Reflectors for lighting: How to Use a Reflector

How to Use a Reflector

Photography is about more than just understanding how to work a camera. Understanding light, the ways it spreads and bounces, is essential too. Some objects absorb light, others bounce it back in another direction. A reflector is a tool that helps a photographer manipulate the light by providing another surface for the light to bounce off of. Reflectors are inexpensive tools that can make a big impact on your images.

What is a reflector?

A photography reflector is simply a tool that reflects light. A reflector doesn’t create light as a flash does, it simply redirects the existing light, or sometimes redirects the light from a flash or studio strobe. 

This is important to understand for two reasons. The first is that the light from a reflector isn’t any brighter than what is already there, so you can’t use one to light up a night portrait unless you are also using a flash or other light source as well. The second point to understand is that the quality of the light will match the quality of the light that’s in the scene. For example, if you’re shooting at sunset, the light that bounces off the reflector will have that same orange hue.

But, there are a few exceptions. Reflectors come in different types and colours, and the colour of the reflective surface may change the light that’s bounced back. A traditional white reflector simply bounces the light, and that light is nice and soft. A silver reflector doesn’t change the colour of the light much, but it is a bit brighter than light reflected off a white one. Gold reflectors are designed to change the colour of the light by warming it up a bit with an orange tone.

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Since reflectors don’t create light, their primary purpose is to fix shadows. If you are shooting a portrait outdoors during the day, a reflector can be used to fix odd shadows on the face, or even to prevent a backlit subject from becoming a silhouette. Basically, a reflector is used in this way as a replacement for the fill flash.

But reflectors are pretty versatile tools. There’s more than one use for them. In flat lighting, a reflector can add interest or drama to the shot. Some photographers use reflectors as hair lights outdoors. Many reflectors have a black side that can be used to block out light instead of to reflect it. Reflectors are also great for bouncing a flash when there’s nothing around to bounce off of. There are a number of possibilities in how redirecting the light can make for a better photo or replace other lighting equipment.

Five top tips for using a reflector

Using a photography reflector is rather straightforward — simply hold it at an angle that reflects the light the way you want it. Watch how the light changes as you adjust the angle, and find the angle that works the best for your shot. But there are a few tricks to getting the most from a reflector.

1. Hold the reflector directly opposite a light source

    If you hold the reflector directly opposite the light source, you’ll get the most, or brightest, light. Depending on how much light there is, you are often still able to reflect light from other angles and positions. There just isn’t as much light reflected.

    2. Use a reflector to fill in shadows

      Reflectors are great for fixing odd shadows. If the light is directly behind the subject, using a reflector directly in front of the subject will help prevent a silhouette. If the light is coming from one side, using a reflector on the opposite side will help fill in the shadows. Sometimes, light is blocked by large objects. Placing a reflector close to the object can help.

      3. Try different angles

        Don’t just limit the reflector to upright angles though. Laying the reflector on the ground in front of the subject when taking a portrait can help prevent under-eye shadows.

        4. Attach the reflector to a stand

          Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to hold the reflector at the perfect angle and still take a picture. Enlist some help if you can, or attach the reflector to a stand or prop it up against something.

          5. Take distance into consideration

            Remember, distance matters too. Bear in mind that a large light source and a close light source creates the softest light. Try placing the reflector closer to the subject if the light is too hard.

            Four reasons to use a reflector in photography

            1. Amplify a poor light source

              If you’re stuck with inadequate natural lighting and don’t have a powerful photo lightbox at your disposal, a reflector will be your saving grace.

              A reflector has a highly reflective surface, and so it can help you make the most of any light source by redirecting light to the desired object or setting. This feature makes photography reflectors a fantastic choice for projects in dark and dimly lit environments, or if you have budget constraints and want to make the most out of LED photography lights.

              Photography reflectors are generally portable and easy to carry around, unlike additional photo lightboxes that are quite heavy. So, if you’re bogged down with time constraints and need a quick artificial lighting source that you can carry, a photography reflector is just what you need in your kit.

              2. Diffuse a light source

                Have you ever looked at a photo and been dismayed at the harm that too much flash or direct sunlight can do? An undiffused light source can thoroughly wash out all the features of an object or setting, creating harsh shadows in the photo. This problem occurs because, generally, artificial light sources or direct natural light sources are unevenly dispersed. Due to this uneven dispersion of light, the setting receives the full blast of light, making it overexposed.

