Photography Glossary

What is a Scrim in Photography?

March 20, 2023 by

Photography is an art form that requires a keen eye for detail and an understanding of various techniques and equipment. One such tool that is often used by photographers is a scrim. But what is a scrim and what does it do?

A scrim is a piece of fabric or mesh that is used in photography to diffuse or soften the light. It’s a versatile tool that can be used in a variety of settings, from outdoor shoots to indoor studio sessions. But despite its widespread use, many people are not familiar with what a scrim is or how it can be used to enhance their photography.

If you’re a photographer looking to improve the quality of your images, understanding the role of a scrim can be immensely helpful. By diffusing harsh lighting and creating a more even spread of light across your subject, a scrim can help to create a more natural and flattering look. It can also be used to add depth and texture to your photos, giving them a more professional and polished feel.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about scrims in photography. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

What is a Scrim?

A scrim is a type of netting that is used in photography, videography, or theatre to diffuse light. By diffusing and redirecting sunlight, scrims can help to create softer shadows and minimize glare.

They can also be used to reflect light back onto a subject, providing additional illumination. Scrims are often used with lights that are positioned very close to the subject, such as spotlights. By diffusing the light, scrims help to create a more flattering, soft light. Scrims can be made from a variety of materials, including cheesecloth, tulle, and even lace.

The size of the scrim will depend on the size of the light source and the desired effect. When used correctly, scrims can help to create beautiful, ethereal images.

scrim in photography

How Do Scrims Work?

Photographers and videographers use scrims to control the light in a scene, creating softer shadows and reducing glare. They can also be used to create special effects, such as shooting through a translucent scrim to create a dreamy, ethereal look. Scrims are an essential tool for anyone who wants to have greater control over the quality of light on a subject.

Why is it Called a Scrim?

The term “scrim” was first used in 1792 and was defined by its more practical use in the home as a “thin, strong cloth used as upholstery lining.”

Then in the early 1900s, the term was then applied to the gauze-like cloth that was used in theater to soften the light.

Others claim the term “scrim” derives from the Old French word escren/escran, which means “screen.” The word eventually made its way into English via the Middle English word skrymme, which had the same meaning.

Today, the word “scrim” is used to describe both the frame and the fabric itself. Scrims are an essential tool for photographers and lighting designers, and they have many uses in both studio and natural light settings.

What are the Different Types of Scrims?

Scrims come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be made from a variety of materials, including muslin, silk, and nylon. Each type of scrim has its own unique set of properties that make it suited for specific tasks.

Weight and Material

For example, lightweight muslin scrims are often used to create soft, diffused lighting, while heavier silk scrims can be used to block out sunlight or create dramatic shadow effects.

Transparency and Color

In addition to their different weights and materials, scrims also differ in terms of their transparency and color. Some scrims are completely opaque, while others are semi-transparent or even transparent.

Scrims can also be purchased in a variety of colors, allowing photographers to experiment with different lighting effects. When choosing a scrim, it is important to consider the specific needs of your shoot.

Depending on the type of scrim used, they can produce different effects on the final image. For example, using a white scrim will result in a softer light, whereas using a black scrim will create a more dramatic effect.

There are three main types of scrims used in photography: full-color, half-color, and neutral-density. Full-color scrims are typically used in portraiture to soften the light and reduce contrast. Half-color scrims are often used in product photography to prevent reflections from glossy surfaces. Neutral-density scrims are used to reduce the amount of light reaching the camera sensor, which allows for longer exposure times.

Alternative to Using Scrims

Scrims can be expensive and difficult to set up, particularly in windy conditions. Luckily, there are a few alternatives that can provide similar results.


Reflectors are one option that can be used to bounce light back into a scene, reducing the need for fill flash or extra lighting.

Simply raising the reflector closer to the subject can also help to control glare and provide shaded areas. Photographers can find the best way to reduce glare and create shaded areas without using scrims.

How to Choose a Scrim?


The most important thing to consider when choosing a scrim is the size of the opening. The opening should be large enough to allow the desired amount of light to pass through, but small enough to prevent unwanted spill light from entering the frame.


Another important consideration is the weight of the scrim. Heavier scrims are more stable in windy conditions, but lighter scrims are easier to transport and set up.

How to Setup a Scrim?

Once you have chosen the right scrim for your needs, setting it up is relatively simple.

First, make sure that the area you are working in is clear of debris that could damage the scrim.

Next, attach the scrim to a frame using clamps or ropes. Once the scrim is secure, place it in front of your subject and adjust the position until you are happy with the results.

Finally, take a few practice shots to ensure that the light is exactly as you want it before starting your photo shoot. With a little practice, you will be able to master the art of using a scrim to create beautiful, well-lit photos.

3 Tips for Using a Scrim

Distance and Position From Light Source

When using a scrim, it is important to place it close to the light source. This will create a softer light that is less likely to cause harsh shadows. It is also important to experiment with the distance between the scrim and the light source, as this can dramatically change the effect of the diffused light.

Also, make sure that the scrim is positioned perpendicular to the sun. This will ensure that the light is evenly diffused.

Lastly, if the scrim is positioned too close to your subject, it may create unwanted shadows or reflections.

using scrim in photography

Experiment With Multiple Scrims

Another tip is to use multiple scrims to create an even softer light. By layering several scrims, you can create a gentle and flattering light that is perfect for portraiture. With a little experimentation, you can use a scrim to create any type of lighting effect that you desire.

Be Mindful of the Wind

The last tip is to be careful when using scrims in windy conditions. The wind can cause the scrim to move, resulting in uneven lighting. Also, if the scrim is not securely fastened, it could be blown away by a gust of wind. To avoid this, it is best to use a heavier scrim or secure the scrim with sandbags.

In conclusion, scrims are an essential tool for anyone interested in photography and can be found at most camera stores or online retailers. Experimenting with different types of scrims is a great way to learn about light and how it interacts with your subject matter.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make a photography scrim?

To make a photography scrim, you’ll need a frame made of PVC pipes or similar materials, along with a piece of white translucent fabric. Simply stretch the fabric over the frame and secure it in place with clips or ties, creating a diffused surface that can be used to soften harsh lighting and create more even shadows.

What is the difference between a scrim and a backdrop?

A scrim and a backdrop are two different tools used in photography. A backdrop is typically a solid or patterned surface used as a background in a photograph, while a scrim is a translucent material used to diffuse or soften light. While they serve different purposes, they can both be used in conjunction with each other to create a more dynamic and visually appealing photograph.

Can scrim get wet?

Many scrims are made of materials that can withstand some degree of moisture, but it’s important to check the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the appropriate care and handling procedures. In general, it’s best to avoid exposing scrims to excessive moisture or dampness, as this can damage the material and affect its ability to diffuse light effectively.