Understanding and being able to manage reflections, one of nature's splendorous gifts, is the path towards capitalizing on them. The brain uses tonal variation to perceive depth so with proper reflected lighting we can add dimension to the subject on our photographs and avoid it being flat. When we are satisfied with the ratio of highlights and shadows, we are likely to be pleased with the overall lighting results as well.
I see far too many location photos made with reflectors that suffer from two major faults: light that is too hard (mostly bounced from below) and/or subjects that are illuminated unevenly due to the wrong size or false position of the reflector. The zen for successful use of reflectors is determined by the following five factors:
• Angle. A reflector illuminates the subject most when the incident light angle is the same as the reflected angle. Finding the right angle always represents the biggest challenge!
• Surface. Different reflector surfaces reflect light differently. White, silver, gold, zebra and black all have their specific characteristics.
• Size. Bigger reflectors bounce light that feels softer with less fall-off. They also offer a broader tolerance when the subject or the reflector moves slightly. One of greatest errors most photographers do is using a reflector that is too small.
• Distance. The closer the reflector is to the subject, the brighter the fill light becomes. It also softens up the shadows.
• Position. A lot of photographers use reflectors from below (I do that as well), but my favorite recipe for obtaining great light from a reflector is bouncing the light from above at approximately 6 feet, simulating a softbox tilted 30 to 45 degrees towards the subject.
When setting up your shot do not forget that the subject has a major influence on lighting as well. This means that on location the subject position along with the movement of the sun/clouds and time of day are all the factors to consider. The main recipe for great lighting though is being able to anticipate what the light is doing and what it is going to do in relation to the subject you are photographing. The latter is crucial for nailing that perfect shot you are after.