                This is why photographers use diffusers to soften the lighting effect. A diffuser works by evenly spreading a light source passing through it so that the result is soft or diffused light. These often come with ‘5 in 1’ photography reflectors. The result is that you can illuminate an object or setting without creating rough tones, and make subtle features stand out. It’s an essential tool for food and fashion photography.

                3. Achieve special effects

                  A reflector can help you take control of the colour tones and intensity of light, which can help you create plenty of special lighting effects. Think of a dark room with just one object of focus, or a shot of a model with only his/her eyes in focus. The scope for customisation is endless, and you can achieve incredible light settings across both indoor and outdoor projects. Fashion and wedding photographers are especially indebted to reflectors, as they can be used to create dramatic shadow effects.

                  4. Block unwanted light sources

                  Photography reflectors can block out unwanted light sources making them useful in wildlife photoshoots, as animals are much less likely to run away from a reflected light source in comparison to a harsher flash light source.

                  What reflector should I buy? Four things to consider

                  Like every other photography tool, there’s an overwhelming amount of options when it comes to reflectors. Reflectors come in different sizes, shapes and colours, all of which influence how it works.

                  1. Size

                    The size is probably the biggest consideration. Larger light sources are softer, so if you pick up a small reflector, it will likely create harsher shadows. Pick up too large of a reflector, and you won’t be able to wrangle the darn thing and the wind will turn it into a sail. A 42” is a good middle ground, with nice soft light and fairly easy handling.

                    2. Shape

                      Shape also plays a role too. Along with determining the shape of the light, keep in mind that reflectors can also be used as catchlights or a light that’s reflected back in a person’s eyes. The shape of the reflector will determine the shape of the sparkle in those eyes.

                      3. Colour

                        Don’t forget about colour when choosing a reflector either. A silver reflector will bounce the most light but may be too harsh in some scenarios. A white reflector offers softer light, so you’re not fixing the shadows with a reflector that creates its own shadows. Gold reflectors warm up the light that’s bounced, and they also tend to be bright like the silver ones. The gold reflectors aren’t used very often, and a warming effect is easier to control in Photoshop.

                        Four-in-one reflectors have silver, white and gold as well as a black side for blocking light. They’re usually made with two two-sided covers that are interchangeable, in order to get all four colours in one. It’s a good way to get all the options without a lot of gear to purchase and pack. Keep in mind though that white and silver are the most often used colours.

                        4. Handles

                          There’s a number of other factors to consider as well. Handles make them easier to use. Many reflectors are inexpensive, but there are also fancy ones that stretch out over metal frames. An expensive reflector may last a bit longer and be a bit easier to handle, but size and colour are the biggest factors in how they affect your images.

                          Reflectors are great tools for manipulating existing natural light, as well as expanding the use of different types of artificial lighting. While excellent for portraits, they can also come in handy when shooting macro photography, landscapes, and many other types of photos.

                          Want to learn more?

                          If you want to learn more about using a reflector why not join Upskillist’s online photography course? This course can help you realise your full potential in photography by giving you a solid foundation in the subject, covering everything from camera functions and lenses to composition and lighting, and how to use a reflector like a professional. If you’re planning to turn your hobby into a career, Upskillist’s online course will equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to make it happen.

                          Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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                          How To Use a Photography Reflector to Enhance Your Photos (2021 Update)

                          In photography, everything comes down to light. We literally cannot capture photos without it. Both inside and outside of the studio, one of the most important (and often underrated) lighting tools you should have on hand is a photography reflector. It can be used to bounce, diffuse, or flag natural and artificial light. Once you pick it up, you are likely to never put it down. Here is a simple guide to selecting and using a photography reflector to enhance your photos.

                          How to Use a Photography Reflector to Enhance Your Photos

                          1. Choosing Your Photography Reflector
                          2. How to Handle a Photography Reflector
                          3. Ways to Use a Photography Reflector in Natural Lighting / Outdoors
                          4. How to Use a Photography Reflector as a Fill Light
                          5. Tips for Using a Photography Reflector as a Key Light
                          6. How to Use a Reflector for Headshots

                          Choosing Your Photography Reflector

                          If you’ve never purchased a photography reflector before, the task of selecting one may seem a little daunting at first. The available shapes, sizes, colors, and features of various reflectors can quickly overwhelm, but you need to begin somewhere.

