If you’ve been shooting video for a while, you’re probably familiar with the magic hour. You know, the first and last hour of sunlight that provides magnificent lighting for your scene. Of course, you may also be aware that shooting outside at noon on a sunny day is pretty much the worst case lighting scenario. In this segment, we test out different lighting setups to combat the mid-day sun, and show you how to make the best of it using reflectors, white boards, diffusion, and location. With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can help the sun work for you rather than against you and achieve good results.
If you’ve been shooting video for a while, you’re probably familiar with the magic hour. You know, the first and last hour of sunlight that provides magnificent lighting for your scene. Of course, you may also be aware that shooting outside at noon on a sunny day is pretty much the worst case lighting scenario.
In this segment, we test out different lighting setups to combat the mid-day sun, and show you how to make the best of it using using reflectors, white boards, diffusion, and location.
With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can help the sun work for you instead of against you and achieve good results.
If you were in a studio and you only had one light, chances are, putting a hard light directly above your talent would be the quickest way to the unemployment line. Essentially, shooting at noon is taking an extremely intense hard light, also known as the sun, and placing it directly above your talent.
Just look at this example. Notice how our the shadows fall directly downward on our subject. This creates the “racoon eyes effect”, and just generally looks very unflattering. The hard light from the sun also produces dark shadows and bright highlights that give the scene a very high contrast.
So, what can you do? When it comes to the sun you have a few options. Reflect it, diffuse it, supplement it, or control you location. Many times you may need to use a combination of these options to get good results. First let’s talk about reflecting the sun.
When it comes to reflection, you have three main tools to help. Reflectors, white boards, and even your location.
Using a reflector will let you harness the intense light of the sun and redirect it from a better angle to help reduce the hard shadows.
In this shot, we’ve got a silver reflector bouncing sunlight back from the right side of our subject. You can see we’ve filled in that side, but we are still left with some pretty heavy shadows on the opposite side.
But compared with our untreated shot, you can see that many of the most offensive shadows have been filled in, and we’re now able to make out the eyes of our subject.
To fill in those crisp shadows, we can use a white foam core board to bounce the sunlight onto the other side of our subject. Using the white foam core produces a softer reflection that leaves some of the keylight shadows in place.
On the, left we’ve got our shot with just the reflector, and on the right, we’ve added the foam core board to fill in the shadows. Notice how the reflector side is still a bit brighter which still allows us to see the shape and depth of our subject’s head.
for a great article on using reflectors and whiteboards, you can check out the link in the description.
If you don’t have reflectors or a whiteboard, try to pick a spot near a bright wall or a reflective ground surface that can provide help counteracting the shadows.
Another tool you can use is diffusion. Using a large diffuser to soften the sunlight will reduce the intensity of the shadows on your subject.
Here’s our setup using diffusion on its own. The hard overhead light has been transformed into a much softer light. Of course, the downside to this is we had to open up our iris to properly expose our talent, which causes our background to look a bit hot.
One possible way to fix this is by using a net behind your subject to cut the intensity of the background.
You can also use reflectors, and whiteboards to add more light to your diffused subject
This shot was taken using the diffusion overhead, and using a reflector and white board to provide more light on our subject.
Comparing this technique to the diffusion-only shot allows you to see that we’ve reduced the contrast between our subject and background to some extent.
For tips on DIY diffusion, you can check out the link in the description.
If you have lighting equipment with enough intensity and the power to run it, you may be able to use it to complement the existing sunlight.
In this shot, we used a hexolux cinewhite xum7 led fresnel with a ctb filter on it to match the light to daylight. We placed it as close as we could to our subject. This light gives off about 1400 foot-candles on spot at 5 feet without the gel.
Here’s what the shot looks like. As you can see, we’ve still got some really intense shadows. We’d need a more powerful light like an HMI to get the job done right.
Of course, if you have the freedom to choose your location, you can move to a location that provides shade for your talent and your background. If you don’t have any tools to control the sun, this is going to be your best bet.
This shot was taken with our subject and background completely in the shade. The area to the right of our subject is open, and you can see that side of his face is getting more light, while the building to the left of is absorbing some of our light, which is giving a nice soft shadow on his left side.
Of course, you can place your reflectors and whiteboards to bounce the sunlight onto your subject to keep them well lit.
Here’s our shady shot using a reflector to add more light to the right side of our subject. One issue this creates is the shadows on the wall. The solution here would have been to pull our subject further away from the wall.
Here’s the same setup using a whiteboard to reflect a bit of light back onto our subject’s left side.
looking at the two side by side, you can see that the white board really does help fill in the shadows.
Of course, combining bits and pieces of each technique can yield some pretty good results.
in this shot, we have our talent in the sun with diffusion overhead, but our background is completely shaded. This helps keep the focus on our subject and downplays the background.
Here’s the same shot using a reflector to help brighten our subject a bit. both of these techniques have a pretty good result.
So, if we were all photographers and just needed still shots, all these methods could be equally as effective. But in the world of video, our talent needs to be able to deliver a performance in the lighting conditions we set up.
Reflectors can produce great intense key lights, but they can also be pretty difficult to keep your eyes fully open when the reflection of the sun is hitting you in the face.
Our goal was to have our talent simply stand and keep his eyes open for ten seconds. Let’s see how that went.
You can see that while reflectors work well, the intensity of the sun may be a bit too much to handle at mid-day if your shots aren’t pretty short. One alternative to a reflector is using a shiny white board for the key, and a dull white board as a fill. This may be more tolerable for your talent.
Now let’s take a look some of our results side by side. Each method produces a different look, but one thing is clear. Any method you choose is going to give you far superior results than making no attempt to control the sun at all.
If we had our way, we could always shoot at the magic hour, and our lives might be a little easier. But in the real world, you have to make the best of the circumstances you’re given. Luckily for us, using a few simple tools to control the sun can give us results we can be proud of. Thanks for watching.