Sun Too Harsh? Modify It! - Digital Photography School

Sun Too Harsh? Modify It!

For guys, a little harshness in the light can be a good thing.  So for this shot, I positioned the sun over his left shoulder, and a reflector to the right and in front of him. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. 1/320, f4, ISO 100.

For guys, a little harshness in the light can be a good thing. So for this shot, I positioned the sun over his left shoulder, and a reflector to the right and in front of him. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. 1/320, f4, ISO 100.

I’m big on shooting portraits outdoors.  I love the natural light, the variety of locations available, and the more natural feel.  I think for the average subject, a studio can be an intimidating place.  The problem with shooting outdoors is that you are at the mercy of Mother Nature, for the most part, when it comes to light.  But not to worry.  Just as a simple speedlite can be modified, so can the sun.

When the sun is harsh, there are a few things I can do to soften it. I will use fill-flash outdoors when I have to, but I’m not a fan of straight, on camera flash of any kind if I can help it.  And some situations it’s just not possible to move the flash off camera to act as fill.  I these situations, I go with one of two options. First, I can use a reflector kick light back into the subject’s face.  I will place the sun behind my subject, at an angle so I’m not shooting straight into it. The reflector, I will position the reflector to the exact opposite of the sun, in front of my subject, and to the side. The beauty of using a reflector with the sun is that you can see the effect immediately, unlike with flash.  Have someone hold the reflector and move it around so you can see the effect with it as it moves.  If I have no one available to hold the reflector, I will use a light stand with a reflector holder.  Additionally, a weight of some kind may be helpful if it’s breezy since the reflector will act as a sail.  Your camera back can work for this, or sandbags are ideal. The drawback with a reflector will also be an equally bright object in the eyes of your subject, and could cause him to squint.

Here you can see the difference with and without a scrim. On the left is straight sunlight with no modifiers.  It's not terrible, but harsher than I wanted on her face. I turned her around to face the sun, and used a scrim to soften the light on her. The result, in my eyes, was much more pleasing. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. Exposure for the image without the scrim was 1/1000, f/1.2, ISO 100 with +1 exposure compensation.  For the image on the right, 1/3200, ISO 100, f/1.2.

Here you can see the difference with and without a scrim. On the left is straight sunlight with no modifiers. It’s not terrible, but harsher than I wanted on her face. I turned her around to face the sun, and used a scrim to soften the light on her. The result, in my eyes, was much more pleasing. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. Exposure for the image without the scrim was 1/1000, f/1.2, ISO 100 with +1 exposure compensation. For the image on the right, 1/3200, ISO 100, f/1.2.

Sometimes, even with a reflctor, the light is much too harsh for what I’m looking for. In cases like this, I will use a scrim. In my case, my reflector and scrim are part of the same tool.  I currently use a Westcott 5-in-1 40-inch reflector.  It has a gold side, silver side, black side, white side, and a translucent disc as the center when the outer casing (which makes up the other four sides) is removed.  Using a tool like this means I always have both the reflector and the scrim with me, so I’m able to use whichever best suits the lighting conditions.

When using a scrim, I will position my subject so they are looking into the sun, and place the scrim between them and the sun. The scrim is the translucent part of reflector, and will allow the light to come through, although more diffuse than unmodified sunlight.   It’s easy to make a homemade scrim as well, using PVC piping or a wood frame, with nylon from a fabric store.  When making your own, it’s important to get neutral fabric, or else it will create a color cast on your subject.

The sunlight on her face was far too harsh for the effect I wanted.  I had her friend hold a scrim up to soften the light on her face, which gave me just what I was looking for.  EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. ISO 100, 1/1000, f/1.2.

The sunlight on her face was far too harsh for the effect I wanted. I had her friend hold a scrim up to soften the light on her face, which gave me just what I was looking for. EOS-1D X, EF 85mm f/1.2L II. ISO 100, 1/1000, f/1.2.

 

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Rick Berk is a photographer based in New York, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick's work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page.

  • http://500px.com/jax999 Mindmeld

    Great advice, appreciate it :)

  • Andrew Smith

    The only trouble with using a reflector over flash is it can cause your subject to squint if the light is particularly bright, get the assistant to face it away when you’re not actually shooting and hopefully save yourself some headache.

  • http://SethGoldstein.Net Seth G

    Great article. Two questions.

    1. What is a scrim?
    2. Is there a way to DIY a reflector?

  • http://bit.ly/oufr4c gnslngr45

    Totally need a scrim & reflector. Oh and $$$ to afford an assistant. I’d say 95% of the time, I’m on my own and everyone else there is supposed to be in the photo. I’m not knocking this at all. I really do the the gear and I need to improve enough afford an intern or at least get two couples on the same shoot and have them take turns being the intern.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • http://500px.com/jax999 Conny

    But most dont have the income for a assistant.

    id say if possibly use the surroundings ,thats what i have started doing in my process of learning light and in that flash of course .

  • James

    A reflector clamp costs about £20 ($30), can usually be mounted on a spare tripod or flash stand and is much cheaper than an assistant. Great advice Rick.

  • Karri

    This my first comment here :) Thank you for the great site! I’ve been reading and getting a lot of good advices.

    I have a 60 cm 5-in-1 reflector but I think it’s too small. I just ordered a 100 cm one, I’m looking forward to use it :) I don’t have any studio equipment or the space for it nor do I like studio shots that much.