                          Choosing Your Photography Reflector Size

                          If you shoot individual portraits or want a more portable option, you can go a little on the smaller side. Larger reflectors diffuse the light over a broader space, making the light softer, but they can be a little harder to fold and carry. I typically use a collapsible 40” reflector with several interchangeable surfaces that I can swap out based on my needs. In studio, I prefer larger reflectors. They provide ample fill light. If you plan to use them outside, however, just know that carrying them around can prove a bit cumbersome.

                          Choosing Your Photography Reflector Color

                          Many reflectors on the market, particularly of the 5-in-1 variety, include most or all of the colors listed below.

                          • Silver: A silver surface can increase highlights and yield a high-contrast image, which works well for video, product shots, or black and white photography.
                          • Gold: A gold surface produces a natural, golden warm fill light that pairs well with sunset sessions or indoor portraits.  Use gold sparingly, if at all, as the color cast can look unnaturally orange.
                          • White: White surfaces produce an even, neutral-colored bounce light that works beautifully as a fill light source.
                          • Black: Rather than bounce or reflect light, black surfaces work more as a flag to block or subtract light.
                          • Translucent: Use translucent fabric to diffuse light, producing a broad, soft light source. You can find this material used in scrims.

                          How to Handle a Photography Reflector

                          Depending on the reflector you choose, you can prop it up, have an assistant hold it, have your subject hold it (usually in their lap like a sunbathing panel), or buy a stand designed to hold and position the reflector.

                          I usually have an assistant hold the reflector for subjects who move around a lot, or for rugged locations. If we plan to stay in the same location for a while, I prefer the control of a stand, especially if the reflector falls slightly on the larger side or needs to bounce or flag light from higher up. Unless your assistant lives at the gym, holding a reflector for a long period of time over their head can wear them down and you will need to take a few breaks.

                          When using a photography reflector in natural light, remind your subjects to not look directly at the reflector. It is bouncing bright UV light after all.

                          Ways to Use a Photography Reflector in Natural Lighting / Outdoors

                          When shooting with natural light, take these factors into consideration, especially when deciding where to place your reflector.


                          I love the effect of backlighting with the natural light source behind the subject. The effect is a beautiful rim light outlining the subject, or a soft haze in the background. The only problem is that it leaves the rest of the subject in shadow. By placing a reflector almost directly in front of the subject, you can bounce the sunlight to add soft, even lighting to the foreground. By moving the reflector to the side, you can control the amount of shadows on the subject to add a little drama and dimension.

                          Overcast and Heavy Shade:

                          I actually enjoy shooting in overcast conditions because of the even or flat lighting it produces. Unfortunately, although the light is even, it’s also usually pretty weak. This weak light source can also create heavy shadows under the eyes and chin if you are not careful. To counter the shadows, I tend to use one or two reflectors. I place one directly under the subject (in their lap if seated) and another to either side, based on where the most sunlight is present. The side reflector serves as a key light.

                          If I’ve placed my subjects against a busy backdrop, I try to bounce enough light to separate them from the background. This sometimes requires moving the assistant in close to light the shot and then editing them out later. If you go this route, use a tripod, capture a plate shot, and then create a composite in post. Doing so will save you a ton of time when editing. Using flash here would be ideal, but reflectors can work in a pinch.


                          When in the shade you may still need to diffuse light to avoid harsh shadows or dappled lighting. You can use the sheer white fabric in the reflector to do this. Simple place the photography reflector between your subject and the sun to balance and flatten the light.

                          Diffusion with Flash

                          If you’re working with flash, you can use the translucent fabric of the reflector to diffuse artificial light as well, sort of like like a soft box. In the video below, we used a rectangular scrim to transform an outdoor portrait. You can do the same thing with a 5-in-1 reflector. Of course, the size of the reflector will affect your cropping options. We’ve linked to larger reflectors above, but I’ll include it here again for your convenience.

