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Andrew Penchuk

Diffusing the Sun

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Hello everyone,

Newb question

What is the best diffusions for diffusing harsh sunlight? Also, would you typically diffuse when in the sun's "golden hour", and if so, what diffusions would you recommend?

Also, what materials would you recommend for DIY sunlight diffusion?

Thanks! .

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... would you typically diffuse when in the sun's "golden hour", and if so, what diffusions would you recommend?

 

 

 

It depends on the reason you are flying the silk. I quite often use silks to match the look of shots that are shot throughout the day under changing light conditions. In these situations, the approach that I find works best is to shoot the establishing master shot when the sun is in a backlight position. Up to that point I shoot the close coverage under a full silk. Shooting the coverage under a silk offers a number of advantages. If the sun breaks through cloud cover, the silk takes the directionality out of the sun and knocks down its’ level by two and half stops. Now a smaller HMI light will have more of a modeling effect. Shooting into talents' down side under a silk, I find that a 4k Par through a diffusion frame is a sufficient key source for a two shot.

 

If you wait to shoot the wide coverage until the sun has moved around to a back light position, your background is also back-lit so the discrepancy in exposure between the background and your talent to camera is not that great and so you can open up to gain exposure of your talent in the foreground without burning out the background. Also, when your background is back-lit, it does not over expose because of the discrepancy in levels under the silk and outside the silk – it helps to strike a good balance. Also, your background looks better because it is not flatly lit, but has some contrast. Finally, with the sun in a backlight position, the shadows of the silk frame and stands are thrown forward, which enables you to frame wider before picking up the shadow of the hardware.

 

A good example of this approach is a scene I lit for a low budget feature that took place around a campfire in a small clearing surrounded by woods. Surrounded on all sides by woods, we knew that we would lose direct sunlight in the clearing early in the day and would need lights. We also knew that the scene was going to take all day to shoot because of its’ extensive dialogue, so we figured out where the sun was going to be throughout the day and where it would look best for our establishing wide shot. Where it was a two shot, mostly over the shoulder of one character talking to the second character who was standing with his back to the campfire with the woods behind him, we decided to wait until the sun had moved into a near back light position to shoot the establishing shot. So we shot our close coverage first with nothing more than a 4k Par and 1.2k Par under a 20x light soft frost on top of which we threw leaves. The 4k was heavily diffused and positioned so that it gave the talent the most attractive modeling. The 1.2kw was positioned as a backlight where the sun would be when we would eventually shoot the wide - this way there was always an edge in every shot for continuity.

 

When the time came to shoot the establishing shot, the shadow of the overhead frame and stands were thrown forward and did not interfere with the wider framing. Since we were still shooting under the silk, we were wider open on the iris and so our exposure dug into the dark woods and brought out more detail. As an unexpected added bonus, the smoke from the campfire drifted into the woods, creating shafts of light where the sun broke through the tree canopy. What would have been a high contrast scene without lights, turned into a beautifully lit scene, and was accomplished without a lot of amps. The whole scene was lit with nothing more than a 4k and 1.2k Par and powered by nothing more than a 60A/120 circuit from a modified 7500W Honda EU6500is/Transformer Gen-set.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Screenlight and Grip, Lighting rental and sales in Boston.

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Personally, I dislike using overheads. I find it brings the source too close. The light should look like it's coming from far away, not from 3 feet above the actor's heads. Generally I try to keep actors backlit, and then fill with soft bounces from the side.

 

If I have sunlight coming from a more frontal angle, then I'll use something light to take the edge off it, usually Opal Frost or LEE 251

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Often you don't have the luxury to schedule and block scenes entirely around sun position.

 

The lid and fill approach is quite common. Soften off the harsh toppy sun, then fill using either lamps or bounce. One

 

Technically in true golden hour, you have no direct sun to deal with.

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Often you don't have the luxury to schedule and block scenes entirely around sun position.

 

For close ups during the middle of the day, with a harsh toppy sun (which we get a lot of here in Australia) a lid and fill approach is quite common. Soften off the harsh toppy sun, then fill using either lamps or bounce.

 

How big the frame you use depends on the area you have to cover. For a quick, simple static close up a 4x4 might suffice, but for more complex shots a larger frame from a 12x12 up to 20x20 is usually required.

 

Generally the heaviness of the diffusion is down to personal taste, balancing exposure and your on camera talent. Say you have a female actress who is a little older, you might choose a heavier diffusion to be a little more kind.

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For a DIY solution, try a shower curtain stretched over a frame. Many shower curtains resemble 1/2 Soft Frost in terms of diffusion and density. They are usually around 6' x 6' as well, which is a useful size. You can easily make a frame from copper pipe which is relatively inexpensive and available at places like Home Depot.

 

Remember, the bigger the frame, the more likely it is to catch the wind, and therefore it requires more manpower to make it safe.

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