i have some flexibility with the angles i set the reflector at … going to do some practice shots with my son beforehand to get a better feel for how it will all work out! 🙂

  • @Katya
    Here is a rough sketch for #2. I hope its self-explanatory

    [eimg url=’http://dl.dropbox.com/u/38222/Number2.png’ title=’Number2.png’]

  • I made a DIY reflector with PVC and use it a lot. It is a lot more sturdy than using 2 light stands, as it can easily get blown over. the PVC one can be easily help or leaned on something. I also use a silver and fold material I found at a sewing store to make a cheap California Sun Bounce like unit.

  • Richard Skoonberg

    Wonderful and simple idea! Thanks.

  • A white plastic table is a great reflector when taking portraits outdoor (those silvery tables work, but would probably make your subject squint a bit from the hard reflection). It makes a great difference if you can use it for some fill from below a sunny day.

    Nothing you would carry with you, but if you have one nearby, use it. Works great with flashes as well.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefantell/3942610716/

  • Great ideas….need to try them!

  • 0rovert

    Katya and Jesse here’s my visual explanation of tip # 2. BTW, I am a terrible artist :-)[eimg url=’http://twitpic.com/tohur’ title=’tohur’]

    Hope this helps and Natalie please correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Fred Johnston

    Might I also recommend one those sun shields that people put on the windshields of their cars when they park in the sun. Many of those come with reflective material and you can fold them to just the right size for your need.

  • Wow! Fred, I like this idea! how handy and multi-use.

  • errol mc donald

    i like what u since iam doing photogrephy at its a cheap to go

  • Lisa

    I looooove these tips. I will definitely use them, b/c living in FL as I do, we got lots of nice, bright, HARSH sunlight, with a small window of late evening soft light because it gets dark almost immediately. Thank you!!!

  • John

    White Sheet and gaffer tape stick it to a wall or two trees for High Key shots you then use the sun as your main light works well

  • Roy………….

    I like your idea with the bed sheet, to defuse the Australian harsh sunlight, I use a child’s white parrasol held above a subject, this defuses the light and eliminates unwanted shadows, if the subject is a person, they can hold the parrasol themselves, a white or gold reflector is placed at their feet, the colour depends upon what mood I am trying to create.

    Happy snapping……………

  • ashley

    A great friend taught me a great trick for when you dont have a lot of lighting available. Take duct tape and tape a white sheet to the ceiling so that it hangs down in front of the subject. …then we put a light off to the side and a little behind the subject. When we took pictures the light that was behind our subject bounced off the sheet in front of him and gave us good lighting from all angles.

    The other thing Ive always heard and it was mentioned by someone else is to take a car windshield reflector and use it in place of the spendier cloth ones you can buy. I saw a guy use tin foil too. He would make a screen of tin foil by gluing it on to cardboard and then setting it behing his lighting to bounce it forward towards the model and you can always use the tin foil and spray paint it gold or white to suite your needs.

  • Wowee Natalie!!, thanks for the super awesome tip!, I can’t wait to try the “White Sheet” idea.

  • hey guys, I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate ALL of your suggestions. And remedies. We need to get together all of these ideas and put a book together! like what PHOTOJOJO did! (fun diy photography crafty funness!) their website is great too. photojojo.com you can link up your flickr account to them.

    Anyways, thanks you guys for all your tips / tricks. I have spent so much money on gear that I literally have lost count. I thought I had all of my receipts in one folder but 1/2 are missing just by looking at the gear in my bags.
    Yes, bags, a full THINK TANK Airporter. OVERFLOWING. and a hockey gear bag full enough to where I can’t carry anything else in it.

    diyphotography.com is one of my FAAAAAAVES on light tricks and tips. I find this is where I have my most difficulty in learning – and fine tuning.

    I love my 48″ reflector. i don’t know what I would do without it. I CAN do without the stand and the boom/arm though – ive tried to use it a few times but it is just obnoxious and usually have someone just hold the reflector for me or prop it against something.

    I got my 5 in1 reflector from Amazon – thru Westcott. THEY ARE GREAT. I got a brand new one for 48$ and it collapses down to like 16″‘es.

    So, plllllease, if you get any gear buy a 5 in one! you will be SOOO happy.

    Go to DIYPHOTOGRAPHY!

    here is the link:

    http://diyphotography.net/taxonomy/term/153

    Okay see ya!!

