Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes…

by Walter Graff


The sun is often my best friend. And other times it’s just a problem I have to deal with. Take the case of a low budget commercial I have to shoot in a driveway in the early morning. That means the sun is at a low angle. And that can be a problem, especially when one of my talent is dark complexioned. This was a last minute replacement for an idea gone wrong.

The original idea was to use customer testimonials to advertise the product. Sounded great until none of the customers wanted to participate. So I had to put on my thinking cap and come up with an idea. The result was to hire two actors and  write a script for them to perform. While my client is in Western Massachusetts, there is not much of a talent pool there so I had to cast and shoot at my sisters home. Here neighborhood looks like the same area I want this spot to seem like it was shot in. And when you have no budget, family makes for a good freebie. 

Then of course there is the crew. In this case I am the crew. Just me. So I will have to shoot, direct, light, do makeup and pretty much everything else. That makes me realize that the sun is my friend here, I simply have to use it well. Being I need an early morning look and that I have no choices as to location, I must make it all work.

I bring two stands, some spring clmaps and one 4x4 collapsible Photoflex frame with opal translucent material. I know it is easier to control light then to compete witht eh sun in this instance so that is the plan. These Photoflex frames are a must in every kit. I can make reflectors and translucent frames out of them in no time.

As you can see in the diagram below, my set-up is pretty simple. I’ll place the diffusion and frame between the talent and the sun using it to block the light yet with using the translucent material on the frame, allow enough to light strike the talent.


I have a lighter skinned girl and a dark skinned male so it made sense to have the male face the sun and the girl face away. The shadow of the frame covers both of them, and that is the key to lighting this shot.

If I had the budget and crew, I would have supplemented light with large HMIs and possible used large 40x40 frames with translucent material to cut down light in my background.

But I don’t have that luxury so I have to make it work with what I have. So I take my 4x4 frame and place it in a fashion that allows it to simply shadow the light on both talent. It worked perfectly for the spot. Amazing what you can do with aDVX100 and a plastic frame when you need to. 

In the opening shot above, there is no frame blocking light, just regular sunlight. I can't use it as the shadow would be evident. No one would notice if I hadn’t said anything.

The frame makes for a nice rim of light on her right side (above). The rest of her is lit naturally.

The frame cuts down the light on his face but still gives him plenty of light. The rim light you see on his left cheek comes from the glass of the car I placed behind him deliberately to make that effect as if I had lights. above is a split to show how I made the background more acceptable using correction elements in post. Notice how the detail of the window curtains which was completely lost was brought back to life. And the bushes too!


Here is a another split screen. The top portion is the way I shot it completely uncorrected and the bottom half how I color corrected and gamma corrected using Nattress filters. Notice that his facial exposure changes very little compared to what I was able to do with thebackground.

A sample of the final product can be seen here.

Copyright 2013 by Walter Graff. This article may be circulated and shared as long as the following reference is made: 'This article appears courtesy of Walter Graff-'

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