    I still don’t know what would be the non-monstruos steady enough reflector holding setup for the windy weather. So I’ll have to find a volunteer assintant … you know the ones that don’t cost anything :D

  • Scottc

    Advice I can use, nice article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5836459768/

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    I like!

  • http://weddings.adriennefletcher.com Adrienne Fletcher

    I’m waiting for someone to create a hat that I can attach me scrim when I want to shoot the subject looking into the sun above me ; )

  • nms

    I don’t see an answer to what a scrim is? Did you make your own?

  • Colin Burt

    Good article. Great portraits. But how and why did you manage to get the background in the boy image, the first one, to SLOPE so much ? Leaning boy and tilted camera ? Photoshop combo image ? Certainly is eye catching.

  • http://www.rickberk.com Rick Berk

    Hello all… I thought I was clear but I guess not. The scrim I used is the translucent portion of my 5-in-1 reflector. It’s defined as a piece of cloth that appears opaque until lit from behind, used as a screen or backdrop. In this case, the scrim is translucent nylon pulled tight over a hoop. You can also use a square frame and make your own, as I described above. A scrim softens the light. Think of standing behind a sheer curtain in a window.

    @colin burt- the boy in the first shot is standing on a flat area of a yard that otherwise slopes down from left to right, as seen in the image. It is a little disconcerting to see it there. We stood where the slope flattens out but had the slope in the background.

  • Michelle Hall

    A scrim is a diffuser.

  • JG

    Using your camera back to weigh down the light stand. What sort of camera has a back that heavy !
    Also, could you include pics of your set-ups so we can see exactly how you did it.

  • Colin Burt

    @jg. Probably just a typo for “camera BAG” ?

  • Em

    wonderful soft lighting :)

Some older comments

  • Colin Burt

    July 28, 2013 10:51 am

    @jg. Probably just a typo for "camera BAG" ?

  • JG

    July 26, 2013 04:34 am

    Using your camera back to weigh down the light stand. What sort of camera has a back that heavy !
    Also, could you include pics of your set-ups so we can see exactly how you did it.

  • Michelle Hall

    February 23, 2013 11:21 am

    A scrim is a diffuser.

  • Rick Berk

    February 22, 2013 12:53 pm

    Hello all... I thought I was clear but I guess not. The scrim I used is the translucent portion of my 5-in-1 reflector. It's defined as a piece of cloth that appears opaque until lit from behind, used as a screen or backdrop. In this case, the scrim is translucent nylon pulled tight over a hoop. You can also use a square frame and make your own, as I described above. A scrim softens the light. Think of standing behind a sheer curtain in a window.

    @colin burt- the boy in the first shot is standing on a flat area of a yard that otherwise slopes down from left to right, as seen in the image. It is a little disconcerting to see it there. We stood where the slope flattens out but had the slope in the background.

  • Colin Burt

    February 22, 2013 10:18 am

    Good article. Great portraits. But how and why did you manage to get the background in the boy image, the first one, to SLOPE so much ? Leaning boy and tilted camera ? Photoshop combo image ? Certainly is eye catching.

  • nms

    February 22, 2013 09:23 am

    I don't see an answer to what a scrim is? Did you make your own?

  • Adrienne Fletcher

    February 21, 2013 08:24 am

    I'm waiting for someone to create a hat that I can attach me scrim when I want to shoot the subject looking into the sun above me ; )

  • Guigphotography

    February 20, 2013 05:42 am

    I like!

  • Scottc

    February 19, 2013 10:35 pm

    Advice I can use, nice article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5836459768/

  • Karri

    February 19, 2013 08:59 pm

    This my first comment here :) Thank you for the great site! I've been reading and getting a lot of good advices.

    I have a 60 cm 5-in-1 reflector but I think it's too small. I just ordered a 100 cm one, I'm looking forward to use it :) I don't have any studio equipment or the space for it nor do I like studio shots that much.

    I still don't know what would be the non-monstruos steady enough reflector holding setup for the windy weather. So I'll have to find a volunteer assintant ... you know the ones that don't cost anything :D

  • James

    February 19, 2013 06:39 pm

    A reflector clamp costs about £20 ($30), can usually be mounted on a spare tripod or flash stand and is much cheaper than an assistant. Great advice Rick.

  • Conny

    February 19, 2013 05:33 pm

    But most dont have the income for a assistant.

    id say if possibly use the surroundings ,thats what i have started doing in my process of learning light and in that flash of course .

  • gnslngr45

    February 19, 2013 03:39 pm

    Totally need a scrim & reflector. Oh and $$$ to afford an assistant. I'd say 95% of the time, I'm on my own and everyone else there is supposed to be in the photo. I'm not knocking this at all. I really do the the gear and I need to improve enough afford an intern or at least get two couples on the same shoot and have them take turns being the intern.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Seth G

    February 19, 2013 10:59 am

    Great article. Two questions.

    1. What is a scrim?
    2. Is there a way to DIY a reflector?

  • Andrew Smith

    February 19, 2013 06:48 am

    The only trouble with using a reflector over flash is it can cause your subject to squint if the light is particularly bright, get the assistant to face it away when you're not actually shooting and hopefully save yourself some headache.

  • Mindmeld

    February 19, 2013 03:57 am

    Great advice, appreciate it :)

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