  • i send to you a good link to make a photo reflector :
    http://rienquepourlesyeux.free.fr/Reflecteur%20photographique/Photographic%20reflector.htm
    It is easily to make it and for a cost lower than 10 Dollards for two reflector or for one big photographic reflector
    it is for info.

  • Ravi Kanth

    My uncle with whom I share this hobby of photography gave me this tip about reflectors. You don’t need to buy an expensive reflector. You have the silver sheets used for car windows to block the sun. They supposedly work very well and are also ultra-cheap & light.

  • aryn

    A sheet stapled to a hula hoop also works 🙂

  • You can also buy a window “reflector” shade for RV’s it’s much larger, they sell them at Wal Mart or any other large chain for a lot less than the bigger pro reflectors.

  • thanks so much natalie, can’t wait to try the white sheet! also to everyone else with some great suggestions!!

  • Lyn

    Question… I’m going to be shooting a large family next week (14). How in the world am I suppose to properly light all these people in the shade?

  • David Dylan

    For a shoot in a set of old WW2 bunkers I needed a way to bounce around every last scrap of light I could get.

    Mind you, this was in winter, at a beach, at sunrise and even before sunrise. And anyone who has been inside these old bunkers knows that they were made to keep stuff out (aka: bombs, bullets, allied soldiers) not to let light in. 2m thick concrete walls, tiny slits for firing through, etc.

    But where the light came in… well, low winter sun can be harsh.

    I brought a roll of radiator foil. The type with a shiny side and a white side. You can get a huge roll for a few bucks at any DIY store.

    The white side acted like the regular white sheet, but due to being kinda stiff it could often just be propped up to stand on its own, or a small bit of duck tape would hold it up (it weighs less than nothing) and the shiny side helped bounce light into dark corners where there really was none.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/30748540@N06/sets/72157626127497979/

  • Jenny

    So far I’ve just used open shade. Sometimes that’s not available so I plan to keep in mind the windscreen reflector I always have in the car to keep it cool in the South African summer sun.

  • Excellent advice! I didn’t even think of using a sheet, and that might come in handy very soon. Thanks for the post!

  • I’m here to say that I’ve totally over come my shyness with the last reflector I used. When I suddenly found myself without my trusty reflector, (yes, it was in the same place I left it at home, when I flew out for the shoot) on an equine shoot in Scottsdale last month, my head started spinning, thinking about what I could use for a quick fix. Can you say, sheet insulation that has the silver reflector aluminum side? $3 for a 4×3 sheet to boot! AND….it’s an awesome butterfly/clam shell type of reflector that can and does, stand on it’s own!!! Hey, when a gal forgets her reflector at home, what is she suppose to do but get creative? That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? On the flip side. those sun reflectors made for cars just might work in a pinch as well!

Some Older Comments

  • Ms Carey Berry February 22, 2013 02:11 pm

    I'm here to say that I've totally over come my shyness with the last reflector I used. When I suddenly found myself without my trusty reflector, (yes, it was in the same place I left it at home, when I flew out for the shoot) on an equine shoot in Scottsdale last month, my head started spinning, thinking about what I could use for a quick fix. Can you say, sheet insulation that has the silver reflector aluminum side? $3 for a 4x3 sheet to boot! AND....it's an awesome butterfly/clam shell type of reflector that can and does, stand on it's own!!! Hey, when a gal forgets her reflector at home, what is she suppose to do but get creative? That's what it's all about, isn't it? On the flip side. those sun reflectors made for cars just might work in a pinch as well!

  • Average Joe December 31, 2012 03:48 am

    Excellent advice! I didn't even think of using a sheet, and that might come in handy very soon. Thanks for the post!

  • Jenny April 27, 2012 04:06 pm

    So far I've just used open shade. Sometimes that's not available so I plan to keep in mind the windscreen reflector I always have in the car to keep it cool in the South African summer sun.

  • David Dylan August 14, 2011 10:14 pm

    For a shoot in a set of old WW2 bunkers I needed a way to bounce around every last scrap of light I could get.

    Mind you, this was in winter, at a beach, at sunrise and even before sunrise. And anyone who has been inside these old bunkers knows that they were made to keep stuff out (aka: bombs, bullets, allied soldiers) not to let light in. 2m thick concrete walls, tiny slits for firing through, etc.

    But where the light came in... well, low winter sun can be harsh.

    I brought a roll of radiator foil. The type with a shiny side and a white side. You can get a huge roll for a few bucks at any DIY store.

