From ‘Ugly’ to ‘Wow!’ Scott Robert Lim’s Dappled Light Tips
October 31, 2023
Scott Robert Lim says that shooting in dappled light is just like shooting through a GOBO (Go Between Optics), a light modifier that creates patterns from artificial light. The trick is in how to deal with the deep shadow, which he solved with the help of his assistant and reflector. (Scroll through to see his shooting setup.)
Most photographers avoid dappled light, the patchy light streaming through the trees that leaves harsh bright spots and deep shadows, and instead head to full shade if forced to shoot around mid-day. But for wedding and portrait photographer Scott Robert Lim, dappled lighting isn’t something to be avoided, but something to seek out. Lim explains how he got the shot and what he looks for in order to thrive in “ugly light.”
Lim describes himself as a landscape portrait artist, with work that is often inspired by fashion and dramatic light. As a Sony Artisan, Lim took this shot during Kando, an annual Sony-sponsored event that, this year, took place at the Snowbird Resort in Utah. The event is designed to inspire creators that are testing out the company’s latest camera gear. The shot was part of the event’s styled shoots, with models, props, hair, make-up, and styling provided. While Lim was quick to credit his team, which included model Fernanda De Sousa, makeup artist Kate Giddings, Hair By Talya, and stylist Roma Oeh, he shared how other photographers can similarly thrive in so-called ugly light.
Part of the challenge to this shoot was that Lim had only thirty minutes to get the shots. Lim said his first few shots were captured indoors on a backdrop using soft window light. But he wanted to capture something opposite of the first few images, something edgy and dramatic—so he grabbed a lace umbrella and headed outside.
Lim says that while he typically looks for open shade with soft light first, he’ll also scout out locations looking for direct sun with dramatic shadows. Lim headed over to a wall where he had spotted some interesting shadows earlier. He positioned the model with her face in the hotspot, creating deep contrast and rich lighting across her face. Using natural dappled light, Lim explains, is like using a GOBO (Go Between Optics), a light modifier that creates patterns from artificial light. The lace umbrella added to the effect, creating a pattern of shadows across her forehead.
The problem, however, was that the shadows were too deep, rendered black without details. To solve this, Lim and his assistant used a reflector. By reflecting the existing light, Lim brightened up the shows while still maintaining the drama and pattern of the original light.
Using a reflector also solved one other problem — catchlights. The shot was taken while the sun was high in the sky. Lim explained that, to create catchlights from the ambient light, the model would have had to tip her face too far upwards, which would have created an unflattering pose. Soft light, Lim recommends, creates the largest and best catchlights.
Lim says that a great photo masters four key fundamentals: pose, lighting, composition, and post processing. Once those fundamentals are mastered, Lim said, photographers can experiment and get creative while staying true to their style. “When a photographer masters all four elements, their work will be consistent and the photographer will start to self-inspire their imagery,” he said. “They build on the basics then tweak one or more of the elements with creativity and find their work will evolve and continue to move forward.”
5 Dappled Light Tips from Scott Robert Lim
- When using direct sunlight, look for shadows to create a dramatic look.
- Look for props or objects that can create shadows on the subject.
- Make sure your point of interest (face of subject) is the brightest spot or hotspot.
- Use a reflector or other light to reduce shadows and create catchlight in the eyes.
- Eliminate distractions in the background.