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Shooting Outside With Modifiers

By June 10, 2013Lighting




Our world revolves around it, and so does an outside shoot.

There are several ways to work with the sun when shooting outside, but we find that simple modifiers often work best — they’re lightweight, quick to set up, and much easier to travel with than a light kit.

Now, depending on how bright the sun in shining on the day of your shoot, the modifier setup is going to change. On an overcast day you’ll have softer light to work with, but on a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky… you’ve got some work to do in order to soften that light.

In this tutorial, Patrick covers how to modify light in both bright sunlight and overcast, partially cloudy light.

On a bright and sunny day…

Often you will find yourself trying to shoot outside under a big vibrant sun in the middle of the day. Along with keeping you hot and sticky throughout your shoot, the sun will also give you light that is way too harsh, and you’ll need to soften it.

Depending on your story, the setup you use will change, but below we’ve got a few simple techniques and tools that will help you soften, cut, and bounce the light for your outdoor shoot.

1. Use the sun as the key light.

Grab yourself an 8’x8′ Scrim Jim and hold it up in between the sun and your talent, and attach a range of fabrics depending on your shoot.

How do you want to modify your light?

  • A full flag will block off light.
  • Bounce some light back in with a solid white reflector.
  • Use a 3/4 or 1+1/4 stop to soften the light.

Note: Choose a background that will look good out of focus, since your Scrim Jim usually won’t be big enough to cover both your talent and your background.

Here’s how ours turned out:



2. Use the sun as both the key light AND the hair light.

The sun is a very powerful tool! You can get more out of it than just a key light, but you’ll need to be crafty.

Here’s how:

  • Have your talent face away from the sun, so it hits the back of their head.
  • Bounce the light back in with a solid white 4’x4′ Scrim Jim, and raise it up or down to adjust the direction of your key light.
  • Cut down the hair light a by hanging a double net in between the talent and the sun.

Here’s what that setup will look like:

And the resulting image:

So, we’ve given you a few techniques we use all the time to modify sunlight and soften the harshness… but what if harshness isn’t the issue?

Partly cloudy, with chance of not having enough shape…

An overcast day is usually going to give you nice, soft light — but there’s also a chance that you won’t get enough shape to that light if it’s too cloudy. Once again, modifiers will come to your rescue and allow you to avoid any elaborate lighting setups.

To get more shape:

  • Bust out your 4’x4′ Scrim Jim and attach a solid black flag.
  • Place this on the opposite side of the key light.
  • Keep it close to your subject to prevent any light from coming in on that side.

Here’s our subject after following the steps above:

Now he has much more shape and depth to his face, and all it really took was a negative fill on one side.

Never underestimate the power of stepping into a Scrim Jim!

Our quick tips for modifying light outside work for all kinds of shoots — not just interviews.

As long as you’ve got an 8’x8′ Scrim, a couple of different fabrics, and a sunny day — you can pull off a number of outdoor shoots without a light kit.

Do you have any crafty techniques for modifying sunlight?

Share ’em with us!


About Stillmotion


  • Tony says:

    Great tip guys, keep them coming. Than you

  • Sean says:

    Can’t afford your own Scrim Jim? Why purchase when you and rent! Support your local lighting & grip rental house today! Okay, there’s my plug. Great tutorial as always Still Motion. Thanks!

    • Patrick says:

      Absolutely – never let not owning the gear stand in your way. We are huge fans of the Lens Pro To Go crew because of how friendly and helpful they are with their gear recommendations. Trying gear out can be a great way to make smart purchasing decisions and renting can also make your next production better right away, without needing to invest a ton.


  • malia says:

    If you’re a solo shooter can you use c-stands with the 8×8 scrim jim or is it just too big?

    • Sean says:

      Malia, c-stands for an 8×8 outside, especially on a windy day is pushing it. I would almost recommend larger grip stand and shot bags. But again, if you are shooting by yourself, that’s quite a bit of work if you are “running and gunning it”

    • Patrick says:

      You can use C-stands, but i would look at 35-50lbs of sandbags per stand. We’ve done it with less and a big gust of wind can take it all over.

      The power of the Scrim Jim is that the same frame kit can make an 8×8′, 4×4′ or 6×6′ and going smaller obviously acts like a smaller sail and is easier to hold down with stands.


    • malia says:

      Thanks, guys!

  • Gregg says:

    Some great advice there cheers.
    Would love to know what your tricks are for keeping the cameras from over heating, when out in the sun for long periods like a wedding ceremony?

