How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

Folding reflectors, softboxes and backgrounds are awesome. There’s no two ways about it. They pack down really small for transport or storage, they pop up quickly when you need them, and they’re really lightweight. As a location shooter, they’re perfect for me. Even my white balance card folds away like a reflector. Whatever helps pack the gear down into the smallest and lightest space possible is welcome.

But once they start getting to a certain size, they can become quite troublesome. Gravity kicks in, which then either becomes your best friend or your worst enemy. But there is a simple way to fold up these giant reflectors and backgrounds. In this video, photographer Jason Lanier shows us exactly how it’s done.

As you can see in the video, large reflectors and backgrounds are fairly easy to fold up once you know how. But if you’ve never done it before, then it can take a good while to figure it out, even if you’ve folded smaller ones just fine.

In fact, it can actually be extremely amusing to watch somebody attempt to fold one up who’s never tried it before. I know many photographers who pass one off to their new assistants to fold after a shoot. The assistant never realises they’re being set up for failure. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it still never gets old for those who get to watch it.

But, the process is very simple. All you do, is fold the two long sides toward each other, and then let the other end come towards you underneath. Finally, twist the top inwards, and it just falls right on top of itself. It might take a couple of goes for you to get it perfect, though.

How to fold a reflector

So, if you’re ever asked to assist on a shoot, learn the technique now. Then you can avoid potential embarrassment later. And if you’re a photographer who’s had one of these laying open against a studio wall for several months because you can’t figure out how to get it back in the bag, now you know.

If you’re still interested in a little embarrassment, you can always try the reflector challenge.

By Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

@seanragan

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Uwe Oehler has written a simple program that prints out fold-up paper templates for the conic sections that make up the reflective surface of a Fresnel mirror. Cut the templates out of cardboard, cover the cardboard with aluminum tape, fold up the sections, and apply them to a flat backing. Even the relatively simple, five ring, 59% coverage reflector shown in the video will burn holes in construction paper under modest sunlight. [via Hack a Day]

By Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

@seanragan

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How to fold a reflector

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How to fold a reflector

I’ve already used those DIY reflectors in a couple of my articles but I’ve never actually did a full post explaining how they are built and used. I want to show you how easy it is to make this reflector and how useful it can be. Definitely a good use for $1.50. It actually takes around 5 minutes to make it and you can make it as big or small as you need.

What you will need

  • Illustration board or foam board
  • Tape and scissors
  • Clamps or binder clips
  • Aluminum foil or Silver Gift Wrapping Paper
  • Optional: Gold wrapping paper

How to fold a reflector

How to do it:

Step 1 – setting size

Cut a piece of the foam (or illustration) board the size you want. I make mine quite small because I mostly use them for my still life photography.

How to fold a reflector

Step 2 – foil

Cut a bigger piece of aluminium foil or silver gift wrapping paper. I used aluminium foil before but have used silver gift wrapping paper when I had non available (don’t ask).

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

Step 3 – matching

There are two ways to do this. If you have double stick tape you can just put double stick tape on the board and stick the aluminum foil to it.

If you only have good old regular tape, fold the aluminium to the back of the board and tape it. Do this for all sides. If you have excess foil or wrapper on the sides, just cut it away.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

Step 4 – placement

Use your clamp or binder clip to make your mini reflector stand.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

After that your done! Gotta admit, well spent 5 minutes and several cents. Making a few of those will probably set ou back a buck fifty.

Testing out the 5 minutes reflector

First, have a look on how adding a few of this those little reflectors can impact your photo

How to fold a reflector

For this test I used one light thru a softbox on the right, facing the subject

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

I placed a DIY reflector on the opposite side of the softbox to fill in the shadows.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

I placed another one just beside the camera to get some highlight near the shutter and and more fill on the grip.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

To get some “catchlights” on the lens, I carefully placed a reflector in front of the camera and angled it so that I got some nice catchlights and a little bit fill light on the lens itself.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

Lastly, my last reflector went on the left-back side of the camera to get some highlight on the side of the the camera and also some highlights on the left side of the lens hood.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

Here are some examples of using this reflector on previous tutorials.

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

How to fold a reflector

You can also use this reflector to get some back light on your subject by reflecting the main light: How To Shoot The Perfect Perfume Shot Using El Bokeh Wall

I just got one of those portable expandable reflectors (the 5 in 1 type) it came in this neat little round package, when I pulled it out it popped into shape, about 3 feet by 5 feet. and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to get it back into this little 1.5 foot by 1.5 foot carry case.

I know this is a really stupid question, but can anyone help me here? I feel like I am going to break it.

I just got one of those portable expandable reflectors (the 5 in 1
type) it came in this neat little round package, when I pulled it out
it popped into shape, about 3 feet by 5 feet. and for the life of
me I can’t figure out how to get it back into this little 1.5 foot by
1.5 foot carry case.
I know this is a really stupid question, but can anyone help me here?
I feel like I am going to break it.

