Portrait Tips: How To Use A Gold Reflector

This is a guest post by photographer and Photofcus writer Levi Sim.

I highly recommend a 5-in-1 reflector as a tool for helping you get terrific light under many circumstances. It should be the first lighting tool you buy, and you should learn to master it before buying more lighting. The good news is that a 5-in-1 reflector is relatively cheap. I recommend the oval shaped reflectors because they give you more room to work without covering the surface with your own shadow.

The trouble is, one of the surfaces is a gold reflector. Since it’s included, many photographers think it must be there to use for lighting their subjects’ faces. However, using a gold reflector on the face is a bad idea for two reasons.

It’s a Yellow Hot Dog Cooker

Light picks up the color of things it reflects off of, and in this case, sunlight becomes extremely yellow. Looking at this picture, you can see just how yellow it is. It’s not natural looking, and it’s probably not flattering. In my opinion, unless you’re making pictures for a cheap swimsuit calendar, this tool doesn’t belong on your subject’s face.

Plus, it’s super bright! If you shine it on your subject’s face, they won’t be able to look at the camera without squinting their eyes and knitting their brow. I’m pretty sure you could cook a hot dog by shining this light on it, so don’t use it on your subject’s face.

Make the Sun Set

The only time I can recommend using the gold side of your 5-in-1 reflector on a portrait is as a backlight that imitates the warmth of the late afternoon sun. When the sun approaches the horizon, its light becomes very warm and it gives a nostalgic feel to a portrait. Well, when I made this picture, the sun was directly overhead at 1:30 in the afternoon. So I asked my assistant to stand behind my subject and reflect the sun’s light forward on her hair. She was sitting under a little arbor so she was shaded from the direct sun overhead, and the sky in front of on camera left was the brightest light shining on her face. Since the main light on her face is coming from camera left, the highlight on her hair should come from the right. You’ll get better results when the light on the face and the light from behind are opposite each other.



Shining a golden hair light forward on your subject’s hair is the best use for a gold reflector in a portrait. Don’t shine it on her face. Remember that since her face is lit by the blue sky you’ll need to use the right white balance when finishing this kind of portrait, as discussed in this column. Get out there and make the sunset on your subject’s hair with your gold reflector!

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