                          How to Use a Photography Reflector for Fill Light

                          Most portrait photographers have been in situations with unflattering, deep shadows under our subjects’ eyes. Often times it’s on cloudy days or when the sun is right above our heads. But even in well-lit scenes with directional light, a reflector “bump” can divert soft light onto our subject’s faces to help lift some unpleasing shadows.

                          There are two general rules we always follow when using the reflector as a fill light. The Westcott 5 in 1 Reflector has multiple reflective surfaces, and our lighting situation determines which side we want to use.

                          Use the Silver Side of the Reflector when Shooting in Shade

                          In shade, you’re limited in the amount of light you have to bounce, so you want to use the more reflective silver side in order to bounce an adequate amount of light. You can control how much light the reflector outputs by adjusting the angle of the reflector or by adjusting the distance of the reflector to the couple.

                          Use the White Side of the Reflector when Shooting in Direct Sunlight

                          If you use the silver side in the bright sunlight from below you’ll be adding too much light upwards, which can give you that unflattering “campfire” look. Even if the reflector is far away and the light is being feathered, the lighting will still likely be too harsh. So in direct sunlight, we use the white soft side of the reflector in order to soften the shadows, and not completely overpower them.

                          Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a portrait of our couple with and without using the reflector as a fill light.

                          Without Reflector Left | With Reflector Right

                          Our couple looks younger and the skin looks softer because there are less shadows on the eyes, smile lines, and neck. The reflector brings out nice details in our female model’s hair, while decreasing the contrast in the facial hair of our male model.

                          Without Reflector Left | With Reflector Right

                          The reflector also brings out beautiful details in the eyes. In the photo above, the reflector has softened the shadows and diminished the lines under the eyes. Our model’s irises are much brighter, and the reflector adds a nice catchlight in the eyes.

                          Tips for Using a Photography Reflector as a Key Light

                          By far, this qualifies as my favorite way of utilizing a reflector. One of the great features of reflectors is their portability. Sometimes, I only take a speedlight and reflector out on a location shoot. When used as a key light, the reflector can bounce any available light (natural or artificial) onto the subject and give a sense of depth to your images without having a studio kit in your back pocket.

                          In the example below, I used a gold reflector to bounce the sunlight and add some dramatic shadows on the subject. This allowed me to maintain the bokeh in the background without blowing out the image exposure.

                          Image 1 (Canon 5D Mark II w/ 50mm F/1. 4 @ F/2.0) – This image was naturally lit with the sun as the back light, which created a nice hair light and rim light around her body. It makes for a nice shot and has a great natural feel to it. However, with a simple modifier we can change the entire look of the scene as shown in Image 2.

                          Image 2 (Canon 5D Mark II w/ 50mm F/1.4 @ F/2.0) – The only difference between this image and the last is that we added a silver reflector as a main light 45 degrees off to camera right. We then exposed for our subjects brighter skin and pulled down the ambient light. You can see how this image has a much more dramatic feel, and the subject really pops off the background. With the reflector added, we now have a two-light scene and a completely different look.

                          The point here is that a scene is all about the light and how we choose to shape that light. We often have more options at our disposal than we realize, and each lends a different look and effect to our imagery.

                          [Related Reading: Create a $20 Photography Studio You Can Use Anywhere]

                          How to Use a Reflector for Headshots

                          Reflectors are a headshot photographer’s best friend. The more reflectors you have, the more options you’ll have for using them as well.

                          You can create a more complex setup like the one featured above (which only uses one on-camera flash and four reflectors), or strip down the setup for basic fill lighting.  Simply place a reflector opposite of your main light source for great, bounced fill light. You can also place a reflector in the subject’s lap, or just in front of them at an angle, to soften all of the sharp features and shadows under the eyes and chin.

                          Check out our full workshop, Headshot Photography 101, for a comprehensive dive into lighting setups, posing directions, and editing techniques for this genre.


                          I hope you found these tips for how to use a photography reflector to enhance your photography helpful. Bouncing light off of a reflector gives a large, soft light source when working in or outside of the studio. It is one of the least expensive, yet most highly versatile lighting tools in your arsenal. With many sizes, shapes, and materials available, you won’t run out of options. Whenever a light source is available, whether it is an off-camera flash or the sunlight, a reflector will help focus and define your images.

                          If you’d like to dive deeper into lighting techniques, check out our Flash Photography Training System, which is also available as part of our Premium education.

