The other day, I was setting up a simple photo of a few books for my most recent book review blog post. I had glorious light coming in the window & I wanted to take advantage of it. So, I set up the books & snapped a few photos. (I also wanted to play with my newest lens!) I played around with a few angles & hunted around my house for the perfect item to place next to the books that might have been just sitting there. (Candle? A fake-pearl-covered candle stick? A sprig of wildflowers? Oh, who am I kidding. I don't have sprigs of wildflowers just laying around my house.)
Finally, I found the angle, the perfect just-sitting-there object (the teacups!), & the right order of the three books, but I wasn't happy with how the light fell, or rather, didn't fall, in the far left corner. The dark book cover against the dark wood of the shelf just wasn't cutting it for me.
I pivoted on the spot to look around for inspiration, & my eyes fell on my printer that was within arm's reach. I grabbed a sheet of white cardstock paper & propped it up against the discarded fake-pearl-covered candle stick to act as a reflector. Viola! That added the perfect amount of reflected light to distinguish where the book ended & the wood started.
Reflectors are awesome, & I have one of those five-in-one reflectors that works like a charm, especially in up-close scenarios.
But, there's inevitably a time when I can't use it. In those cases, I look for objects that can act as reflectors. That can be a white wall, a parking lot, a white curtain, or a simple piece of paper. Unless, you're going for something artistic, the key is to look for something white (or as close to white as possible) to bounce light back onto the subject of your photo.
This may go without saying, but make sure the reflector is actually being hit by light first. It won't help much if your reflector is drastically in shadow & not able to absorb light.
Vice versa, if you're wanting to create shadow, look for dark surfaces or objects to absorb some of the light. Just the other day, I was doing bridal photos on an overcast day, & while overcast lighting is great, I wanted just a little bit of shadow to add depth. I had the bride stand really close to the edge of a dense patch of foliage, & it added the perfect amount of shadow. I'd show you the photo, but her wedding isn't for a few weeks, so that will have to wait!