I need a change of topic for a while there is still a lot to write about polarisation but I’ll have to get back to it later….
Fill flash can be your best friend when shooting against the sun or in areas of dappled shadow. You can either balance your exposure to the ambient background light or fill out the dappled shadows (especially in a portrait). But sometimes that’s just not the look your looking for. With a reflector you can “bounce” natural or artificial light into the photo. Although they aren’t only for portraits this their major use (and I will base this around portraits).
Reflectors (as the name suggests) reflect light. They came in a variety of sizes and colours and thanks to mass production in China, can be bought very cheap online (but watch out for poor quality control) . When I got my first reflector they were white or silver now days they can be bought as a 5 in one set (for a lot less than what what they used to cost) .
The first time I saw a reflector being used (I had read about them and seen them before but never thought about it much), I was amazed by the simplicity of the idea. We were on safari in the Massi-Mara (back in the days when we only shot film and digital cameras were pure Sci Fi). I got talking to a reporter who was filming some small article for Kenyan TV. The crew were on a tight budget and had some great DIY gear the thing that caught my eye the most was 2m x 1m sheet of polystyrene. Instead of using some expensive lights that needed power (out in the middle of the African savannah) one of the crew simply held the polystyrene at the correct angle, lo and behold they were lit up like a giant soft box. Here I was on safari surrounded by the wilds of Africa and all I could think about was a 2m x1m sheet of polystyrene, not the fact hyenas that had gotten into our camp and stolen 1/2 our food.
A few months latter we were back in Europe on a day trip to Luxembourg and there in the window of a camera shop was a large silver collapsible reflector from Lastolite. I had paid and was out of there before my wife even know I was gone, no haggling battering if ands or but – I just had to have it. We carried on walking around Luxembourg for a bit then I found the perfect chance to use my new reflector. After I unpacked it I found the first real problem, it is almost impossible to hold the reflector and shoot at the same time. Things have changed a lot since then and the manufacturers have put in a lot of effort to perfect the reflector.
Size is Important
The bigger the reflector the more light it can reflect and the bigger the area you can cover with the reflected light. A medium sized reflector will be fine if all you want is head and shoulder shots. I have a very small 5 in 1 that I use for macro work as flash tends to scare frogs, insects and the likes off. Smaller reflectors are also easier to handle.
There are some great videos on the topic
There are some fantastic sites with great examples (not just reflectors) that show you in better detail than I can.