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Gregg,

      We haven’t had any overheating issues. Last one was back in the beta 7D days, but nothing anymore.


    • Nick says:

      Overheating is a function of your shooting style as well. Filming a ceremony continuously for instance would have more incidences of overheating than say the way Stillmotion films which is they pick and choose the parts which are relevant to their story only.

      That is not to say that they don’t keep their cameras rolling as they move (*see their 3 over 1 tutorial). But I would guess that Stillmotion’s style is less likely to have incidences of overheating.

  • Darrell says:

    Well done – thanks

  • David Holloway says:

    Malia – thanks for the tip!

  • I have a question? Why are you guys so freaking good? Keep the amazing work coming. PS we’d love to work with yall.

  • Nick says:

    Is Paul and Evan still with Stillmotion?

    • Patrick says:

      Hey Nick,

      We’ve moved the entire studio to Portland and unfortunately the timing wasn’t right for them to move that far away. They were both incredibly valued parts of our team and we were very sad to have to make that transition, but it was a necessary part of our collaborative studio to get us all in one place.


  • Love it… but… Why is it that every time I use modifiers outside the wind is blowing and the modifiers become sails! LOL Anyway great technique. Thanks!

  • jen says:

    i thought you guys were saying that the picture of the first guy and the last guy were the same person, just with the modifiers. lol… then i read further.

  • Ty says:

    You guys are such a valuable resource! Your book, the app, and these incredible tutorials. Thank you so much

  • Sarah says:

    Yet another little gem from the Still Motion Crew! Thanks guys and keep it up! This will really really help me! My question is this… what would be your ideal starter kit for this tutorial? Kind of like your gear bag section in SMAPP? So maybe…”Basic Outside Modifiers Kit”


    • Patrick says:

      Hey Sarah,

      I would start with an 8×8′ Scrim Jim kit with 3/4 and 1 1/4 stop fabrics, as well as silver white. I would then get the same fabrics in 4×4′ size. Add in a couple reflectors (silver/white) in the 42″ size as a starter and you have a great kit


  • Luis Onieva says:

    Good morning!
    As always, congratulation. Great work, and most important, very useful.
    Only one question, did you use ND filters on this video? Which are the best ones to
    use with bright day light? In order to get an unfocused background, you do need them, don’t you? 🙂

    Thanks a lot!

    Nice day

  • Karl says:

    Super helpful tips!! I’ve done primarily indoor lighting, and lighting outside has been something I’ve dreaded for the longest time and had no idea how to approach practically. This was a tremendous help. Thanks!!

  • Gary says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    Now I can utilize my Calumet 3 1/2′ x 6 1/2′ scrim jim/light panel and my lastolite modifiers.

  • Dave Patterson says:

    I recently shot a mountain bike event, and I wish I had watched this video first, as it would have clued me into to thinking about modifiers. I failed to properly illuminate the eyes of one of an interviewee, and could have improvised a simple bounce light to solve the problem. Thanks for your educational/inspirational videos.

  • Dick Reed says:

    Hello Everyone
    I love your site and passion to teach others. Speaking of using the sun as key light and because of my filming cars for a living, I developed an App to aid in the process of planning and sketching plans for your shoot’s utilizing the sun as key light. It’s very easy to learn and a great teaching tool for students. It’s not a supposition app but a sketching tool for film sets.


    I shoot cars for Advertising Agencies and after years of taking compass readings and scribbling notes to prepare for my Car location photo shoots, I needed to find a way to better manage the repetition. I grew weary of trying to imagine what time the sun would be in a particular spot for sheet metal sweet light. When the iPhone, iPad and iPod came about, I set out to develop an app that could serve both myself and other photographers in similar straits, be it Automotive, Product, or Landscape Photography, just to mention a few.
    With SunPlanR, one creates, sketches on the dial, an illustrated plan of a location and the sun’s movement on a subject on that location plan. (It is not a sun position App.) Just dial different composite drawings on the iPhones, iPad and iPod touch dial as if you’re making notes on paper, save them in memory and e-mail them to the client and crew. Not only is this a great App for the film industry, but also for students of Photography. They love it because it simplifies learning how to use the sun as key light. One student wrote and thanked me for helping him score big on finals. I never thought I would be helping students.The SunPlanR website explains how the app works, and provides a list of other professions that find it useful.
    USED BY:

    Thank you for your time,

    Dick Reed