Reflected Light

Reflected Light is the opposite of DIRECT LIGHT.

This is an arbitrary simplification which has proved useful. Reflected light is simply light that’s been reflected onto our subject. Direct light can be reflected many times before we see it.

Reflected light is hugely affected by what it’s been reflected off. Sunlight reflected by a mirror will retain its colour and the majority of its brightness.

Sunlight reflected by the orange paint on a wall will be less bright and coloured orange; because we see objects to be a blend of the colours that they most reflect.

There are two main types of reflection;


Specular reflections are those mirror-like reflections formed when light bounces off a smooth, flat, shiny surface. They are highly directional. Glass, polished floors and car bonnets all produce specular reflections. A polariser can darken them.


Diffused reflections make up the majority of the light that we see. Light, incident on a textured surface such as skin, tweed cloth, matte paint and so on is diffused when it is reflected. The light rays are scattered in all directions.


If our subjects aren’t lit by reflected light, we wouldn’t be able to see them when they’re in the shade. Consider that under the shade of a leafy oak tree, your subject will be lit by the sunlight reflected off the surrounding countryside; probably a slightly green light.

One of the most important rules of Holistic Photography is to always consider the light sources in your scene and incident on your subject. This is usually the sun.

But with reflected light, your light sources may be any number of objects. To fully understand where the light on your subject is coming from, it helps to pay attention to your surroundings. The shadows will point towards the main light sources and you can see reflections of the main light sources if you hold a pair of sunglasses in front of your subject.