Using a flash vs. a reflector as a fill light?

kat.hayes

EOS T7i
Nov 25, 2014
76
0
When needing fill light for someone against bright naturally lit background, or to just fill in shadows on someone's face indoors or outdoors, what is the difference between using a reflector vs. a flash as a fill light in terms of lighting quality? When might one work better than the other?

Thanks!
 
Aug 23, 2013
2,300
21
Bahia Brazil
Reflector can not create any new light, but only redirects to fill the shadows. The effect is usually subtle, and quite satisfactory in headshots portraits. It's nothing practical with wide-angle lenses.

Flash is actually adding light, which can be adjusted with great freedom if the flash is off the camera. The use of accessories such as diffuser and flash hitter makes its use extremely versatile.

Built-in flash is always there (not in full frame cameras), and you can save an "unplanned" photo. However, in portrait shots it creates harsh shadows.
 

Talys

Canon 6DII
Feb 16, 2017
2,050
317
Vancouver, BC
Most reflectors are also available tinted, so you can have, for example, a gold reflector (which will warm the light from that angle).

But they're not mutually exclusive. You can add another strobe and bounce it off a reflector, with or without some light modifier to achieve the desired effect.

Success requires experimentation :)
 

SecureGSM

EOS 6D MK II
Feb 26, 2017
926
58
OP was enquiring about the flash as a Fill light situation.
As a fill light, built-in or on camera flash does not create harsh shadows as the intensity of its light is very low vs ambient or Key light. It would merely open up shadows for you.
Speaking of which: Canon FF cameras do not come with built-in flash.

ajfotofilmagem said:
Built-in flash is always there (in full frame cameras), and you can save an "unplanned" photo. However, in portrait shots it creates harsh shadows.
 

sanj

EOS 5D MK IV
Jan 22, 2012
3,134
26
Situation dependent. But my first choice is a neutral colour reflector, it does not change ambient colour temperature, is softer and subtle. Easier and cheaper.
 

Zeidora

EOS 7D MK II
Feb 15, 2015
668
10
A reflector gives you softer light than an un-modified flash. You can add diffusor to flash, or you can flash away from the subject into a reflector to get softer light. That is what an umbrella does, but can also be done with a speed light and a flat folding reflector or even card-board. Experiment and see what you like for that particular situation.
 

Viggo

EOS 5D SR
Dec 13, 2010
3,894
442
I would go for a flash if you don't already have one, and use it off camera. It will do MUCH more for your images. You have much more control of direction and quality of light. You can angle it anyway you want, use as main light and sun as edge light. Freeze action etc.
 

LDS

EOR R
Sep 14, 2012
1,508
118
Outdoor or whenever using available light, a reflector lets you use the same light for the fill-in. Using a flash you add a light that may not match exactly the main light, sometimes that's subtle visible.

Using larger reflectors, maybe on a windy day, can be more difficult - an assistant and/or stands and sandbags may be needed, usually the reflector needs to be close enough to the subject to achieve the required effect (and sometimes they can get in the way).

A flash, especially camera mounted ones (directly or using brackets) are simpler/faster to use, especially if the subject is allowed to move freely, or the fill effect needs to be quite powerful.

Indoor, unless you're trying to use ambient light, flashes and reflector light quality will be the same (unless toned surfaces of filters are used, of course), and it's mostly a matter of costs, space, desired effect, and other factors, i.e. it may be easier to put reflectors close to somebody's face than lamps.
 
Aug 22, 2010
1,579
277
48
Uk
www.GMCPhotographics.co.uk
If you are fighting a high contrast situation, such as shooting back-lit into the sun, then a flash is the way to go. It can balance the exposure and the light is usually harsh and also with high contrast. So it'll match and add to the scene.
Indoors, the light will probably be more gentle and softer, so a reflector will be wiser due to the lower contrast.
 

Sabaki

EOS 6D MK II
Dec 4, 2012
800
0
44
Cape Town, South Africa
Get both, both are staples of the photography style you mention.

As mentioned often in this thread, the reflector has qualities which the flash doesn't but the flash can do so much magic too.

You can use hi speed sync to darken the ambient and the flash to expose your subject. This creates a beautiful separation between model and background.

But I'd say get both. If you're uncertain about the flash, pick up a generic brand for cheap and the reflector, which can be a lifelong purchase and mess about, learn and decide for yourself what works for you
 

midluk

EOS RP
Aug 27, 2015
321
0
If you do portraits in the sun, a reflector is a bright constant source of light shining into your model's face. That might ruin the shot due to squinted eyes. Flash is better in those situations.
 

Mt Spokane Photography

I post too Much on Here!!
Mar 25, 2011
15,275
550
kat.hayes said:
When needing fill light for someone against bright naturally lit background, or to just fill in shadows on someone's face indoors or outdoors, what is the difference between using a reflector vs. a flash as a fill light in terms of lighting quality? When might one work better than the other?

Thanks!
Here is a article from one who prefers reflectors:

https://photographylife.com/how-to-use-a-reflector

It depends on what light is available to reflect and how bright the backlighting is. Direct flash may be needed to overcome extreme backlight.
 

mnclayshooter

I love shooting - clay pigeons and photos!
Oct 28, 2013
314
0
Minnesota, USA
Sabaki said:
Get both, both are staples of the photography style you mention.

