The use of reflectors in photography is just a way of taking advantage of the existent light, and bounce it to different places in your image. This can be done with virtually any surface that reflects light, like a wall, a mirror, cardboard, styrofoam, aluminum foil, etc.
Dedicated photography reflectors come in many different colors, shapes and sizes. Silver, gold, white, and sometimes mixes of these three colors commonly know as zebra reflectors are the most common colors. There are also 5-in-1 reflectors that include a black surface to absorb light, and a translucent surface to soften light.
The shape of the reflector depends on the subject you are trying to photograph. Usually collapsible round reflectors are the most used because they are easier to handle on location, and also easier to fold, but triangular and rectangular reflectors are very popular too.
The size of the reflector depends on the area you are trying to illuminate, and when it comes to small subjects like tabletop photography, things get tricky because standard reflectors are usually too big to produce small spots of light. In this article, I will guide you through the steps of building your own customized small reflectors for tabletop photography like the ones above.
Even though you can use simple paper sheets with some kind of object as a stand to hold it in place, this simple folding technique will for sure give you more control on the way you place your reflectors.
To start you will need some metallic paper sheets. The ones I’m using here can be found in office supply or craft stores, and exist in various sizes and colors. I bought 50×70 centimeters sheets, that are about 20×28 inches, and that allowed me to make a nice set of reflectors of different sizes and shapes.
A useful feature of this type of paper is that the back side is white, so you can use the metallic side or just flip to the white side to have different types of reflections. Beside the obvious silver and gold, you can also buy metallic textured papers for special effects of light reflection.
Cutting to size
Now it’s time to cut the paper to size. This depends on the reflector size you want to create; in this case I’m making a 8x13cm (3×5 inch) reflector.
Now mark the lines with a ballpoint pen and fold the paper on those lines. You will end up with something like this.
To keep the overlapping folds on the back together, I used small magnets. You can use tape, velcro or even re-usable adhesive, but magnets give you more choices of repositioning the angle of the reflector when you are looking for the right spot.
Magnets are also very useful if you use a gooseneck or a magic arm to hold the reflector instead of placing it on the table.
Positioning the reflectors
Now that we built some nice reflectors it’s time to try them out.
I have used some high end lighting equipment along my career as a professional photographer, but I must say that it always amazes me what is possible to do with the light of a window or a tabletop lamp and a couple of reflectors. The following image is an example.
Here is how it was made:
Start with Tabletop tungsten lamp with a diffuser as a back light.
Now the same tabletop tungsten lamp with a diffuser, plus a reflector on the left side.
Now AND another reflector on the right side.
So, there it is, a simple and highly effective setup that is guaranteed to give more control over the way you light your images for tabletop photography.
Give it a try!
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