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Looking to Improve My Lighting Techniques


Michael Hammond
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Hi everyone. Part of my quarantine time is spent practicing lighting setups right here in my home. In normal times I do corporate stuff so my interview lighting and b-roll acquisition get plenty of exercise. With this down time in the industry I'm taking time to try and get better at narrative settings and lighting wider shots. It's a great opportunity to take the time to learn new things that can only be learned from doing.

I'm posting some pics and details about the space I had to work with for them, my assumptions and questions, and would love any feedback. Any constructive criticism is welcome. 

The space I had available is about 10x18' with an 8' ceiling. The actual "scene" space was about 10x12'  - so not a lot of space.

First two pics - my spur of the moment cookie, and a 1K behind a bed sheet for ambient light and one of the spots for some booze bottles.

Cookie sm.jpg

Spotlight sm.jpg

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So here's my "scene" made up of available stuff in the house.

I was going for a speak-easy type of thing in the first pic. The cookie pattern splashing on the back wall. The booze bottle with some gelled light hitting them. The bottles are overlit for my tastes. I didn't have access to an ND gel and the spot was turned down as low as possible. Daylight is sneaking in from the right side due to a big window I closed the blinds over, but didn't black out. 

In the first pic there are hard shadows behind me. I don't think there's a way to get that pattern without the hard shadows because of the space I had to work in? Anyway, I was unhappy with the shadows until I decided to decide that I was going for a partial noir look. Why not?

The second pic is more of a loungy type of thing. No hard light on me or the wall. Relying on the practical and a small overhead light panel to light my far side. 

What do you think?

Dark Space sm.jpg

Top Light Issue sm.jpg

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The last setup I did was very simple. Two practicals behind me, an iPad to light my face, and a light thrown up at the top of stairs for a little extra something. I would have gelled the stair light but didn't have access to them at the time. Excuse the quarantine hair haha. 

As an exercise in using practicals, what do you think of this?

Couch iPad 2 sm.jpg

Couch iPad sm.jpg

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Hi Michael,

What follows is my point of view as average moviegoer, not a cinematographer. Problems I see first, before lighting, are related to composition and props.

In the first series, there are too many “stuff”: your white shirt reflects more light than your skin. Cushions are near white too. Bottles are too obvious and in front of you (I would rather they hide the cushions). The picture on the wall, and even the whole wall, are too obvious too. I would expect the face to catch the eye, so probably it should be one of the brightest elements. My eyes do not know where to look at. You seem surrounded, sent to the back, not popping out.

Working in theatres, I am a big fan of “drop light”, or any substitute, that allows to create that thin bright edge around the head. This is present in your second series. This gives more depth I think, and this would help in the first series.

The iPad does not make good lighting alone. It is not powerful enough, it is too blue. I expect it to be slightly blue (as one expect any screen to be blue), but not that blue. You could try to change the colour temperature that by displaying some king of light orange uniform image. Switching to “night shift” mode would probably be too warm.

Anyway I doubt it makes a good “white” (in terms of TLCI): it is obtained from a RGB mix, which is totally different from white LEDs.

I think you need to cheat a bit and get a tungsten main lighting on your face. Then adding a slight bluish colour contrast using the iPad screen could be great.

Hope this helps.

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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Hi Nicolas, 

 

Thanks very much for replying. I agree on all your points for sure. 

Props, wardrobe, setting and set decoration were all just thrown together so I could light a room. 

In the first series: I'm trying to figure out how to give an edge/top light to make a person "pop" a little more. It's easy to do in interviews, but in this setting I couldn't figure out how to place a light. Maybe it was a limitation of the space, maybe it was a limitation of my experience. But I couldn't mount anything up high, and as you can see the walls were pretty close so I couldn't figure out how to hide any lights on stands to hit me. I'm going to keep working on that. 

Second series: I'm OK with the practical behind me giving me an edge and the iPad on my face. I agree the color temp could be warmer. But it's the same problem for me here in that I don't know, yet, how to get light on a face that is so deep in a scene. Do I shoot a frensel toward it from outside frame? But then it's a hard light with a nasty hard shadow somewhere in the background of the scene. Do I mount something overhead (although I couldn't do that here in the house)? I need to keep practicing things like that in this low-pressure environment of working in the house during quarantine.

 

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Good on you, Michael!