    The white side acted like the regular white sheet, but due to being kinda stiff it could often just be propped up to stand on its own, or a small bit of duck tape would hold it up (it weighs less than nothing) and the shiny side helped bounce light into dark corners where there really was none.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/30748540@N06/sets/72157626127497979/

  • Lyn June 1, 2011 05:05 am

    Question... I'm going to be shooting a large family next week (14). How in the world am I suppose to properly light all these people in the shade?

  • deborah May 21, 2011 12:52 am

    thanks so much natalie, can't wait to try the white sheet! also to everyone else with some great suggestions!!

  • gwen January 31, 2011 06:06 am

    You can also buy a window "reflector" shade for RV's it's much larger, they sell them at Wal Mart or any other large chain for a lot less than the bigger pro reflectors.

  • aryn December 18, 2010 03:36 pm

    A sheet stapled to a hula hoop also works :)

  • Ravi Kanth November 26, 2010 03:47 pm

    My uncle with whom I share this hobby of photography gave me this tip about reflectors. You don't need to buy an expensive reflector. You have the silver sheets used for car windows to block the sun. They supposedly work very well and are also ultra-cheap & light.

  • ThierryD October 18, 2010 11:48 pm

    i send to you a good link to make a photo reflector :
    http://rienquepourlesyeux.free.fr/Reflecteur%20photographique/Photographic%20reflector.htm
    It is easily to make it and for a cost lower than 10 Dollards for two reflector or for one big photographic reflector
    it is for info.

  • you guys are my favorite March 23, 2010 10:15 am

    hey guys, I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate ALL of your suggestions. And remedies. We need to get together all of these ideas and put a book together! like what PHOTOJOJO did! (fun diy photography crafty funness!) their website is great too. photojojo.com you can link up your flickr account to them.

    Anyways, thanks you guys for all your tips / tricks. I have spent so much money on gear that I literally have lost count. I thought I had all of my receipts in one folder but 1/2 are missing just by looking at the gear in my bags.
    Yes, bags, a full THINK TANK Airporter. OVERFLOWING. and a hockey gear bag full enough to where I can't carry anything else in it.

    diyphotography.com is one of my FAAAAAAVES on light tricks and tips. I find this is where I have my most difficulty in learning - and fine tuning.

    I love my 48" reflector. i don't know what I would do without it. I CAN do without the stand and the boom/arm though - ive tried to use it a few times but it is just obnoxious and usually have someone just hold the reflector for me or prop it against something.

    I got my 5 in1 reflector from Amazon - thru Westcott. THEY ARE GREAT. I got a brand new one for 48$ and it collapses down to like 16"'es.

    So, plllllease, if you get any gear buy a 5 in one! you will be SOOO happy.

    Go to DIYPHOTOGRAPHY!

    here is the link:

    http://diyphotography.net/taxonomy/term/153

    Okay see ya!!

  • Arno December 18, 2009 06:15 pm

    Wowee Natalie!!, thanks for the super awesome tip!, I can't wait to try the "White Sheet" idea.

  • ashley December 18, 2009 11:47 am

    A great friend taught me a great trick for when you dont have a lot of lighting available. Take duct tape and tape a white sheet to the ceiling so that it hangs down in front of the subject. ...then we put a light off to the side and a little behind the subject. When we took pictures the light that was behind our subject bounced off the sheet in front of him and gave us good lighting from all angles.

    The other thing Ive always heard and it was mentioned by someone else is to take a car windshield reflector and use it in place of the spendier cloth ones you can buy. I saw a guy use tin foil too. He would make a screen of tin foil by gluing it on to cardboard and then setting it behing his lighting to bounce it forward towards the model and you can always use the tin foil and spray paint it gold or white to suite your needs.

  • Roy............. December 18, 2009 06:34 am

    I like your idea with the bed sheet, to defuse the Australian harsh sunlight, I use a child's white parrasol held above a subject, this defuses the light and eliminates unwanted shadows, if the subject is a person, they can hold the parrasol themselves, a white or gold reflector is placed at their feet, the colour depends upon what mood I am trying to create.

    Happy snapping...............

  • John December 18, 2009 04:36 am

    White Sheet and gaffer tape stick it to a wall or two trees for High Key shots you then use the sun as your main light works well

  • Lisa December 18, 2009 03:13 am

    I looooove these tips. I will definitely use them, b/c living in FL as I do, we got lots of nice, bright, HARSH sunlight, with a small window of late evening soft light because it gets dark almost immediately. Thank you!!!

