Do You Know the Five Functions of a 5-in-1 Reflector?

5-in-1 reflectors are handy tools for many different situations and are essential for every photographer’s toolkit. They are compact, affordable and can add a new dimension to your portraits with relatively little effort. Spending time with a 5-in-1 reflector is a great way to practice adding and taking away light before investing in lighting equipment and making things complicated.

How to use a 5-in-1 reflector

1/100 sec at f5 and a white umbrella with a speed light camera left. No reflector.

5-in-1 reflectors, by definition, have five functions.

First, they have a silver side, which is used to bounce a lot of light and to create specular highlights. Second, is gold, which is used a lot like the silver but it produces a warming effect instead of a neutral, ambient balanced light. Third, is a white side, which bounces light like the silver side but is much more subtle and suitable for fill light. Fourth, is a black side, which can take light out of the equation by blocking some of the ambient. Fifth, is a translucent fabric, which diffuses an existing light source and turns it into a bigger, broader, softer light.

Reflectors like this come in different sizes and are typically round. They all fold up pretty easily and convert to whichever side you would like to use with the pull of a zipper. You could attach one to a light stand or even have your subject hold it (for close-ups) but it is most helpful to have an assistant hold the reflector exactly where you want it to get the distance, angle, and intensity just right.


5-in-1 reflector

Same settings as above. Silver reflector.

The silver side of the 5-in-1 reflector is probably the one I use the most. If it’s sunny outside, you can use it as a main light with a bright beam hitting your subject. Ideally, you would hold the reflector high and bounce the light down on your subject for a more natural look. If it’s cloudy out the light you bounce off the reflector will be less, so it can act as more of a fill light. The closer you move the reflector to your subject the brighter the light will look. The more you use the reflector and play with the distance to your subject, the quicker you will know what will work and what won’t with the silver side.


Gold 5-in-1 reflector

Same settings as above. Gold reflector.

Sometimes we have a certain look in mind, but can’t achieve it with the existing ambient light. Say you want a sunset look more toward the middle of the day. Using a gold reflector can give you a low warm light that is similar to a sunset. You could even bounce a gold light onto the back of your subject to give them a golden hair light. Much like the silver side, it’s a powerful and concentrated light so pay attention to the intensity of your source light and the distance from the reflector to your subject.


White 5-in-1 reflector

Same settings as above. White reflector.

Silver can be too intense for a fill with a bright light source and the white just tones things down a bit without adding any color cast. Since it is not as strong as silver, the white can be used at a closer distance, making it appear to be a larger, softer light source on the subject. White can also be used to bounce your main light off of it to make the source bigger.


Using a black 5-in-1 reflector

Same settings as above. Silver reflector.

Black is a light blocker. If you have bright sun hitting your subject you can use the black side to shade them. If you have too strong of a fill light and need some shadows you can block some of the light. If the color of the environment is affecting the color of your subject—for example if they are standing in a room painted red—you can use the black side to keep the color from reflecting on them.


Translucent 5-in-1 reflector

Same settings for both photos. The larger photo is diffused sunlight. The smaller photo is direct sunlight.

The translucent fabric is slightly see-through. You can use this side for diffusing sunlight or whatever your main light happens to be. The translucent side makes your light bigger and softer the closer you hold it to your subject.

What are your favorite uses for a 5-in-1 reflector?

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