Cross-polarize to subdue shiny faces!
It’s a fact: humans have shiny faces. They don’t look so bad in real life, but on camera, it can get distracting. You’d put powder on their face, but they’re already feeling uncomfortable about being on camera, and you don’t want to push them over the edge. Is there some other trick you can use to kill that shine?
I have what you might call a natural sheen on camera. And I’m not the only one. The fact is, humans are just kind of shiny.
Normally, you can help get rid of it by applying some powder to your subject’s face. But sometimes, they’re already feeling nervous, and putting something on their face is just gonna make them more uncomfortable.
And if you have a whole bunch of people in a row? Well, you’re not supposed to share applicators. And the disposable ones tend to get these tiny little obnoxious fibers into the powder.
Wouldn’t it be better if you could just, I don’t know, change something on your lens to get rid of the shine?[the shine magically disappears]
So, how’d I do that? The first component, as you might’ve guessed, is a polarizing filter on your lens. But that’s not all. You also need to grab some polarizing film for your lights. I’m using the kind by Rosco.
Take note of the direction of polarity. Maybe even draw an arrow on the film. You’ll see why this is important in a second. Attach it to your lights, making sure that the polarity is the same on all of them. And then turn the polarizer on your camera to control the amount of reflections.
How does this work, anyway? Well, it’s kind of complicated. But in short, when light is generated, the light waves are vibrating in all kinds of orientations. A polarizer only allows light waves to pass through if they’re vibrating at one particular orientation. When you have a second polarizer set at a 90-degree angle to the first, well, now there are no more light waves vibrating at that orientation, which means that no light passes through.
That’s what we’re doing here. The film is polarizing the light in one direction, the filter is polarizing it in an opposing direction, and the result is that all the shininess on your skin is filtered out.
But what’s the catch?
Well, one limitation is that because these polarizers are literally blocking out a lot of the light, they can darken your shot by quite a bit. And then the polarizers on your lights make things even darker. So you might have to raise your ISO to compensate, which might make things a little bit more grainy.
Some details might get lost, because their natural specularity is no longer visible.
For maximum effect, you have to put it on every light that’s making your subject look shiny. If you want to add a bit of shininess, like when you’re using a hair light, you can deliberately leave it off that particular light.
And finally, do not kill the reflections completely. If you do, your subject might look… kind of zombie-ish. I mean, if that’s what you’re going for, then knock yourself out. But in most situations, it’s best to find a halfway point where your subject looks alive, but not like they just ran a marathon.
And finally, this effect tends to turn things a little blue, especially if you’re using a polarizing filter that’s less than about 200 bucks. You can usually more-or-less fix this in post. But if you’re prone to losing sleep over light quality and color rendition indexes, this technique might not be for you.
On the plus side? Man, this is cool.
No more slowing things down because you have to put powder on someone’s face, no more making your subject uncomfortable. I mean, it’s not gonna look as good as if you actually take the time to put on makeup, but if that’s just not practical, this is the way to go.
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