It’s a time worn piece of lighting knowledge. The bigger the source, the softer the light. (Repeat that phrase several times, using Thumper’s voice.) And, well, it’s true. There’s almost no more beautiful light that I have seen on location apart from the light created by a 12×12 silk, interceding between the hard, directional sun, and your subject. Straightforward and simple. Just the sun, and a big, big diffuser. But, just like any chef in the kitchen taking a simple dish and making it a bit more fancy, at the camera you can do the same thing. Use the sun and the silk to start, but stir in a couple of flash units to gussy things up a bit.
This stalwart runner, just finishing a piece of an obstacle course, is standing under an angled 12×12, (an Avenger Fold Away 12×12) and the sun is at my back at camera, already at a low angle in the sky. The only additional accent here is a large white foam core board held just out of frame below her shoulders. But, the sun being the fast mover that it is, I knew I would need to replace it, as I continued to shoot portraits of the runners late in the day. So, standing by, I had a Profoto B4 pack, with a narrow beam reflector pan on it. When the runner below stepped in for her portrait, the sun was gone, and the B4, placed a considerable distance from the silk, could act like a hard sun, replaced the light of the sun. Put a bit of warmth onto that light, via what I believe was a small cut of CTO gel. The fill board remained in place. Both of these portraits were shot with a Nikon D850 and the Nikkor 105mm f1.4. I programmed square format into the camera.
Now, another potentially wonderful use of the big silk is to use it, again, as a baffle for the sun, but then instead of using a big white fill card, which I do in the above pix, fill, just gently, with Speedlights through a big umbrella. The umbrella can be a distance from the subject, next to camera.
The giveaway about the silk usage? Upper left corner of the frame, you can see evidence of how hard and high the sun was. Splash of highlight and the shadows of the silk frame. But our lovely artist Fefa is filled, i.e., opened up a touch, by three Speedlights popping through a big, shoot thru umbrella.
And then there’s another iteration, fancier, if you will. Speedlight fill from the umbrella, and another Speedlight fill, off the floor. Francesca Vilogron plays the part perfectly.
Now, you need help with a 12×12 and a frame, not to mention a few sandbags. So I realize this might not be the most practical tip in the world, but hey, a bedsheet over a window is a low tech, far less cumbersome alternative. And it’s all in the “bigger the light, softer the feel,” neighborhood. Just occasionally, you can add a twist.