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Why Are 5-in-1 Reflectors Used Instead of Mirrors for Lighting in Photography?

So you need to reflect more light into your scene and you don’t have a reflector or additional light source. But, you’ve got a small mirror so why not use that?

It might seem like an obvious object to use to reflect more light into a scene. I mean, they literally reflect light rays right? Well it’s not that simple, most of the time.

How Do Mirrors Reflect Light Compared to Photography Reflectors 

Mirrors do not disperse light in the same way as a 5 in 1 reflector would, regardless of which surface you use. Instead, mirrors work almost like a second light source except you can’t really adjust the power of it like you could with an additional artificial light. This can leave you with harsh light just being pointed around all over the place.

Let’s use an example where you are using natural light from a window to backlight a scene, but the front of your scene and subject is too underexposed.

In this case, you want to bring more light to the front of your scene so you may try to place a mirror in front of your scene directing the window light back into the front of your subject. While you will be able to bounce light back into the scene you may find that the light is quite harsh. This is because mirrors do not do a good job at dispersing and diffusing light. 

Since the light is harsh not only could you have overblown highlights in your scene, but you also run the risk of having harsh shadows. All you wanted was a bit more light in the front of your scene. 

Why Are Mirrors Bad for Light Modification in Photography?

As we mentioned above, while mirrors are great for checking if you’ve done your hair right, they are not the best for photography because the light you bounce and redirect will tend to be harsh.

In general, it is easier and more desirable to work with soft light which does not give harsh highlights and shadows. 

Of course there are times that you might want high contrasting shadows and specular highlights, but in these instances you are probably better off just using an additional artificial light since you will have much more control over this. 

Also, a large glass mirror is probably not something you want to carry around a set and risk shattering.

Why Reflectors Are Good for Light Modification in Photography

Due to the way they are made, reflectors will give you softer light as the light is dispersed more when you bounce it off a reflector instead of a mirror.

In photography, soft light is good to work with because you reduce the risk of hard shadows and it also makes retouching easier as it diminishes things like dust or acne. 

Reflectors are also really portable and cost effective for the amount of versatility they provide.

For example, with just this one 5 in 1 reflector you can choose from 5 different surfaces to modify light to your liking.

The silver and gold surfaces give you the most reflective power and are better for more specular highlights.

The black surface works as negative fill and the white opaque surface will give you fill lighting.

Finally, it also has a white diffusion surface to simply let light pass through before it reaches your scene to soften light. 

Not only can it do all of the above, but they are cost effective, portable and are definitely NOT going to shatter into a million pieces of glass if you drop them.

You can get budget reflectors like this 5 in 1 reflector and you will definitely find use for them in your kit. Just get the size relevant to the subject you are shooting. The bigger your subject and light source the bigger the reflector you will want.

If you want the reflector with a stand and clamp then you can try a package like this one.
This would be more useful if you don’t have assistance because you don’t have to physically hold the reflector yourself.

Check out this video for a quick guide on how to use a 5 in 1 reflector.

Other Alternatives to Reflectors

The other way to add more light to your scene is to use artificial lighting.

For a lot of photographers soft-boxes are an essential part of their kit. They give you a reliable and controllable light source that produces soft light which you can manipulate on set however you please.

But before putting money into extra lighting we highly recommend practising with a 5 in 1 reflector because they will teach you a lot about how light works at a low cost. Plus you will definitely find them useful in the long run too. You might even find that you like them so much that you end up with multiple in your kit – a lot of photographers do.

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