How to Make a High Fashion Specular Reflector

How to Make a High Fashion Specular Reflector

I've got a fun little DIY light modifier for you today. I call it the  High Fashion Specular Reflector  or "shiny board" for short. In my travels, I have to carry a LOT of gear.  Especially when the trip is on my own dime and I don't have a budget to rent the cool toys I want to have. I came up with the idea for this reflector through experimentation and just obnoxious luck. I wanted to create a very hard light (in addition to the sun) to use on my model while on location. That's not too hard to accomplish with strobes, but remember, I get lazy. I first started messing around with mirrors, but they didn't really do what I wanted, not to mention they are heavy and dangerous if broken. Then I thought about Mylar!  Well now rolls of Mylar aren't super hard to find, but also aren't readily available in a lot of locations. There is however a cheap and readily available solution, and that is a camping emergency blanket! So combining the Mylar blanket with a couple of other items I was able to create a remarkable source of light, that is cheap, and versatile. Here is how.

What you'll need

  • 24x36" Poster Frame ($10) These come in all sizes, but you need the ones with plexiglass fronts, easily found at any superstore
  • Duct Tape ($1.50) Also found at the superstore. You know the saying, if you can't Duck it...
  • Scissors ($1.50- $400) Supersharp hair styling shears are preferred, but you can use a $1.50 pair too.
  • Emergency Camping Blanket ($4) The key ingredient, found at pretty much any store that has a camping section.

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First thing you want to do is take the poster apart and separate its pieces. Don't throw anything away (except the shrink wrap that came on the frame).

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Next you want to open up the Emergency Camping Blanket. Unfold it until it easily covers the backing board of the poster frame.

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Cut around the edges of the board, leaving about 2 inches of space. When you are through, you are likely to have two sheets to fit your reflector, handy if you are making more than one.

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Next place the backing board down onto one of your mylar sheets. The board can face any direction, it doesn't matter. Start by taping one side and then going to the opposite side. Pulling the mylar taught each time. Your goal here is just to "tack" the mylar into place, we'll make it permanent in the next step.

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Now you want to place the plexiglass face down (it should have a protective film over the front of it), then lie the mylar sheet on top of it, which is now attached to the backing board. Now here is where the filler paper comes in (that sheet that had all the information on the poster frame). If it has a white back, I like to affix it to the back side of the board so I have a white fill at my disposal as well. This is completely optional of course.

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Now, you have two options here. One, you can use the frames attachment pieces to hold everything together. It's cleaner looking, but also a pain in the ass to do.  The other option is to use the Duct tape. I choose to use Duct Tape to keep everything together. You can use whatever strong tape you choose, like Gaffer's Tape, but Duct Tape is much cheaper. Using the same taping technique as before, work your way around the board, taping as you go. When you are finished taping, flip the reflector face up, and peel away the protective cover on the plexi.

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Voila! Your new super sophisticated High Fashion Specular Reflector (shiny board)!

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So, the burning question; "what does it do?"

Well when used in direct sun, the mylar will reflect the light extremely well. It has an almost mirror-like quality to it, similar to reflections off of rippling water. The emergency blanket provides a unique characteristic that a clean sheet of mylar won't have. The folds and variations caused by the packaging break up the light just enough to give it that "rippled water" look. Whereas the clean sheet of mylar will just make one or two streaks of light. Below are some examples of what you can do with this reflector. With each photograph I turned, bent, or twisted the reflector slightly just to give some different effects.
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This image below is the same wall but using a standard silver foldable reflector.

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As you can see there is a significant difference in the intensity and shape of the light between our freshly made Specular Reflector, and the basic fold up silver reflector. The "Shiny Board" is a bit tricky to get used to because it does, by design, create hotspots on the subject, as well as create very hard shadows. However, that is what I like about it, it's a quality of light that most people are afraid to use because of it's unforgiving nature, but I think the results are worth the extra few frames to get that hot spot in just the right area. But that's not all!  Not only do we have the optional white fill that we built in, you can also intentionally "distress" the plexiglass. By either applying dulling spray or taking the time to painstakingly scratch up the front of the plexiglass. This will soften/diffuse the light that comes off of the board. The best part is, it's still more intense than the average fold up silver reflector because of the Mylar's reflective properties. That means you can throw fill in from greater distances than you normally could with the basic reflector.
Below are a few shots that the "shiny board" was used on.

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So the next time you are in a strange city, and need a little extra light, consider the Shiny Board option. I mean, for $15 and about 15 minutes, you can have a really unique and versatile reflector that you won't have to pack with you nor feel guilty about leaving behind.
Do you have any similar DIY ideas for travel? Let us know in the comments below!

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37 Comments

Tam Nguyen's picture

This is one epic post Rich. I really like the end results.

AMAZING. It takes a true genius to come up with ideas like this. Thank you!

Sander van der Veen's picture

Easy to take with you anywhere! :)

Trevor Dayley's picture

If MacGyver were only a photographer.

Don't understand how the model can keep eyes open on the second picture... ? But really nice effect !

Rich Meade's picture

She would close her eyes and I would count down. When she opened them I would shoot.

Réjean Brandt's picture

That's exactly what I did when I shot with Autumn. Great post btw!

Oh yeah of course... Tks for the reply :) The first image is amazing ! Sun behind and juste the reflector ? (and ND filter obviously ;-))

Rich Meade's picture

Yep, just the reflector, but no ND filter believe it or not.

Whaaat ? ^^ How can you have such a DOF ? I thought there was too much light to open that much... BTW, I just visited your website, I LOVE your work :) Big fan ! Congrats

Rich Meade's picture

Thanks, well it wasn't "high noon" light, It was around 5:30pm. I shot at f1.4 with a shutter speed of 1/8000th

Can you not simply use tin foil and cardboard? :-)

Even cheaper!

Rich Meade's picture

You can, and I have done this, but tin foil isn't as reflective as the mylar blanket is, believe it or not.

I think I may have one of those blankets lying around in a cupboard after a cross Scotland challenge - time to dig it out I think. Thanks mate.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Love the idea of this and great article. I have such issue with reflectors though because they always blind my subjects....am I the only one that has this problem? It's a shame because they can do great light but I always go to strobes for this reason.

Rich Meade's picture

Oh this one will definitely blind the model, but they usually cheer up when you show them the results.

Jason Langley's picture

Set up pose, have them close their eyes and open on a 3 count. Boom.

Jason Ranalli's picture

Definitely willing to try that...thanks for the tip.

Antonio Carrasco's picture

great post!

I tried it once with tinfoil. Since what you get is a bit of a fluke you have to take a bit more photos until you get what you want. Other than that it works quite well.

Noam Galai's picture

awesome!

Von Wong's picture

wow very very sweet. I love the results.

Trevor Dayley's picture

You should have just kept this one a secret and marketed it to photographers at WPPI as the amazing new "Meade Shiny Board." Fong did it when he discovered tupperware on his flash gave a cool effect. :)

Nice one Rich!

You are the man Rich, can I give you a high 5 when I see you lol

I'll make mine tomorrow. Thanks!!

Valters Pelns's picture

Another great thing to use is lots of tiny mirrors glued on cardboard, also very interesting effect.
But I havent been in situation where I use it in photo! :)

Rich Meade's picture

I actually started out doing something similar. I however thought it was a good idea to use a broken mirror lol. The problem I ran into with this is the weight...and the sharp edges.

A neat dome flash diffuser Made for under $3.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/focusedfrog/sets/72157626019158993/

Been using mylar like that to make reflectors for years. It comes in gold as well. Stuff is really cheap. You can buy it wherever they sell camping supplies. They're sold as emergency blankets.

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