Lighting for day exteriors can be difficult. Fortunately there are budget-friendly approaches to creating a cinematic look in tough scenarios.
Cover image via Shutterstock.
In ideal scenarios, most of us would love to have 4K or 18K HMIs on standby to light a day exterior scene the way we’d like. However, sometimes we can’t always have those lighting units with us for a variety of reasons. In that case, learning to work and shape the biggest light source you have, the sun, is the strongest approach you can take. If you shape this source well, you can create cinematic images.
Recently I was in this exact scenario with day exteriors. I’m going to share my approach to how I shaped the harsh overhead lighting.
Step 1: Diffuse Your Overhead Source
The first step to harnessing the sun is to diffuse it overhead. Below, you can see a photo of what we used on set. We had an 8×8 ½ silk suspended above the talents’ heads. This cut down that ugly top light that the sun can cast during the day. If a DIY route is more conducive to your approach, you can easily use a white bed sheet or a frosted shower curtain to diffuse the sun from overhead. Also, 5-in-1 reflectors feature a diffusion silk the you can hold or place on a stand above your talent.
Step 2: Bounce in Your Key Light
The most powerful light you’ll ever have access to is the sun. Once you’ve placed your overhead diffusion, you may notice your talent is a little dark compared to the background. You can easily remedy this situation by taking either a white or silver reflector and bouncing in the lighting from the sun onto your talent.
This adds a key light onto your subject and balances their exposure with the background. I would always start with the white side of the reflector as the light source coming from it is softer. If you need more punch, try the silver side.
The video below features how different certain bounce materials can look.
Step 3: Shape Your Lighting
A very important step in lighting a day exterior is to shape the light. My favorite approach to shaping any lighting is to introduce negative fill. If you’re not familiar with negative fill, it’s a black solid flag that you place on the opposite side of the key light of your talent. This adds contrast to the talent’s face and creates a sense of depth and shape.
Step 4: Rim Lighting/Backlight
If you want to add a little more separation between your talent and the background, you can place another reflector right behind your talent on the side you placed your negative fill. Bounce in a little bit of light from the sun and you’re good to go.
Using all these steps above, our final image ended up looking like this
Lighting a day exterior with minimal lighting equipment can be a challenge. However, if you can shape the sunlight and manipulate it to your advantage, you can still create cinematic images.