Portraits on an Overcast Day? Use a Reflector

Portraits on an Overcast Day? Use a Reflector

Photographer: Sylvain Latouche. Shot with a Sony A850 and a 105cm silver circular foldable reflector.

Photographer: Sylvain Latouche. Shot with a Sony A850, 85mm lens and a 105cm silver circular foldable reflector.

As we head into Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere) the days are becoming shorter and we’re seeing more and more overcast days. While some might say the weather is poor – this is one of my favourite times to shoot portraits out doors.

Overcast cloudy days present photographers with some beautiful soft and even light with the loads acting as a big natural diffuser.

This also means you can position your subjects almost anywhere as there’s little direct light which can open up great creative possibilities.

One of the key tools to have at your disposal on these kinds of days is a reflector (they come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours – grab one of the affordable 5-in-1 sets here if you’re just starting out) to help to bounce some of that lovely soft light up into the face of your subject.

This adds more light into the scene to help with exposure but also fills in any shadows that may be cast (often under the chin, nose etc).

In general you’ll want to position your reflector below and angling the reflected light back up towards the subject to fill in what shadows their may be – but do experiment with positioning the reflector at different distances and angles from your subject to see what impact that has.

Check out some of the following examples – all shot on overcast days with nothing more than a reflector (click the photos to be taken to the photographers page).

Photographer: Sylvain Latouche. Shot with a Sony A850, 85mm lens and 105cm silver circular foldable reflector.

Photographer: Sylvain Latouche. Shot with a Sony A850, 85mm lens and 105cm silver circular foldable reflector.


Photographer: Marcin Sowa. Shot with a Nikon D300, 85mm lens and reflector.

Photographer: Casey Lee. Shot with Canon EOS 30D, 50mm lens and a Gold Reflector.

Photographer: Casey Lee. Shot with Canon EOS 30D, 50mm lens and a Gold Reflector.

Senior Portrait 1 - Tamara (Color)

Photographer: Paul Ryan. Shot with Canon EOS 5D, 24-70mm lens and a Silver Reflector.

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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+.

Some Older Comments

  • Nina May 9, 2013 09:15 pm

    I love the soft light of the reflector for portraits and use them daily in the studio and out but I know what you mean about it not being enough light to fill the shadows. Sometimes i bounce a speedlite into the reflector to give it bit more kick and that seems to work ok for me.

  • Allen May 7, 2013 07:59 pm

    I would like to comment that to me "Photography Is Fun" and if something works then great, If it doesn't then so what as I had a go. I cannot ever imagine someone actually paying me money for any of my photographs but so what.
    I love reading these pages and sometimes I remember what they were on about when I get out into the field with my camera and sometimes I forget all about the article minutes after I read it. I could not imagine having a poor model stuck outside all day long while I fiddled around trying this and that but then I am not a professional and not a perfectionist either.
    I have a couple of reflectors and yes sometimes they help the situation and sometimes they are just a nuisance so I simply put them away no big deal either way.
    Thanks for a very informative article once again.

  • Norm May 6, 2013 02:31 am

    I agree with Daniel, that a good assistant, or sometimes a willing model ( when shooting head and shoulders only) is best when using a reflector. Your assistant should also have an understanding of how the light is helping or hurting your image, that way as you have your subject move and re-pose, your assistant can correctly follow with the reflector.
    I think that it would be safe to say that if you're blinding your model that your either using too reflective a material, or your adding too much fill. Can't get in close enough? Step back with a larger reflector. Light can be modified in so many ways that you simply need to be creative, and find something that works in your immediate situation. Fill can also be feathered so that the hotspot is cast just off of the target area and just adds a tiny hint of light where you need it. Again, your success rate here is greater with an assistant. Amateur and hobbyist almost always have other friends that would be willing to assist. You've got to start somewhere, and you may not get the results you expect right away, so before have an important job, practice with others who are also interested in learning. Diagrams with reflected light may be useful, but remember that each scenario will be different, and it's necessary to learn ( practice practice practice) to find the light to bounce, and how to modify it correctly for your shot.
    One of my biggest challenges was (is) trying to learn that more is not always better, and too much extra bounce looks unnatural.

  • Dawn May 4, 2013 08:39 pm

    How about an article about taking shots like these and any other shots without having an assistant to hold the reflector or flashgun off camera?

  • simon May 4, 2013 03:21 pm

    to Geoff,
    a key factor too is shallow depth of field which isolates your subject and renders the context softly out of focus. You can buy an excellent portrait lens at a very low cost. It may be best to start with a 50mm 1.8 and try shooting at apertures of 2.8 or larger. the wider apertures generally have softer focus on the subject too, not just the background.