                          Light reflectors for spotlights, lamps

                          Aluminum reflector with a smooth mirror surface directs the reflected light well, but does not exclude blinding.

                          Light reflectors for spotlights, luminaires

                          Materials that reflect light are used in the production of reflectors and for changing the direction of the light flow of lamps by repeatedly reflecting it. According to the method of distributed reflected light flux, the reflection can be

                          • mirrored (directional),
                          • scattered (diffuse),
                          • directionally diffused
                          • and mixed.

                          The most important characteristics of materials that reflect light should be considered

                          • reflectance,
                          • distribution curve of the reflected light flux in space (indicatrix),
                          • and in colored reflective materials, such an indicator as the distribution of the reflection coefficient in the spectrum is important.

                          Colored materials are not used in the manufacture of lighting fixtures, so we will not touch on them anymore.

                          Directional and diffuse reflective materials are metals treated by different methods, or metal coatings on a non-metallic coating (resulting in the same metals). Scattered reflection is formed by matte paper, fabrics, most paints and enamels. Specific silicate enamels and shiny white materials (silenced silicate materials, silenced synthetic materials, shiny paper, etc. ) have mixed reflection.

                          Directional Reflection makes it possible to distribute the light flux of the lamps more precisely and in a directed way, thus creating the necessary LRC (light intensity curve). Silver has the highest reflection coefficient of all purified metals (coefficient 0.92). But because of its high cost, this metal is only used in a thin layer on ordinary glass reflectors of some spotlights and magnifying devices.

                          Considered almost unique in its kind as a directional reflective material aluminum . With high-quality polishing of its surface, its reflection coefficient can exceed 0.8, but pure aluminum tarnishes very quickly, oxidizing in air. This implies the obligation to protect the metal from direct contact with air. There are plenty of options for performing such protection of the metal from rapid oxidation.

                          Alzac and electrochemical polishing (anodizing) are the best known and most commonly used methods. The alzac coating process consists in coating a metal surface with a thin film of silicon dioxide or silicon oxide. This thin film lowers the reflection coefficient, but completely blocks the access of air to aluminum, while at the same time strengthening the surface of the metal, making it even harder. The anodizing process consists in treating the metal surface with solutions of phosphoric acid, chromium anhydride and other elements under the influence of an electric current at the same time. As a result, the metal surface becomes polished and very shiny. Under the influence of electricity, a thin layer of aluminum oxide is formed on the aluminum surface, which protects the metal from oxidation and tarnish.


                          ZHO33, RO33, GO33 Foton

                          Spotlight E40, IP65, 400-2000W


                          ZHO33, RO33, GO33 Foton

                          Spotlight E40, IP65, 400-2000W


                          ZHO33, RO33, GO33 Foton

                          Spotlight E40, IP65, 400-2000W


                          ZHO33, RO33, GO33 Foton

                          Spotlight E40, IP65, 400-2000W


                          We will help you choose the right fixtures for your facility

                          Responsible manager on request:
                          Evgeny Chilimov
                          +7(495)649-86-94 ext. However, aluminum in its pure form is a very soft and too expensive material, so materials with lower cost and higher hardness are usually used for the production of reflectors ( aluminum alloys, hardened steel, plastic, sometimes glass ). Such materials are covered with a layer of the most purified aluminum, and then with a protective layer. Pure aluminum is usually applied by spraying it in a vacuum environment, and silicon dioxide is used as a protective layer, which is sprayed on the aluminum surface under the same conditions with the same equipment.

                          To form the best directional reflection, the material on which aluminum is applied in a thin layer must be highly polished.

                          If the substrate is rough, the reflection generated by the material will be directionally scattered . Moreover, the more roughness on the surface, the more diffuse will be the formed reflection.

                          Recently, many foreign companies, such as the German Alanod or the Italian Saccal, have set up the production of aluminum in sheets with a ready-made polished surface with an already applied aluminum layer of maximum purity – 99. 99 percent, on which a thin layer of silicon dioxide is applied, as well as titanium dioxide. The thickness of the protective layer on such sheets is such that the light reflected from the front and rear surfaces (directed to air and aluminum) is out of phase and fades away. This method of optical enlightenment has been used in the production of optical devices for many years. With its help, cameras with blue lenses are produced, which have a very high transmittance than similar lenses with uncoated (clear) lenses. The use of such coatings and the purest aluminum made it possible to achieve a reflection coefficient of 0.95.

