I told you about the #1 Best Tool you can buy which can dramatically improve your photography skills; and the #2 Best Tool you can buy (also for self-improvement but with an added bonus of being useful for things like being your own second shooter and night photography). Now I'm going to introduce the third best tool you can own besides your camera: a collapsible reflector.
Right about now you're thinking you should skip this entry and read something more intelligent-- hey, I surprised myself by deciding to write about this simple tool. But while on a shoot the other day the fashion designer said she'd never seen a photographer reverse the cover of the reflector before. None of the photographers she worked with paid any attention to the color and intensity of the reflected light. So I guess someone needs to champion this remarkably simple tool.
There are actually six different uses for a 5-in-1 reflector. I have two of them (a 32" and a 60") and this $15-$30 dollar tool is capable of mimicking almost any light modifier under $200.
The Black Side: This is for subtracting/blocking light. On a bright overcast day you can place it to one side of your subject to create a subtle shadow or fill side for their face. You can also use it as a flag to block light from a flash or other light source. And at 60" it can function as a black backdrop for a head shot..
The Silver Side: This is for reflecting light back at the subject to remove shadows. Being silver, it produces almost a 1 to 1 ratio of light, reflecting about 90% of the light it catches. This also makes it a great tool for bouncing your flash back at your subject: the Silver Side (and the White as well) can function as a portable wall in open spaces. It's the most powerful reflecting surface, and with power comes some limitations. One a bright sunny day it may be too bright, blinding your model and flattening the scene. That's one reason why people will choose....
The White Side: This is a softer reflection. It loses about 2 stops of light in the bounce, which can make for a great fill if positioned close enough. It's also easier to control and softer than the silver.
The Gold Side: The gold side tends to be in between the white and silver in terms of light intensity. It also has a warm glow that can be quite beautiful on some skin tones and in low-key photography. You have to be careful, though, because on other skin tones it can look yellow.
The Translucent Disc: This is the most neglected tool your reflector has, and one of the most versatile. With a 60" reflector, the semi-transparent material can create a patch of mobile shade for taking pictures outside in bright sun. You no longer need a tree for shade (but you do need an assistant).
The Translucent Disc: The 6th function of the 5-in-1 reflector is utilizing the semi-transparent disc as a shoot-through scrim. When the light from your strobe hits the surface it spreads out, creating a large, soft light source. While there are professional-grade scrims of different density and quality that can produce a better quality of light, your humble reflector is surprisingly good. See the image below and judge for yourself.
One of the remarkable things about this simple set-up is how even the light is from waist to forehead using a 32" reflector in the simplest flash set-up imaginable. The best thing is that it works equally well with a 60" reflector and a single strobe, producing an even light from head to toe.