Controlling Contrast Outdoors

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Producing commercial lifestyle shots outdoors can be quite an undertaking. In this type of photo-shoot, there are many elements to coordinate, including location, weather, models, props, wardrobe, hair/makeup, styling and, of course, photography and lighting. And while the lighting element can get very involved, it doesn’t always have to be. In fact, sometimes the simplest approach is the best approach.

This lesson examines some effective, straightforward techniques, as well as the versatility and effectiveness of the Photoflex® LitePanel Kit.

When Contrast is too Strong

For this lesson, I wanted to demonstrate the effects of the Photoflex® LitePanel Kit when used outdoors for full-length shots. This kit is a very versatile, affordable solution to balancing lighting levels in high contrast situations and is great for location shoots like this.

As mentioned in a similar PhotoflexLightingSchool™lesson involving the smaller 42 inch MultiDisc® Kit, the biggest challenge a photographer faces, particularly outdoors, is controlling the contrast and determining the optimal exposure settings. One of the easiest ways to control contrast when photographing people is by using reflectors and/or diffusers. Fortunately, the MultiDisc Kit offers both reflective and diffusive options.

In this first example, I took a shot of my model, Rebecca, without using the LitePanel for comparative purposes. As you can see from the result, the exposure levels for the background are good, but for Rebecca, they’re a little dark.

Balancing Out Levels Through Reflection

Rather than adjust the exposure settings in the camera, I decided to use the LitePanel to bounce sunlight into the shadow areas of Rebecca to even out the exposure levels.

There are two fabrics that come with the kit: a White Translucent fabric designed to diffuse sunlight, and a reflective fabric that is White on one side and Soft Gold on the other. The Soft Gold side is a zigzag combination of Silver and Gold and is considerably more reflective than the White side. This is the side I decided to use first.

The LitePanel Kit also comes with a LiteStand and hardware used to attach the frame, allowing you to position the LitePanel precisely where you want it. But since it was quite windy on this shoot day, I opted instead to have my assistant, James, hold the LitePanel in place. His job was made easier by having the Crossbar (also included in the kit) attached to the middle of the frame.

Matching the Size of the Light Source with your Subject

The great thing about this rectangular LitePanel is that it’s tall enough to reflect sunlight onto your subject evenly from head to toe. Remember, if you’re shooting full-length shots like this, you’ll need a reflector that is at least as tall as your subject in order to illuminate them evenly. If you’re using a smaller reflector, you’ll only be able to illuminate them selectively.

Even from within this setup shot, you can see from the light illuminating Rebecca that James has found the right angle to reflect the sunlight from head to toe.

With James holding the LitePanel steadily in place, I took several shots at the same exposure settings as before. Here’s one from that series.

As you can see from the result, the LitePanel did a great job at bouncing sunlight into the shadow areas. The Soft Gold fabric also lent a nice warm tone to Rebecca’s skin.

Determining the Right Level of Intensity

Depending on the time of day and the intensity of the natural sunlight, however, the Soft Gold fabric can be a little aggressive, in which case the White side would be more effective. Even though the conditions here were not extreme for the Soft Gold side, I decided to demonstrate the White side for comparative purposes.

While James reversed the fabric on the LitePanel frame, I brightened the overall exposure level by widening the aperture somewhat to compensate for a less intense reflection. I also decided to zoom in a little for a tighter composition.

Once James had the LitePanel positioned again, I took another series of shots.

As you can see from this result shot, the White fabric did well to illuminate Rebecca without overpowering the shot. The background is a bit brighter than before, but it doesn’t detract from the shot.


Below you can see the result shots taken so far side-by-side.

A Wardrobe Change

In reviewing the results, we all agreed that the shawl looked a little dark and didn’t quite go with the “catalog” look we wanted for this shot. So after swapping out the boots for shoes and the shawl for a bright sweater, we ran through the same lighting steps as before.

Here’s the result without using the LitePanel.

Next, James held the LitePanel in place again with the Soft Gold side reflecting while I took another series of shots.

Here’s an outtake from that series.

As you can see, the Soft Gold configuration did a great job in reflecting warm light onto the model. You can see some shadows cast from some areas of the sweater, but overall, the effects of the LitePanel enhance the look of the shot. Notice how well the texture of the sweater is brought out by this raking light.

Next, I had James flip the fabric once more to the White side while I adjusted the aperture for a slightly brighter exposure. Once everything was in position, I took a final series of shots. This ended up being one of the favorite shots of the day.

Everything came together nicely for this final shot. The White reflector, in combination with the relatively bright exposure settings, made for a nice crisp, Spring-like feel. The composition is simple, there is a nice range of colors, and the selective focus draws the viewer’s eye towards the clothing and Rebecca’s face. All in all, a great simple setup and environment for this type of outdoor photography.

Below, you can see this last series of results side-by-side.

Seeing the results side-by-side here, it’s easy to recognize the benefits the LitePanel Kit can bring to this type of shooting.

Written and photographed by Ben Clay.

Basic Lighting,

Outdoor Portraits,

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