The Photographers Shade

Updated on September 1, 2011

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The Photographers Shade, can be used in the harshest lighting situation, it can save you a lot of post editing and can help improve the overall look of your photos.

If you live in an area where there is often harsh mid day sun, which is just about everywhere on planet earth, you will run into a common problem when photographing your subject.  Portrait photography on location is never an easy job, there are so many factors involved in getting a usable photo. Most outdoor photographers try to book their jobs either in the early morning or after noon hoping to capture their subject in the most flattering light there is. The twilight. this is a good practice but what if your client only has an hour or two 1pm? what can you do then? Well the most common answer is to find a shaded area on location and use the shade to photograph your subject.  the problem with that is there are other problems that will arise from that approach. Bad backgrounds, if you shoot in the shade of a buliding you run the risk of having what ever color that building is being cast on your subject.  What about placing your subject under a shaded tree? well this works well except you run the risk of having a greenish color cast on your subject from the light filtering through the leaves.  So what is the best way to get that perfect picture? Its remarkably simple….use a SCRIM

What is a scrim

WHAT IS A SCRIM? Well in photography terms it’s a diffusion panel used to simply diffuse extreme light. Most scrims are made of a poly nylon fabric that restricts light to some degree and depending on how far the light source is from the scrim can actually diffuse or soften harsh light.  A scrim can be home made or purchased in a photography store but no matter where you get it from it still will do the same job.
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How is a scrim used

Srims are usually easy to use you just place one between your subject and your light source and boom, soft diffused light that is flattering for portrait photography or provide a soft spread of light for product photography. The hardest thing to do is to know how far you place your scrim between your subject and you light source.  The easiest way will be an outdoor scrim, since your only or strongest light source will be the sun its just a matter of placing your scrim high enough above your subject to either cover 3/4 of their body or their entire body.  Size is also a factor in using scrims out doors since humans rarely grow taller than 7ft your assistant may have some problems holding a small scrim high enough to completely cover you client.  Good thing there are light stands that can be used to extend a small scrim high enough to do the job.

When using strobes or studio lights its a matter of having enough space to place a good distance between the light, the scrim and your subject.  Keep in mind the closer the light is to the scrim the harsher the light will be and the further away you have you light from the scrim the softer the light will be. Give it a try…

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When to use a scrim

When would be a good time to use a scrim? That’s pretty easy, when ever you have a harsh light source like mid day sun and no shade to place you subject in. Maybe you have a large enough tree to place your subject but you don’t want those specular highlights that make it through the leaves to overexpose spots on your subject, a scrim can be used to again diffuse those highlights and create a nice even flowing light.

A favorite of mine is when I have photo shoot scheduled at mid day during the most unflattering lighting I would take my subject on location and choose a suitable background, then set up my scrim (6×4 panel) high enough to cover the bodies of my client. Then I use flash to control the light and create my flattering light technique for my subjects.

In a studio if you want that soft diffused light and your softbox or umbrella is not helping simply set up a scrim between the already soft light and your subject and enjoy the spread that nicely diffused light.

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Scrim types

Because a scrim can be home made, there are as many variations of scrim types as there are ways to use it. Some of the more commonly known scrims are those bought from photography stores.  They come in various shapes and sizes from triangular, circular, square and rectangular.  The easiest way to practice using a scrim is to purchase a 5 in 1 reflector.  These reflectors consist of a gold, silver, white and black surfaces but the basis of the reflector is a diffused fabric that can be used as a scrim.  The good news is that they can be purchased from a 20″ diameter to a 43″ diameter so you can start with something small and work your way up the ladder.