We have art that we do not die of the truth.
–Friedrich Nietzsche

sweet, that did it. thanks

Any videos on folding a reflector far bigger than you are? My husband (who is the same height I am!) can do it easily (so I suppose he should show me but I think he does something strange), but for me, folding a 4′ x 6′ reflector is impossible! lol

Don’t assume. It makes an a** out of you and me.
http://flickr.com/photos/bellabull8/

You have to be careful. I ended up ripping my Lighting tent and it has only been folded like 10 times, cause those metal flexy things eventually weaken the material and it ends up ripping. They are destined to deteriorate and then you have to buy again!

yeah, I could see that. I thought it would pop more than once when I was trying it last night.

Any videos on folding a reflector far bigger than you are? My husband
(who is the same height I am!) can do it easily (so I suppose he
should show me but I think he does something strange), but for me,
folding a 4′ x 6′ reflector is impossible! lol

Yeah. the bigger ones can be a real handful.
[Seems your husband is being a bit of a meanie, eh?]

This is how I was taught to do it.

1) Stand the reflector on one of its ‘corners’ about 18″ in front of your feet.
(we are going to use the floor as a stabilising ‘extra hand’, as it were)

2) Grasp the reflector in the respective ‘middles’ of the two sloping upper edges.

3) Roll the hands over and away so as to bend the top corner down towards the floor.

4) When what was the top is close to the floor, you will find two ‘lobes’ have formed either side of your legs. (they are a bit like elephant ear flaps.)

5) Stepping back a little, swing the right lobe in front of yourself by twisting your right wrist clockwise. Similarly swing left lobe in front by rotating left wrist anti-clockwise. then push away and allow the whole thing to drop to floor.

6) You now have three loops where there was one. Pick it up, equalise the loop sizes, and drop the folded reflector into its bag.

I hope this helps. Bear in mind that it takes a lot longer to read than to do. Indeed, when you have got the knack of doing it all in one smooth action, it can be done so quickly it’s difficult for others to see exactly what WAS done!!

. At that time you will be ready to star in your own YouTube movie!

Regards,
Baz

My recipe for folding big uneven reflectors.

Start out by holding one corner at about waist height with the opposite diagonal corner away from you and resting on the floor.

Now think giant TACO! Fold the corner in your hand toward the far corner until you can bend over, match the corners, and gather them in one hand.

In this “taco” configuration, notice that the taco ends are looping down and inward. Encourage them. Use your free hand to overlap these two “end hoops” (up and under) as as you do this, you’ll notice that with these two “hoops” overlapped, the original gathered edges can slide one over the other and the whole shebang should slide into the packable “3 hoops” configuration.

Just think lay it out diagonally, then THINK TACO.

Takes practice, but once mastered, you’ll never forget.

Listen to Bill. He is wise. I fortunately found this method randomly while wrestling with my 4×5 reflector. His description is better than I could have written. It would probably take me three paragraphs to describe what Bill said in one word – “taco”.

Wait, you know the ends of the hard-shell taco where the juices drip out? When you fold the reflector, those ends need to start moving toward each other. Think “fold the taco and spill the juices and ingredients out the ends”! 🙂

I fold mine lengthwise. I don’t think you need to do it on a diagonal.

Good thread, Bill is a wise man.

I have the ChromaFlex 8′ x 8′ green screen. It’s square with rounded corners. It took me a while to figure out how to fold it up but they key for me was twisting it until I saw the mythical “3 rings”. Once you see them, you just rotate them until they are all about the same size, then it fits into the case.

BTW, I have made $20.00 on a bet that someone inexperienced COULDN’T fold this thing up within 20 minutes. It is tricky until you have done it a few times.

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If you want a reflector to play with lighting, but don’t want to shell out money for a real one, you might want to try making an aluminum foil reflector. They’re cheap, easy to make, and decent at providing fill light for harsh shadows.

How to Make It

What you’ll need:

  • A large, flat board (i.e. cardboard box, display board/foamcore)
  • Adhesive (i.e. tape or spray-on adhesive)
  • Aluminum foil

How to fold a reflector

The process of actually making the reflector is very intuitive. Simply modify your board to the size and shape you want, and attach aluminum foil to the surface. One thing to note is that aluminum foil usually has two different surfaces:

How to fold a reflector

One is more reflective than the other, so it’s up to you to choose which you’d like to use. Instead of choosing, I covered both sides of my cardboard with aluminum foil, with a different surface on each side. This allows me to choose how much light I’d like to reflect.

Also, some people choose to crumple up their aluminum foil before attaching it to the board, since this provides a softer and less directional light. You can also spray paint the foil to change the color and quality of the light you reflect.

