Are there any other reasons for the usage of foil reflectors instead of mirrors than the ability to fold and store in small spaces? (Mirrors reflect the light more efficiently?)


When artificial lights are used in photography they're commonly diffused such as with a softbox. If the light has to be bounced off something to get it to the right place, the diffusing can be combined with the reflecting.

The difference in reflectivity isn't that great - no more than about than a stop, depending on how much of the scattered light is useful.

When using a reflector to fill the dark areas (think of a portrait using light from a window) you need disguise reflection otherwise you end up with either doubly lit areas or hard shadows still. The diffuse reflector softens the edges. If you want a portable hard reflector you can get one - stretch out a space blanket.


The foil reflector gives a more soft and diffused light.

  • Ah! but, isn't the full light reflected from a mirror needed sometimes? – user152435 Feb 9 '17 at 10:13
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    If you need full light, you would just use a...light – cmason Feb 9 '17 at 13:08
  • Then why diffusers attached to the lights are used when you could use a foil reflector? – user152435 Feb 9 '17 at 18:16
  • @user152435 It's easier to control the light with a modifier attached to it before a significant portion of that light is allowed to spill all over the place. You get more of the light where you want it and less of the light where you don't want it. – Michael C Feb 9 '17 at 23:19
  • @MichaelClark didn't get you – user152435 Feb 10 '17 at 6:55

Chris already mentioned the softbox, and indeed photographic reflectors work similarly.

If you would use a strobe flash without a softbox (or brolly) you'd have a point-like light source which gives hard light and ditto shadows. A softbox acts as a secondary light source, i.e. it captures the hard light from the flash, and diffuses it over a larger surface. As a consequence your subject will be lit much more evenly, and shadows will be softer. No hard lines.

Same thing with reflectors, both in the studio and outside. A mirror doesn't change the light at all; hard flashlight or sunlight will remain hard. All the mirror does is change the direction of the light rays. Like the softbox a reflector will act as an area light of its own: the light from the primary source (flash or sun) is reflected as light coming from a larger area instead of a point-like source.

  • The capture/absorb/re-emit terms seem to describe what happens with the phosphors in a fluorescent tube. I think you'd get your point across better if you stick closer to what really happens, i.e. diffusion and reflection. I think you're trying to say that the uneven surface of a reflector softens the light by reflecting it in many different directions. There's no absorption and re-emission going on, though. – Caleb Feb 9 '17 at 18:06
  • But isn't only a changing of the direction of the light needed sometimes? And if a diffused light is needed, why isn't a diffuser attached to the light source used? – user152435 Feb 9 '17 at 18:32
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    @user152435 sometimes a diffuser is attached to the primary light source. One advantage of a reflector is that you can use the primary source aimed at the subject as a key light and then use a reflector to redirect some of the spill light from the primary as the fill light. You get both key and fill from the same strobe! Or you get both key and fill from the sun. – Michael C Feb 9 '17 at 23:24

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