Shooting faces outdoors when the sun is high overhead is one of the most difficult lighting challenges facing solo shooters and crews with limited budgets. The problem isn’t the light; there are always plenty of lumens when the sun is shining. It’s the shadows; those pools of darkness that appear on the contours of the face and are exaggerated by the video camera. There are two basic approaches to easing the effects of the sun’s harsh shadows; fill them in with another light source or soften them with diffusion material placed between the sun and subject.
Panels of translucent fabric, commonly known as “silks” provide the most elegant solution. Stretched over a frame and suspended aside or above the subject, a silk takes the hard edge off and turns the sun into a diffuse light source. Silks can be tough to manage, especially in the wind, as they require sturdy stands with boom arms and sandbags for stability.
Fill light sources come in two varieties; electrically or sun powered. HMI lights are the tool of choice when power is available as they burn at daylight color temperature and consume far fewer watts per lumen than quartz and tungsten fixtures. For maximum effect, the light should be positioned above the lens or only slightly to the shadow side of the subject. The goal is to fill in the shadows seen by the camera, not to use the HMI as a key light.
When AC power isn’t available or the budget won’t support the expense of an HMI, the best solution is a reflector. Folding fabric reflectors are easy to pack and can be easily handheld or supported by one or two medium-duty stands. A common mistake is to hold the reflector below eye level. This results in an unnatural look as the neck and underside of the chin become unnaturally bright. Positioning the reflector above eye level is best.
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