                          Metal sheets, which are produced in the same way, but with a silver layer, achieve a reflectance of 0.98, the highest achieved to date.

                          Retail lighting

                          Track lights

                          Downlight fixtures

                          Ceiling lights

                          Recessed luminaires

                          Pendant lights

                          Wall lights

                          Decorative lighting

                          Office lighting

                          Due to the fact that the basis of these metal sheets is not aluminum, but its alloy with improved mechanical characteristics, the most accurate reflectors can be made from these materials, while maintaining their shape.

                          Aluminum sheets are produced not only with directional, but also with directional-diffused type of reflection of different quality of scattering, as well as sheets with pink or golden hues. The surface of such sheets is covered with an easily removable film of polymers to provide protection from damage and shock during transportation.

                          The weak side of such aluminum sheets is the inability to use sheets for the production of reflectors with complex shapes, which is due to damage to the upper protective layer inherent in this material during drawing, as well as their rather high price. Nevertheless, in the manufacture of lighting fixtures with fluorescent light sources, this material is increasingly being used in the production of reflectors and shielding mirror elements.

                          For various materials with diffuse reflection paints and enamels are used from white pigment fragments, such as zinc oxides, titanium dioxide, etc. Enamels cover the surface of reflectors by spraying with a compressed air stream. The reflection coefficient of high-quality enamels is about 0.85.

                          Lighting fixtures with high power lamps often use special glass enamels that have a mixed specular-diffuse reflection . In these materials, at sufficiently small angles of the direction of the light flux, diffuse reflection prevails. At larger angles, the specular reflection increases and the diffuse reflection decreases. This increases the overall reflectance to approximately 85 percent. This characteristic of mixed-reflection materials must be taken into account in the manufacture of lighting fixtures.

                          Glass enamels are usually applied to the outer surface of steel reflectors, which are at the same time housings for lighting fixtures. Coatings made of glass enamel have high rates of resistance to heat, resistance to chemical attack, impact resistance. This determines the main area of ​​use of lighting devices with glass-enamel reflectors – lighting of large factory and industrial premises.

                          The reflector of the luminaire is in most cases made of anodized aluminium. It depends on the structure of its surface: whether the light will be reflected and directed or also scattered. Aluminum is not the only material for reflectors.

                          We will help you choose the right fixtures for your property

                          Responsible manager on request:
                          Evgeny Chilimov
                          +7(495)649-86-94 ext.106

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                          Types of reflectors and their features

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                          types of reflectors

                          Reflectors are an important element in the design of fixtures. The main material of the reflector is. Typically anodized aluminium, chrome, aluminum coated plastic.

                          Aluminum reflectors are durable due to anodized coating. It provides mechanical protection and can be exposed to high temperatures. Plastic can take a limited thermal load.

                          There are two types of reflector surfaces: mirror and matte finish. The matte finish gives a brighter and more even light. Metal reflectors have a dichroic coating that can control the UV or IR components of the light.

                          Generally, there are three types of reflector shapes:

                          • Circle;
                          • Ellipse;
                          • Parabola.

                          Round reflectors are used as an aid in combination with parabolic reflectors or a lens system. They direct the light onto a parabolic reflector or use the light emitted back to return it to the lamp.

                          Elliptical reflectors are used in recessed ceiling lights with the task of creating a flood light from the ceiling down. Elliptical reflectors are also ideal when only a small luminaire opening is possible to illuminate a sufficiently large area.

                          Parabolic reflectors are the most commonly used. They allow you to control the light in various ways: wide beam, narrow beam, asymmetric distribution. Controlling the angle of the light beam allows you to create luminaires that satisfy a wide range of tasks for spreading light and limiting the glare effect.

                          Parabolic reflectors can also be used with linear or flat light sources. For example, PAR lamps or fluorescent lamps. In this case, the reflector has not so many tasks – to produce directional light, but to optimally limit the glare effect.

                          In addition to the classic parabolic, spherical and elliptical, other types of reflectors are used in the production of fixtures, designed to solve certain problems. Everything is selected individually, depending on the goals.

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