The first shot on the couch is my favorite of the two. Bummer about the window light bleeding into the scene, but it did add a nice level of blue fill overall. You're definitely right, the light on the bottles is too hot. They're also dead center of the frame and my eyes go right to it. (Stop me if I'm stating something you know) Generally, I try to utilize visual contrast to guide the viewer's attention. As is, this set up regardless of lighting brings my attention to the bottles. If their exposure is darker than your subject, then my attention goes to the subject.

The second scene looks great. Practicals are excellent to use in a scene, but they can sometimes look too bright. It's best to imply the lighting from the practicals so you can control how bright the practicals are. I've also discovered that if you're using the practicals to get an exposure, that they're best positioned behind the subject (like in your scene). I would express caution relying in practicals for lighting because they are quite limiting when it comes to shaping.

Guy Holt has an excellent section about this topic here. I recommend taking a read!

 

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Quote

But I couldn't mount anything up high, and as you can see the walls were pretty close so I couldn't figure out how to hide any lights on stands to hit me

It does not need to be very high. It would work from a 45° angle or even lower, at least on one side of your head. However, as you said, the challenge is to hide the stand, which is why someone invented the "grid" one day.

Another problem is to avoid to hit the wall behind, as it would become too apparent. In theatres one use profile spot to control the light beam. But that is not something that you typically find at home. This is pretty expensive by the way. Here, you could move the couch away from the wall. That is what you have in your second series of shots.

Quote

how to get light on a face that is so deep in a scene.

On close-ups that would be very easy to add a little light on your face. On wide shots, not so. Fresnels usually have wide beams. Using a Fresnel several meters away, you might not be able to close the beam enough to have just the face to pop up. "Pinspot" PAR36 might help. It is cheap.

It seems that your problem is similar to the "per shot" vs. "environment" lighting debate :

lighting per shot vs. environment

"Real men" seem to have hard time lighting wide shots as well. It does not help, but you are not alone.

Edited by Nicolas POISSON
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5 hours ago, AJ Young said:

You're definitely right, the light on the bottles is too hot. They're also dead center of the frame and my eyes go right to it. (Stop me if I'm stating something you know) Generally, I try to utilize visual contrast to guide the viewer's attention. As is, this set up regardless of lighting brings my attention to the bottles. If their exposure is darker than your subject, then my attention goes to the subject.

Absolutely. I was running the art dept, the prop dept, the gaffer dept. as well as acting DOP so those details definitely fell to the side as I paid more attention to the lighting. I did do a version with a lite panel lighting the bottles from above that looked a lot better. The brightness of that light was lower so the eyes weren't drawn to the bottles as much. But in that version I also didn't have a good bit of light on my far side. It's truly been a practice in just moving things and saying "what does that do to the look" with each change. I don't think any of the setups were perfect but they were all a learning moment in and of themselves.  

Quote

The second scene looks great. Practicals are excellent to use in a scene, but they can sometimes look too bright. It's best to imply the lighting from the practicals so you can control how bright the practicals are. I've also discovered that if you're using the practicals to get an exposure, that they're best positioned behind the subject (like in your scene). I would express caution relying in practicals for lighting because they are quite limiting when it comes to shaping.

Guy Holt has an excellent section about this topic here. I recommend taking a read!

Thanks - I'll check that out. 

Edited by Michael Hammond
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4 hours ago, Nicolas POISSON said:

On close-ups that would be very easy to add a little light on your face. On wide shots, not so. Fresnels usually have wide beams. Using a Fresnel several meters away, you might not be able to close the beam enough to have just the face to pop up. "Pinspot" PAR36 might help. It is cheap.

It seems that your problem is similar to the "per shot" vs. "environment" lighting debate :

lighting per shot vs. environment

 

Thanks Nicolas I'll check that out. And I'll be working on getting some extra light on a face in a wide scene. 

One question I have has to do with the addition of haze. How do you get a light off set to key a face in a wide shot without the haze giving away that light? I'll be trying to figure that out soon. 

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It is mainly a question of direction. If the light comes from behind the camera toward the subject, the beam will not be that visible. On the contrary, if the source is behind the subject and comes more or less toward the camera, the beam will become obvious. This works for both camera and the human eye.

Think about live concerts: from the house, you do not see the beams of key lights hanged downstage that face the performers, but you clearly see the beams of all these moving heads upstage.

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