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.
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.