How to better light your video with reflectors

by Jeremy Smith

How can you better light your video?  One crucial element is to use light reflectors. 

A reflector is necessary to improve your video work in harsh sunlight.  Sunlight usually causes one side of a person's face to be bright, almost a burned out white, while the shadow side and the eye sockets appear so dark they come out as almost black. 

To restore the balance and make the lighting from both sides of a person more even, reflectors are used. 

Reflectors are also used in model photography.  A nice shiny gold reflector gives a model's skin color a nice, golden healthy glow. 

There are many things from which you can easily and inexpensively make your reflectors. 

The most convenient and quickest would be the auto store or supermarket that sells car dashboard protectors.  These sometimes come in a shiny gold on one side and a shiny silver on the other, or most commonly just silver.  

These are very light to carry around, so they are easy to have with you on shoots.  Simply let someone stand just out of your shot, and hold one of these reflectors up to bounce the sunlight back into the opposite direction than it is coming from, right onto your actors.

You may also mount these on a more stable backing, like a sheet of thick polystyrene or cardboard.  

However you may find that under certain conditions, anything this shiny can actually interfere with your shot.  You will find that different people's eyes have different degrees of sensitivity.  I once tried filming two presenters, a man and a woman, talking to the camera while they had a reflector at an angle in front of them.  The women didn't even seem to blink at it.  The man on the other hand had to squint his eyes and it was only a matter of seconds before tears were rolling down his cheeks and he had to close his eyes. 

If the above seem to be the case, you might use something less shiny.  A white sheet of polystyrene or white cardboard will suffice.   White on the other hand may also still be too harsh on some people's eyes, so you may want to change the angle at which you're bouncing light from or you might try a different color from white. 

Try covering one side of your sheet with something that is not white.  I also keep a sheet that is a pastel orange for example.  This bounces back some nice warm sunlight yet isn't nearly as harsh on people's eyes as clean white.

To bounce light back into large areas like the shadow side of a house for example, you might have four or so people with two standing on a car and two standing on the ground, holding a king size white thick winter bedsheet.  That should add a magical look to your picture.