The Difference Between a White and a Silver Reflector

When it comes to light modifiers, you could almost categorize them by contrast. What do I mean by that? Well some light modifiers will yield a much more contrasty image than others. For example, a small silver reflector will be produce a very contrasty image than a six foot ocatabox. As I discovered, it’s not just the relative size of the light that counts, but also the color that makes the difference. I know that seems a little counter-intuitive, but let me explain.

I was taking pictures of my seven week old son and was using a 5-in-1 reflector held by my wife and we started out using the white side of the reflector. Unfortunately he, as newborns do, started to crank up and we had to break for a while. During our hiatus I thought I’d change the white reflector out for the silver reflector. Bad move! I stared aiming it toward the bassinet and was pretty blown away by the amount of light the silver side of the reflector was shining toward the baby’s bed as opposed to the white reflector. I thought I could just feather the light in that direction by holding it a little off axis, but it was still too bright. So bright in fact that my son was squinting and turning away from it!

It’s hard to believe that just the color of the reflector could make such a difference to the amount of light being reflected back toward my subject, but I had no idea how much more light the silver side of the reflector produced as opposed to the white side. In terms of contrast, the silver side was much more contrasty than the white.

Now let me take pause here to say that there isn’t a wrong or right amount of contrast or light per se, it really depends on the look you’re going for. Just be aware of the differences and make use of the appropriate side of your reflector and/or light source to meet your needs.

For the shoot I was doing of my son I was looking for a very light/white look and feel that was very ethereal and light. The first images I took with the white reflector was just right and had the exact look I was looking for. The silver reflector on the other hand was very harsh and hand way too much contrast than I was looking for.

One thing worth mentioning about the silver reflector is that the catch lights in the eyes are dramatically brighter than with the white reflector. And if you’re looking for a high contrast look for your shoot the silver reflector is absolutely the way to go. Just be sure you know which color reflector to use when you need it.

Here is an example of the first images I took while using the white reflector. Notice how light and bright, and low contrast the picture turned out.

White reflector, low contrast.


Now compare this next picture while using the silver reflector. Notice the amount of contrast in the image, the stripes in the background, the colors in the eyes, and the overall airiness and feel of the picture. It is much more contrasty than the first picture. And check out the big catchlights in the eyes!

Silver reflector, high contrast.


I know there is a lot out there about how different light modifiers effect the look of the image, but I hope you now understand that the different light modifiers produce different amounts of contrast as well. Now that you know, you can choose accordingly.

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