Here is how my personal reflector turned out:

How to fold a reflector

I chose to use a cardboard box since it was cheaper than a foamcore and could be folded up and tucked away, while having enough surface area to provide a significant amount of light.

How to Use It

These reflectors can help you add fill-light to an outdoor shot where harsh lighting would otherwise cast unflattering shadows on your subject. Take the following “portrait” for example:

How to fold a reflector

You can use the reflector in this situation to fill in the shadows:

How to fold a reflector

Here’s the portrait that results. Hover your mouse over it to compare it to the original:

How to fold a reflector

As you can see, the reflector can help you overcome undesirable lighting conditions and can add a glint to your subject’s eyes that brings any portrait to life.

I just got one of those portable expandable reflectors (the 5 in 1 type) it came in this neat little round package, when I pulled it out it popped into shape, about 3 feet by 5 feet. and for the life of me I can’t figure out how to get it back into this little 1.5 foot by 1.5 foot carry case.

I know this is a really stupid question, but can anyone help me here? I feel like I am going to break it.

I just got one of those portable expandable reflectors (the 5 in 1
type) it came in this neat little round package, when I pulled it out
it popped into shape, about 3 feet by 5 feet. and for the life of
me I can’t figure out how to get it back into this little 1.5 foot by
1.5 foot carry case.
I know this is a really stupid question, but can anyone help me here?
I feel like I am going to break it.

We have art that we do not die of the truth.
–Friedrich Nietzsche

sweet, that did it. thanks

Any videos on folding a reflector far bigger than you are? My husband (who is the same height I am!) can do it easily (so I suppose he should show me but I think he does something strange), but for me, folding a 4′ x 6′ reflector is impossible! lol

Don’t assume. It makes an a** out of you and me.
http://flickr.com/photos/bellabull8/

You have to be careful. I ended up ripping my Lighting tent and it has only been folded like 10 times, cause those metal flexy things eventually weaken the material and it ends up ripping. They are destined to deteriorate and then you have to buy again!

yeah, I could see that. I thought it would pop more than once when I was trying it last night.

Any videos on folding a reflector far bigger than you are? My husband
(who is the same height I am!) can do it easily (so I suppose he
should show me but I think he does something strange), but for me,
folding a 4′ x 6′ reflector is impossible! lol

Yeah. the bigger ones can be a real handful.
[Seems your husband is being a bit of a meanie, eh?]

This is how I was taught to do it.

1) Stand the reflector on one of its ‘corners’ about 18″ in front of your feet.
(we are going to use the floor as a stabilising ‘extra hand’, as it were)

2) Grasp the reflector in the respective ‘middles’ of the two sloping upper edges.

3) Roll the hands over and away so as to bend the top corner down towards the floor.

4) When what was the top is close to the floor, you will find two ‘lobes’ have formed either side of your legs. (they are a bit like elephant ear flaps.)

5) Stepping back a little, swing the right lobe in front of yourself by twisting your right wrist clockwise. Similarly swing left lobe in front by rotating left wrist anti-clockwise. then push away and allow the whole thing to drop to floor.

6) You now have three loops where there was one. Pick it up, equalise the loop sizes, and drop the folded reflector into its bag.

I hope this helps. Bear in mind that it takes a lot longer to read than to do. Indeed, when you have got the knack of doing it all in one smooth action, it can be done so quickly it’s difficult for others to see exactly what WAS done!!

. At that time you will be ready to star in your own YouTube movie!

Regards,
Baz

Assuming I don’t have any friend that help with my photography, what can I do to hold a reflector in position while I shoot? Let’s assume that if I’m cheap enough to use a windshield sunshade as a reflector I’m too cheap for the $200+ accessories.

I found http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004MAOXLQ/ which looks good, except the attachment is male and not female so I can’t attach this to my tripod.

6 Answers 6

Having been through this myself in an attempt to use a reflector all by myself:

Something like this – its an adjustable arm that attaches to a lightstand and lets you pivot the reflector around. It works fairly well with two/three big downsides. One, the stand really really needs to be weighted then, it just too off balance otherwise. Two, it takes up A LOT of room when assembled, don’t plan on using the whole lightstand+reflector in a small area. Three, its just not good outside – its a giant sail. You can really only use it inside.

For using a reflector solo I’ve had more luck using one of these – a triangular reflector with a hand grip on it. You can hold it with one hand and click the shutter with the other. Its difficult to do just right though and really works best for head shots. The advantage is that you can get one of these and clamp it really easily by the handle though. It’s also small enough to put on your hip and carry it around without banging into everything.

In general, its really, REALLY hard to use a reflector by yourself. It seems like when people mention how good a reflector is, they just glaze over the fact that a second person is really needed. Even with the above methods, its often easier just to break out a flash if somebody isn’t around to help you – that way I’m not trying to balance a reflector in one hand or keep something from blowing over (even with sandbags).