Sometimes all you need is a one stop scrim. Not a camera with infinite dynamic range or limitless ISO.

I worked on a project for an ad agency a number of years ago. At the time the state of the art digital camera was the Kodak DCS 760. It was a fine camera for its time and had many wonderful attributes, including a raw file that was amazingly pliable. But even though it had one of the highest dynamic ranges of any camera on the market, at the time, it wasn't even in the ballpark compared to the camera sensors we enjoy today.

In order to get really good (technically) images in full Texas sun we had to use the lighting techniques we learned over the years, fashioned in the era when we used very unforgiving and limited D-range color transparency film.

This image of a professional softball pitcher was done at one p.m. on a hot Summer afternoon. I positioned her to put the foliage in the background because I knew that most sensors rendered green leaves about a stop darker than metered indications would suggest. This positioned her facing into the direct sun which was merciless on her face.

I brought along (as I usually do) a one stop, 4x4 foot silk scrim (diffusion panel) which I placed on a weighted light stand and "flew" over her head. The edge of the frame for the silk is just out of the frame, right over the top of my subject's head. It's just enough diffusion to flatten out the harsh lighting but not enough to materially change the authenticity of the prevailing light. It was a simple and elegant solution when most would call for some form of fill flash.

The simplicity of execution is what always draws me to this particular image. It is a reminder to me always to build from the simplest solution to the most difficult to employ solution instead of the other way around. When you find something that works then STOP fussing and start shooting.

You make your own dynamic range if you understand how to light. Or how to modify light.


  1. That's a great teaching example about subtractive lighting. Sometimes flowing with the lighting environment, rather than brute force wattage in an attempt to overpower the sun, is the elegant, graceful, and most effective way to way to go.

  2. I am perverse and think of lighting almost entirely in terms of darkness. Lights cast shadows, and it's the shadows that are interesting.

    This is another beautiful, parallax, view on it. You're creating absolute darkness with the scrim, rather than relative darkness with a light.

    Loving the heck out of Henry White. I can't tell if he's George Smiley, Walter Mitty, or a bit if both, but he's pretty great regardless. Gotta go turn some more pages.

  3. I really like your explanations about the setup you used! Did you take notes, or do you remember all the settings and the gear you used for the photos?

  4. A truly captivating photograph! Thanks for sharing.

    I looked at the photo -- then read the description of how it was taken -- and was able to look at it again with new eyes.

    I didn't notice it with my first look but her clothing is not [directly] sunlit and there is no shadow under the brim of the hat -- and now I understand the why and how.

    Was the choice of dark clothing intentional? Or coincidental?



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