How I edit to get the glow of a reflector in Photoshop

  • final edit with no reflector by Winnie Bruce

For many photographers, a reflector is a great tool to use for bouncing and manipulating light.

Often times, depending on the location and the subject, a reflector would really be very beneficial.

For example, if it’s completely overcast, it’s a great way to introduce light to your subject. Also, it’s another way to enhance skin. I am, however, one of those photographers that notoriously forget my reflector. I love using it, but sometimes, I just forget it, or I use too long of a lens (like my 135mm lens) that I can’t hold my reflector and shoot at the same time.

I had to come up with a trick with how to edit my images and still have that nice glow that a reflector does. 

When it comes to editing images, there’s still a bit of difference when editing images with and without reflectors. Here are two images wherein one had a reflector, one didn’t, both taken at the same spot. These images are completely unedited. These images have the same settings; both taken at 1/400, f/1.8, and ISO 640.

photo comparison with and without a reflector by Winnie Bruce

With reflector:

For the image that used a reflector, my raw processing was much easier. This makes for another good reason to use one more often. I didn’t have to work with the exposure as much. Sure, I could have adjusted my settings and made my shutter speed slower, or bumped up my ISO. Instead, by just putting a reflector with the silver side up, I was able to bounce light unto her face. I really like using the silver side because it gives a nice glow to skin. This is the type of lighting I try to achieve in all my shoots, and also the type of lighting I try to mimic in Photoshop. 

Here is the final RAW processed image of the reflector photo, with my RAW processing.

final edited photo of picture with a reflector by Winnie Bruce

And here are the settings before and after for this image in RAW.

edited photo with reflector by Winnie Bruce

With the use of the reflector, I was able to maintain my exposure exactly where I measured it in my camera, and all I had to do was just simply tweak the white balance, and a little pop by increasing the blacks, adding some contrast, and decreasing the shadow. And after ACR, it made my edits quick and no need to add extra tweaking or tricks to get that nice full glow, because I already did that in camera!

final edit of portrait with a reflector by Winnie Bruce

Without reflector:

As for my non-reflector image (which is a common image for me), I had to increase the exposure, and still increase the shadows. But even after I did that in ACR, I still wasn’t finding my light to be desirable. I pulled the image into Photoshop to tweak it a bit after my usual edits.

ACR edit of photo with no reflector by Winnie Bruce

When I bring in this image into Photoshop and run my usual edits, I will do my reflector cheat. Using a white gradient, through Layers > New Fill Layer > Gradient Fill, I pick radial and add a white circular gradient in the middle of the image. From there, I head over to the layers panel, change the layer to soft light, and then I reduce the opacity until it looks like it’s just a hint of light on the image.

white gradient layer in Photoshop by Winnie Bruce

after the gradient filter in Photoshop by Winnie Bruce

From there, I add another layer, and this time, I add curves. You can do this in ACR also, but I choose to do this in Photoshop because I like being able to reduce my opacity because it tends to be too strong for some images. From Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Curves, I then get the curves panel for my image. I pull the bottom black slider in a little, and so for the white slider. For the bottom left square, I pull it down a touch also to add some contrast, and for the top right square, I pull it up just a bit so I can bring in some light. This is what it looks like after, and it looks like it has a ton of contrast and light. So I reduce this layer’s opacity until I get what I need from it.

curves layer in Photoshop by Winnie Bruce

This is what the image looks like with and without the reflector edit.

side by side comparison with and without reflector by Winnie Bruce

This is the final edit of this image, along with the reflector cheat edit.

final edit with no reflector by Winnie Bruce

I don’t only use this trick for when I forget a reflector. I also use this simple Photoshop trick when I’m using a long lens, or when I shoot families. It’s a way for me to introduce some extra pop to the image. I work with a lot of toddlers also, and sometimes, chasing them around with a reflector is just hard. With this technique, I’m able to bring light into the images. Also, to make my process faster, I recorded this whole step as an action so that I’m able to apply it to images that I feel need it.