  • Shutterbug65 May 4, 2013 04:31 am

    Hi Geoff,
    I have had success with soft focus filters and in the editing. Try them out with a test shoot for fun. You might prefer one over the other for that soft haze on your subject.

  • Geoff May 4, 2013 02:50 am

    Pls can someone explain to me how to make a portrait photo look so lovely and soft as i see so often?.
    If it's camera settings I can't seem to do it. I guess light would play a part or is it post-production? If post-production,can someone give me a hint on how its done.Or is a soft filter used? Hope for a reply thanks.

  • Jason May 3, 2013 09:52 am

    Almost all photos are "retouched". That's editing, pal, so that's neither here nor there. And reflectors are plenty useful. This is a great, useful post.

  • charles May 3, 2013 09:08 am

    Nice write up. It is little reminders and tips like this that keep me coming back.

  • Shutterbug65 May 3, 2013 08:50 am

    I agree with DaniGirl's response. Could you also demonstrate how you have tackled position the reflector at an angle and at different heigts for those of us who do not use an assistant to hold it for you. Different heights would be helpful too if you can demonstrate how to use the reflector by yourself if your model is laying or sitting in the grass vs. standing.

  • DaniGirl May 3, 2013 06:44 am

    These are lovely portraits but what would have been even more helpful is a pullback shot to show how you positioned the reflector in one of these.

  • Kevin May 3, 2013 05:44 am

    One additional tip for this. On cloudy days I always use the silver side of the reflector in order to maximize the amount of light I am casting. When it is sunny out I am usually using the white side since the silver is too intense in direct sunlight and tends to blind my subjects and make them squint.

  • gnslngr45 May 3, 2013 04:32 am

    This is a major thing I lack in my shots. Primarily because I am usually by myself and snapping photos of kids under 6 - so no helper and no patient subject make for a very fast moving shoot.
    I hope to get my wife involved soon so that I can put a reflector into practice.


  • Daniel May 3, 2013 03:59 am

    My personal experience tells me that reflectors are pretty much useless. Most amateurs or photo hobbyists do not have the luxury of having an assistance to hold the reflector doing photo shoot outdoor. A little touch of wind blows the reflector away when I set up the reflector on a light stand and reflector holder. I used sand bag to weigh down the light stand too. There is little or insufficient light to reflect onto the model when shooting in a cloudy day. The reflected light is inconsistent when shooting in an overcast day. The reflected light blinds the model when shooting in a sunny day. Gold color reflector cast a yellowish specular highlight on the model's lip and glasses. When reflectors are used as a fill in studio with studio flash light, It is very difficult to control contrast. I need to put the reflector very close to the model to reflect sufficient light as fill. Then it blocks the camera. I own half a dozen reflectors in different sizes and colors, which I use for several times and rarely use them again. I appreciate the author of this articles sharing his work and tried to prove his point. Unfortunate these photos were overly retouched, the face of the objects or models look very flat and unreal. Certainly, every type of lighting equipments have their value of existence. I just want to share my experience with all the photo lovers. So that you won't be too disappointed after shooting an entire day with a model using reflectors.

  • Tim Roper May 3, 2013 03:44 am

    Another way to deal with the flat light is to do sort of the opposite by using something like black foamcore to create more shadows. It's a something I picked up in a cinematography book, and does work some times. The basic problem with overcast lighting is, it creates isolated shadows where you don't want them, and black bounce can unify them a little.

  • Jai Catalano May 3, 2013 02:24 am

    Yes a reflector can go a long way.

    Listen anyone with a camera can take a picture but you captured their soul. Those are some stunning images.

  • Mei Teng May 3, 2013 12:48 am

    Beautiful portraits. Love the soft lighting.

  • reggie May 2, 2013 09:46 pm

    Using a reflector to bounce light upward during overcast weather is a tip I rarely read about. But it's a good one. I've experienced shooting portraits thinking the light was nice and even. When I saw the photos on the monitor, there were shadows in the eye sockets and under the chin.

  • Cramer Imaging May 2, 2013 09:52 am

    I agree with this article. Things here in the northern hemisphere are warming up but there are still many cloudy days. I have shot portraits with a reflector before and loved the results. When shooting on location, the collapsible reflectors are a must for conservation of space. They can also be useful when shooting in the shade to add the light or diffuse the light onto the subject's face.