As mentioned often in this thread, the reflector has qualities which the flash doesn't but the flash can do so much magic too.

You can use hi speed sync to darken the ambient and the flash to expose your subject. This creates a beautiful separation between model and background.

But I'd say get both. If you're uncertain about the flash, pick up a generic brand for cheap and the reflector, which can be a lifelong purchase and mess about, learn and decide for yourself what works for you

+1 - the cost of a set of reflectors is often pretty small. I've seen them on amazon or from the big east coast internet sellers for less than $15 per set and they're of pretty good quality... at least good enough to play with it to see if you want something different. Flashes aren't as cheap, but you don't have to have the biggest and best one either, especially if you're just trying to learn/figure it out. I am no portrait expert, by any means, but I do understand wanting to learn.
 

aceflibble

EOS RP
May 8, 2015
296
61
Flash can, assuming you know how to use it and have appropriate modifiers and opportunity, do everything a reflector can, while a reflector can't do everything flash can. But that's a lot of qualifiers, and a badly-implemented flash tends to look worse than a badly-implemented reflector.

Given the cost of each, it really is worth getting both. That said, if for some magic reason you can only use one, I'd say a reflector is a safer bet for a beginner and flash is the better bet for anyone with a fair bit of experience. But that really is only in the bizarre situation where you can't have both; you'll find the vast majority of photographers use both, often together.
 

Mikehit

EOS 5D MK IV
Jul 28, 2015
3,167
373
Speaking as a flash novice, it is so easy to get it wrong with direct flash. In my (limited) experience and assuming the context of your question the difference is academic because it is easier to control flash that is being bounced off a reflective surface (wall, ceiling, reflector...) - fewer hotspots and more diffuse light.

I look on direct flash as a ore advanced technique (spot, localised illumination) and that is something that a reflector cannot do.
 

rfdesigner

EOS 6D MK II
Sep 12, 2014
876
0
New Forest, UK
sites.google.com
kat.hayes said:
When needing fill light for someone against bright naturally lit background, or to just fill in shadows on someone's face indoors or outdoors, what is the difference between using a reflector vs. a flash as a fill light in terms of lighting quality? When might one work better than the other?

Thanks!
A flash and modifiers are easier to use to deliberately produce effects (colour gels on the flash light if you want different colours for an artistic reason, grids to pick out your subject, soft or hard light as desired etc etc), start with getting the camera settings right for the ambient light, then add flash as desired... Manual everything is the way to go.

The modifier will get you identical light for subtle fill in when you want to match. Matching a flash to ambient light rather than creating contrast is harder.

Internally in a building, white painted doors are wonderful, you can open or shut them to change effect and angles of reflected light, and are very common, though do reduce your options on where to place your subject.
 

MintChocs

EOS 80D
Nov 17, 2013
151
1
My two pence on this as a non pro.
Reflector
Cheap to buy in different sizes and colours (silver, soft sheen, gold, etc)
White will reflect the colour of light shining on it and as its larger source than naked flash more softer. Easier to white balance.
Works at all shutter speeds.
Downside is you need someone in most cases to hold it or a good stand (in windy conditions can be problematic)
Need to have a good source of light as it reflects so loses some in the process.
Not so easy to control the amount and quality and direction of light.
Indoors you may struggle to shoot at lower ISO if there is not enough light to reflect.

Flash
More expensive depending on what you want.In general more expensive.
In bright light you need more powerful flash equipment to overcome the ambient light.
More control over the light in terms of power, direction, modifying and colouring the light with gels.
No need for assistants to hold the flash unless you want to. However if using stands same problems apply if outdoors with windy conditions.
Requires batteries to be charged as without it ........
 

CanonFanBoy

EOS 5D MK IV
Jan 28, 2015
3,199
793
Irving, Texas
ajfotofilmagem said:
Reflector can not create any new light, but only redirects to fill the shadows. The effect is usually subtle, and quite satisfactory in headshots portraits. It's nothing practical with wide-angle lenses.

Flash is actually adding light, which can be adjusted with great freedom if the flash is off the camera. The use of accessories such as diffuser and flash hitter makes its use extremely versatile.

Built-in flash is always there (in full frame cameras), and you can save an "unplanned" photo. However, in portrait shots it creates harsh shadows.
AS far as I know, no current Canon FF camera has built in flash.
 

Talys

Canon 6DII
Feb 16, 2017
2,050
317
Vancouver, BC
aceflibble said:
Flash can, assuming you know how to use it and have appropriate modifiers and opportunity, do everything a reflector can, while a reflector can't do everything flash can.
That isn't quite true. Of course, you can fill with a flash, but the results will usually be different from a reflector.

Because flashes are a tiny light source (couple of inches), they give you very specular light when it's close to the subject (where it's bright in the center and quickly falls off to darkness), whereas a reflector, being much larger (dozens of inches), will more evenly reflect the light. Because of the reflector material, the reflector will also provide more diffuse light.

Generally, to approximate the same result, you'll need some kind of light modifier, like a softbox or umbrella.

Another advantage of a reflector when all of your light sources are constant (eg the sun), what you see is what you get -- there's no guesswork.