  • errol mc donald December 17, 2009 02:02 pm

    i like what u since iam doing photogrephy at its a cheap to go

  • Katya December 17, 2009 04:47 am

    Wow! Fred, I like this idea! how handy and multi-use.

  • Fred Johnston December 16, 2009 04:03 pm

    Might I also recommend one those sun shields that people put on the windshields of their cars when they park in the sun. Many of those come with reflective material and you can fold them to just the right size for your need.

  • 0rovert December 16, 2009 10:24 am

    Katya and Jesse here's my visual explanation of tip # 2. BTW, I am a terrible artist :-)[eimg url='http://twitpic.com/tohur' title='tohur']

    Hope this helps and Natalie please correct me if I'm wrong.

  • Jack Fussell December 16, 2009 08:39 am

    Great ideas....need to try them!

  • Stefan Tell December 15, 2009 08:28 pm

    A white plastic table is a great reflector when taking portraits outdoor (those silvery tables work, but would probably make your subject squint a bit from the hard reflection). It makes a great difference if you can use it for some fill from below a sunny day.

    Nothing you would carry with you, but if you have one nearby, use it. Works great with flashes as well.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefantell/3942610716/

  • Richard Skoonberg December 15, 2009 08:03 am

    Wonderful and simple idea! Thanks.

  • scott e. detweiler December 15, 2009 08:02 am

    I made a DIY reflector with PVC and use it a lot. It is a lot more sturdy than using 2 light stands, as it can easily get blown over. the PVC one can be easily help or leaned on something. I also use a silver and fold material I found at a sewing store to make a cheap California Sun Bounce like unit.

  • Thukral.nl December 15, 2009 07:52 am

    @Katya
    Here is a rough sketch for #2. I hope its self-explanatory

    [eimg url='http://dl.dropbox.com/u/38222/Number2.png' title='Number2.png']

  • Jesse Kaufman December 15, 2009 07:49 am

    As Katya said, i'm a little confused on #2 ... otherwise, great article ... it would be interesting (if nothing else) to see some "before/after" shots, too ... i know what a good reflector can do, but it would at least be interesting ;)

    that said, perfect timing, because i just bought some supplies i'm going to be using as a DIY reflector ... i *think* what i'm going to do with an upcoming portrait shoot is use a mic stand (i'm a musician, so I have a mic stand but not a light stand lol), a piece of foam board and some duct tape for my reflector ... that way, i have some flexibility with the angles i set the reflector at ... going to do some practice shots with my son beforehand to get a better feel for how it will all work out! :)

  • Katya December 15, 2009 07:36 am

    Thank you for sharing! these are great ideas. Do you have a diagram of the #2? I don't quite understand the exact positioning there.
    I was using a regular umbrella one time when I wanted to get rid of direct sun. t worked very well. I just the subject hold the umbrella in his hand and cover the sun. I imagine with the white sheet the result will be more radiant.

  • Angie December 15, 2009 07:22 am

    Great ideas! Thank you.

  • Remington December 15, 2009 06:28 am

    You could also buy a couple of cheap light stands ($30 each) and attached the sheet to the stands with some "A" clamps. The stands also come in handy if you're using off camera flash.

    An even cheaper way would be to buy some PVC pipe and make a few different sized frames (i.e. 24 x 24 or 15 x 15). Example, 4 pieces of PVC with elbow connectors that pull apart so it travels small. Again, use a few "A" clamps to attached the sheet and you've got something that you can hold (or an assistant,parent or friend could hold) . Here you have the option of folding the sheet to create more diffusion and softness of the light.

    Cheers!

  • Ralph-In-Virginia December 15, 2009 04:44 am

    I have also used very cheap reflectors of another kind for some of my photography. Since I don't normally shoot portraits--I mostly shoot nature and landscapes--I use reflectors of a size that better suits my needs. One of my local bakeries uses stiff cardboard under their cakes. The board comes in various sizes and can be had with either a gold or silver faced textured surface with a solid white back so it essentially does double duty depending on my needs These items make great reflectors for my kind of shots and the larger ones can even be used for portraits. One of the nice things about theses boards is that they are very light and easily stored and transported plus the cost (CHEAP) isn't bad either.

  • Peter Bryenton December 15, 2009 04:30 am

    Nice work, thanks Natalie.

    Here's the mini-version

  • G7 December 15, 2009 03:25 am

    This sounds great as Im always looking for a cheap remedy to buying new equipment. LOL. But I am always looking for new creative ways to bounce light on to the subject. Here in Jersey though, getting wintery and all, I'm curious to try this indoors.

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