Here’s another image where I didn’t bring a reflector with me, but I definitely wanted to introduce the same type of light. Same method, I just added the reflector trick, and gave my image a pop. On the left is without, and on the right is with the reflector trick.

side by side comparison of edited photo with and without reflector by Winnie Bruce

Reflectors offer a gorgeous enhancement to images, but in the event you forget one, or unable to use one often, like I do, there’s always a few tricks to enhance that image!

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About the Author:

Winnie is a portrait photographer specializing on families, children, and newborns in the Baltimore / DC area. Being a photographer is her full-time job, but she is also a mommy to Elliott and Finnegan, and an Air Force wife. Winnie shoots both Canon and Nikon cameras, and enjoys them both thoroughly. When she first started with photography, she intended to be a food photographer, and was an aspiring chef. Portraiture though has definitely found a special place in her heart. Winnie enjoys shopping, specially at stores like Anthropologie, functions on copious amounts of coffee, and loves listening to sports talk radio.

18 Comments

  1. Christine Breslin Jun 17 2015 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    Wow – this is super!!! Thank you so much!

    • Winnie B Jun 25 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

      you are very welcome!

  2. Sabrina Kelsey Jun 18 2015 at 9:55 am - Reply

    when I add the gradient layer and make it radial I can’t figure out how to make it white now brown/grey. Might be so simple I just can’t get it. Any tips?

    • Winnie B Jun 25 2015 at 6:41 pm - Reply

      On your color picker, make sure it’s white, it’s the little squares with colors on the left hand menu corner. Whatever color is on top will be the color that your brush / color fill will be =)

  3. Kim Peterson Jun 18 2015 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Great tips, Winnie!! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Winnie B Jun 25 2015 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Kim!

  4. Lindsay Jun 18 2015 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    I love this and use the same editing trick when the light doesn’t fall in my favor. Sometimes if the image is giving off a “cooler” feel than I’d like I’ll use a buttery yellow or a rosy peach instead of white for that gradient and it gives just a hint of warmth and brightness!
    Also helpful for when you have a group and that one person seemed to fall into a shadow but everyone else is in good lighting.

    • Winnie B Jun 25 2015 at 6:45 pm - Reply

      Fantastic tip, Lindsay! I use the same technique to tone photos sometimes too =)

  5. Chanel Jun 18 2015 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Awesome tip! I can’t wait to try this on an image of my own!

    • Winnie B Jun 25 2015 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Chanel!

  6. Erin Southwell Jun 19 2015 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Wow, what a fantastic tutorial! I love this and cannot wait to try it out! Thank you!!

    • Winnie B Jun 25 2015 at 6:46 pm - Reply

      Thank you also, Erin! I hope this helps you out too =)

  7. Shelly Morgan Jul 06 2015 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    Winnie I am so excited to find you on here! i just joined a few months ago and have seen quite a few of your photos from Missy B on facebook, who is one of my oldest friends from middle and high school. I love this tutorial and will be checking out all your others! Awesome tutorial!!! Thanks!

    • Winnie B Aug 19 2015 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      Hey Shelly! Oh my goodness, small world! She is my bestest friend in the world!

  8. Amanda Jul 07 2015 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    This was a great tip- never thought to add a gradient, but it works the same as a refector. I always bring mine and love when I temeber to use it… But yeah, kids running and trying to keep up and being too far away… I’m in the same boat. Thanks for sharing!

    • Winnie B Aug 19 2015 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      glad to have helped! It is so hard with kids, and I have to train my 7 year old to hold a reflector soon for me for these hehe. for now, these work!

  9. Alan Aug 13 2015 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Would you be willing to share the photoshop action – for folks like me who struggle with photoshop?

    • Winnie B Aug 19 2015 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      I may! Maybe I’ll post it on my fb page!

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