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Low-key, high-contrast lighting for a film studio shoot scene

Akie Yano

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We’re shooting a studio shoot scene in a studio with a white void backdrop. The white void backdrop will be high-key and very soft like this (the 2nd photo is the actual location of the shoot):



We will also shoot the reverse shot of the white backdrop which will have actors acting as crew, there will be around 8 actors. 2 main actors (director and assistant) in the front and the rest are acting as crew members at the back. While the white void backdrop is high key the director and crew area will be low key and high contrast. The director wants it to look like this:


Basically he only wants the front part of this area to be well lit while the back is just dark. I’m thinking that the motivation of the light will be the “bounced” light from the white void backdrop so I’m thinking of putting a 300 watt or 200 watt led light with lantern diffuser situated from the side lighting the actors. (Other than a lantern diffuser, we have an Octabox, 12x12 butterfly diffuser, and a diffusion cloth for our options for our lighting modifier.) I might also put a backlight for the two main actors in the front for their hair light (situated close to them so it looks like it’s coming from the side, not from the very back which is supposed to be dark).

I’m worried that if I put a light from the side at the actor’s level, the fall out of the light will still be strong that the back of the studio will still be well-lit or can I solve that by using flags to shape the light? Or I should just make sure the light from the 200 watt or 300 watt led light won’t be too strong so the fallout of the light reaching the back will naturally come out dark?

I also have an option of rigging the light from the ceiling, angled towards the actors so the back won’t be lit as much although I’m worried that it will be obvious that it’s a top light, not light “bouncing” from the strongly lit white void area. Or instead of directly lighting the opposite side of the white void area, I'm thinking that I can also just bounce a naked strong light (will a 300watt suffice? apart from the lights that are already rigged in the white void area) onto the wall of the white void area to light the crew area.

What do you think?

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I checked other photos of the studio and it seems I underestimated how much light will be bounced from the white backdrop to the whole studio:


So should I dim the lights from the white void and just light the opposite side (where the crew are) separately, right?

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It depends... the people in your second reference pic get the light from the right side (and some additional fill from the left but that's not so important right now) so if you'd do it just like that, it would look like they are not facing the "set" with the camera (since their camera is obviously not pointing in the direction of the light...). So if you really want to do a shot/reverse shot (means you are standing in the white set facing the "team") you will have to have the light coming more from the angle of your camera (or slightly angled from one side if you'd prefer it to be not so flat..). Also your studio looks much smaller than the one in your reference pic AND they have black background, floor etc that sucks up a lot of light (which is still coming from the right side in the pic so it is easy to take it away from the background!)... so yes, the light might be too much coming back from behind the camera full force hitting not just your actors but also the background.
So if you'd want the light to come exactly from the place it would logically come from, you could try using the bounced off light and just dim it/and use some flags and black duvetin t-bars to make the light source smaller. If it still hits the background too much (depends how far away the background is...) you can prepare a separate light source that you can have a bit more directed and angled from one side and slightly above tha camera facing down onto the actors to have the rest of the light hitting the floor instead of the wall behind them. You can also try to add black t-bars at the background walls as part of the set design since it's a film in film thing!?

A slightly angled camera could also help with the whole situation (if you'd look at the "team" more from the side they would get the light sideways and you could block away more of what might drop onto the background of your picture (which will be the side walls of the stuio). Then you'd get closer to the light situation of your reference pic. So in the end it really depends on your shots.
My suggestion is to go after what is possible in your studio and not get too much into the reference pic.

Have fun!


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  • 1 month later...
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Agreed with Nina.

Have a handfull of floppies on standby, and teasers (black cloth stapled to wood) to cut the top.

Don't be nervous. Having these tools with you will allow you to move them around the day of shooting and you'll see their effect. They are your safety net.

Experience has taught me not to fight established scenarios. So if you find yourself trying to cut so much light that it looks unbelievable when compared to the reverse shot, then that's not the solution. Like Nina said, simply change the angle to collect contrast if that's the goal.

I'd also consider (if you can afford it) to cover the wood tone walls in that room with black. 12x12 or 20x20 negatives. That will contrast the crew more. Think of Arrival onside that space ship.

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