How to Use Reflector Boards to Improve Your Photography
Board Reflectors or "bounce cards" as they're often called, are simple flat pieces of material with a reflective surface on one side that are independent from any light source. You use board reflectors to create a broader, directional light source when there isn't sufficient ambient light for a pleasing exposure. They can also be used to control the shadows and highlight contrasts in various lighting situations (outdoors mostly). So let's look at the various types of reflectors available to us.
Board Reflector Types
There are three main types of board reflectors - white, silver and gold. Each has its own properties, but they all basically serve the same purpose: providing you with a light boost. Today some board reflectors are actually made of a flexible fabric, which gives you even more versatility in how you shape and direct the reflected light on to your subject.
White Board Reflectors
The White Reflector gives you a neutral reflected light and in some cases it will desaturate the light that is cast back on the subject. A white reflector is the most versatile to be used whenever you want to bring up the illumination, but don't want to go for the strength of flash or lighting unit. You want to use the white reflector in any case where you want just a little added light; for example the white bounce reflector is great for providing fill light, when you want to decrease the contrast ratio between the key light and the fill, thereby evening out the lighting on your subject. When shooting portraits, the white bounce card allows for smoother looking skin. While the white reflector works really well outside during the day, it's just as workable when inside the studio and you need to modify the lighting set-up without having to bring in complete studio lights.
Silver Board Reflectors
The Silver Reflector adds a bit of spice and vitality to the white light that's being bounced back at the subject, sometimes adding a very saturated, almost wet look; the silver reflector inherently adds heavier contrast to its bounced light. In addition, a Silver Reflector "cools" the bounced light when used outside (whereas the Gold Reflector "warms" the light when used outside, as the yellow tint in the Gold negates the blue in daylight). The silver reflector provides power - it's as close to a mirror as you can get in terms of reflected light (a mirror can be a problematic light source, because it will shine hard, white light back at your subject). You can use a silver reflector as your fill in many situations to add that extra bit of oomph on one side of the face. It will be soft, diffuse light, so it will no doubt be extremely flattering in the portrait that you're taking. Silver reflectors come in two types, with a glossy finish and with a matte finish.
Gold Board Reflector
The Gold Reflector gives a hard light source similar to the silver AND it will change the color temperature of the light. The Gold reflector is probably best used to liven up skin tones and boost eye light, especially for photo shoots at the beach or in the waning sunlight of late afternoon (before golden hour). The reflected gold light photographs closer to white than you would think and that's why it’s ideal for enhancing beauty photos in the sunlight. If you were shooting a bikini model close to sunset on a beach, you might want to use the gold reflector to add a punch of gold shimmering light to the model. If you must shoot closer to the middle of the day (the worst time to shoot, because of the strong overhead sunlight), you could use the silver or white cards to even out the heavy contrast.
When to Use Board Reflectors
There is no easy or pat answer as to how and when you want to use a Board Reflector, outside of the simple desire to increase the illumination on your subject in order to even out the contrast or skin tones. Depending on which type of board reflector that you are using, you'll get different aesthetic effects. For example, you can use the hot center of the reflected light or use the softer edges of the reflected light to illuminate your subject; each gives you a different aesthetic quality that can add spice to your photograph. You can even bounce the light at your subject and at another reflector (perhaps of a different color) for even more permutations on what you can do with lighting. The nice thing about using bounce reflectors is that they cast an indistinct light into the eyes of your subjects; thus providing a more natural looking effect.
The bounced light from a Board Reflector can either be the key light or the fill light, depending on which situation you're facing and the lighting intensity that you're trying to even out, enhance or create. Every photographer should bring White and Silver Bounce Reflectors when shooting portraits because they avoid the need to lug around lights. Many commercially available Bounce Reflectors come with white on one side, and silver on the other. They are useful in many situations and enable great command over the light for subtle to extreme manipulations to increase the shaping and defining of the contours of the subject.