Fall is upon us. Whether you create portraits, photograph weddings, or just love photography, it’s time to enjoy a the last bit of time out of the studio and into the still warm (or at least warmer) weather, and work with some new and unique scenery especially as it changes over the fall.
We all know that shooting outside offers an endless array of new backdrops and locations to work with. From cities to the beach photographing outside contributes interesting feeling and depth to your photographs. But Mother Nature also offers a unique set of challenges.
The most glaring obstacle that comes from shooting in direct sunlight is the harsh shadows that often times form on a subjects face. These shadows can darken their eyes and often expand outside your cameras dynamic range. The sky might be bright and blue, but your subject’s eyes could be hidden in shadow. If you adjust to accommodate one you will most likely compromise the other. On top of that, as humans, our skin has blemishes. The same is true for your subjects. The sun is relatively very small compared to our subjects. The rule goes that the smaller the relative size of the light source, the harsher the light. This is why a 7-foot umbrella placed just out of frame casts a nice soft light, because relative to your subject, it’s huge. The sun, relative to your subject, is about the size of a quarter. Which means very hard light that showcases all the textures within your subject’s skin, including imperfections. Finally, shooting outside is extremely unpredictable.I live in Southern California, and you might think that it’s all sunshine 24/7 here but even for this shoot I had to try 3 separate days just to catch the sun in the sky. More often than not we pick a day to shoot well in advance and hope that the weather is good- I myself do this frequently.
The LitePanel/LiteReach Plus kit offers solutions to circumvent all of the above mentioned issues. It's affordable, super easy to take on location, and as I'll show you, the addition of the LightReach Plus makes it amazingly versatile in changing environments.
Let’s start with what’s in the kit. It comes with:
- The 39”x39” LitePanel aluminum frame
- Translucent LitePanel fabric
- LiteReach Plus boom arm
- Carry bag
The only other equipment I used for these photos was a Canon 430 Ex ii speedlite.
- Canon 6D
- Canon 24-70 f/2.8
- Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens
My subject for this shoot is a young actor looking to update his headshots. In the first set of images we will take a look at how using the LitePanel can even out harsh shadows.
So looking at this image right off the bat you can see that there are a few issues:
- The (camera) left side of his face is over exposed
- Due to the shadows on the (camera) right side of his face his skin is less saturated and displays a different color temperature than the lighter side
- There is a dark shadow under his eye
- He’s squinting
I can lower my exposure, but the background is already pretty dark and doing that would desaturate the shadow side of his face further, and darken the background down more than I would like.
Enter the LitePanel and LiteReach kit. The translucent fabric will bring the highlights down by about a stop, so I can more evenly expose my subject while maintaining the detail in his face and the background.
Looking at figure two we can see the following: by placing the LitePanel off the side of the subject we are able to even out the light source drastically. Here is where the beauty of the LiteReach Plus comes in: Notice how there is a nice definition on the shadow side? I was able to create a very soft loop shadow pattern in the shadows, adding dimension to the portrait. I can position the LightReach Plus however I like to get different shadows, which is great! Simply placing it atop some light stands works well at high noon when the sun is right over your subject, but the LightReach Plus can be positioned wherever and changed at any time in seconds. This allows for split light, loops, even soft Rembrandt lighting.
Like I mentioned previously, the sun is not always present when we would like it to be. There are cloudy days, there are dark locations, and times when bringing studio equipment is just unrealistic. For these times, the LitePanel combined with a small off-camera flash can quickly become a mobile studio.
Here in this example we have a photo shot with a bare bulb off camera flash. This was shot outside in open shade. This look can be great for some editorial or harder looks, but for most people this brings out unwanted skin blemishes. Additionally, the light falloff is a little harsh on the shadow side. In other words, the darks are too dark, and lights too light for my style. I would like a more even look and softer transitions from light to dark, while retaining the depth.
To resolve this all I needed to do is place the LitePanel in-between my light and subject.
When editing this photo, I only removed major blemishes and some red tones in the skin. But you can see the lines on the forehead and how much softer they look, and how even the transition from light to dark is. It still adds depth to this darker look, but removes distracting or harsh shadows.
I have been able to apply these techniques using the LitePanel/ LiteReach Plus kit in all sorts of non-studio situations. Recently I photographed an engagement session. Out in a grove of trees, the light was casting patchy uneven shadows through the leaves, I was able to use the LitePanel to smooth out the light coming through the trees. On an editorial project, I was inside a dimly lit restaurant photographing a drink feature. I was able to place a speedlite behind the LitePanel and create a huge light source, relative to the small drink glass, which created beautiful soft light across the glass.
The LitePanel/LiteReach Plus kit can help create beautiful images in unpredictable situations which is why I bring it everywhere with me. It’s easy to use and can change as quickly as the sun does. It creates beautiful soft light where there is none, and turns the sun into a studio light. Enjoy professional photos this fall, even in unpredictable conditions.
Nathan Whelan, Photographer