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Ben Barrett

Sorting Ugly Shadows

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I shot a quick interview a few days ago and I hate the shadows that the key light was creating.

The set-up was: 1 bounced 800w redhead for ambient light (it was quite dingy); bouned off of the wall behind the camera.

A 650w fresnel a couple of metres or so off to camera right.

A 300w fresnel less than a metre off to camera right; backlight.

A reflector about a metre to camera left.

(Don't know what that lamp is but it's not doing very much).

 

I wanted it to look like a bright day or morning and it doesn't seem too bad but I hate those shadows from his face that are cast onto this couch, you can see the talent's mouth move on the shadow as he speaks.

 

So I tried repoitioning the key a little. In the second still below the shadow is longer but it's still there.

 

So my question is this: how do you deal with shadows like this? Would using a soft light like a Kino Flo work? I tried using some Rosco Toughspun (#3006) on the key but it lost a lot of its brightness and the light became more flat.

 

Thanks guys!

Ben

 

post-18295-1234877394.jpg

Edited by Ben Barrett

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Well, first of all, you have to consider the realism of the lighting if it's supposed to be a sunny day interior. Probably the table lamp would be off because who turns on a table lamp if they are sitting in sunlight? And if it were on, it would be very warm in color temp compared to true daylight.

 

Also, hard sunlight hitting someone from head to toe would only happen near sunset when the sun is extremely low, so the light would be rather warm. Or it could be higher, but that person would have to be literally sitting right next to a tall window.

 

Generally what I would do in that situation is have the hard sunlight only hitting the lower part of the frame, and it should be bright and hot. The face itself would be soft-lit from the same direction. If you want to be even more realistic, the direct sun would be slightly warmer than the cooler soft skylight.

 

One trick is to shine a bright light on someone and then "soft top" it by putting a diffusion frame in front of the top part of the light, letting hard light spill from below the frame and hit the lower part of the subject. Then one light creates the two effects. You can clip some CTO to the bottom of the diffusion frame to gel the hard light warmer than the soft light. The closer you can get the diffusion frame to the subject, the softer the soft light and the sharper the cut will be.

 

I've also used a 4' 4-bank Kino as a soft topper to a hard light, blocking part of the hard light with the Kino unit, but then you have to arm the Kino from the side to avoid the stand shadow.

 

I've also simply lit someone with a big soft light and then hit them with a slash of hard light like from a Source-4 with a narrower lens, or a bright light and a cutter flag.

 

Here is a shot from "Twin Falls Idaho" where I did my soft topper effect:

 

tfi7.jpg

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Thanks for your advice David. Yes I considered the table lamp but I thought that it looked a little more visually attractive turned on and I was reminded of programmes like "The OC" where for some reason they have lamps on inside all the time. But yes in retrospect it would look more realistic turned off. (I would have used a vase of flowers or something to add colour but couldn't find any there).

 

I didn't consider only half covering the light of the key with diffuser but I put it on the whole thing and the light seemed to go pretty even over all the talent's face and body. In the still you posted you've obviously got the softer top half still creating a shadow on the camera left side of her face because the right side is brighter. How did you do that (with a diffuser I'm assuming) and manage to stop the light from going flat all over?

 

How would you create a generally bright day? Surely you can still have a much brighter light coming in from one side but would you have to have it soft to stop distracting shadows like the ones above? Surely not?

 

Thanks again!

Ben

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One of the cool things about being a cameraman / filmmaker is that you can create worlds that may or may not exist elsewhere. Shaping light is probably one of the first tell tale signs of production value. To me shaping light is creating interesting and beautiful settings for people to be in, sometimes at the expense of realism. But it depends of the project, first and foremost. One cannot necessarily light a soap opera the way Blade Runner was lit, say. For docs, there is a wide range of lighting styles (as many as subject matters) available to filmmakers.

 

When it comes to empty backgrounds, I often go with strong shadows and some art department as well. Anything to keep the lighting from being flat. I am a sucker for moody lighting. This example has nothing to do with lighting for documentaries, but it gives you an idea of the type of shadows I like to work with. This is my wife at our home, and it is not for any particular project, just shot it because I like the light and I like my wife . . .

 

3288450160_5dc3c27062_b.jpg

 

Now this type of lighting would be impossible to recreate and maintain for longer periods of time without bigger lamps. But you would be surprised how much you can do with a few lights, especially if you do it at night or darkened rooms where the light is not changing.

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Also, when you put someone too close to a small light their shadow gets bigger and bigger, which sort of gives away the gag and probably one reason why the shadow bothered you so much.

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Also, when you put someone too close to a small light their shadow gets bigger and bigger, which sort of gives away the gag and probably one reason why the shadow bothered you so much.

But since light has a fall-off rate of inverse log, by the time the light is far enough away from the subject to stop the shadows surely the key will no longer look as bright? (Sorry, you can tell I haven't had much experience at this)

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One trick is to shine a bright light on someone and then "soft top" it by putting a diffusion frame in front of the top part of the light, letting hard light spill from below the frame and hit the lower part of the subject. Then one light creates the two effects. You can clip some CTO to the bottom of the diffusion frame to gel the hard light warmer than the soft light. The closer you can get the diffusion frame to the subject, the softer the soft light and the sharper the cut will be.

 

David that's a brilliant idea! I hope you don't mind if I usurp that here and again.

 

As for the fall off of the light, yes, the further you move the source away the weaker it will become. It's a balance of things, and you can compensate with stop or a stronger instrument, or perhaps a "softer" one closer in. It's all about the compromises you made. Obviously, we can't exactly re-create window-light all the time; but we don't need to necessarily.

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A big soft light doesn't have to be flat if it is coming from a side angle and you don't use much or any fill.

 

How "sunny" a room looks is mainly an exposure issue, that you want some bright highlights in the frame. But you can have a sunny room that is either low in contrast or high in contrast. Whether the sunlight is falling into a light-toned or dark-toned room will have an effect too on the perception of brightness and contrast.

 

You really should first study how sunlight falling into a room looks in real life, and then think about why it looks like that.

 

Here are some random frames I already had online from movies I shot showing some general daytime interior lighting:

 

af6.jpg

 

af9.jpg

 

af10.jpg

 

akeelah1.jpg

 

northfork33.jpg

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Hey Ben,

 

I recently shot a film where I used for reference the lighting style of Vera Drake as follows:

 

As you can see this doesn't apply David's topper system, which I think adds great dimension to the shot, but relies on the contrast and dimension to come from the set design.

 

It also screams of britain in the winter, when the sun is at a lower angle and it is 99.9% overcast.

Edited by Serge Teulon

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by the time the light is far enough away from the subject to stop the shadows surely the key will no longer look as bright?

 

Yeah. It tends to be the battle when using small units for sunlight, but like David said, the level of brightness is only relative to your exposure. If you're shooting a T1.2 on a 500 ASA stock, pointing a 650 at someone from only a few meters away will most likely be too bright.

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Unless you have a story or aesthetic reason for doing so... the first decision I'd make is to not have a white wall right behind the subject's head. Generally faces look nicer when they are framed against darker backgrounds, based on the old rule that highlights advance and shadows recede in a 2D image of a 3D subject. Plus a white wall will show off every bad shadow that the lighting creates. At the least, I'd pull the couch away from the wall so that it falls off a little more.

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I think part of the problem is in the composition - it's unusual to center a sitting subject, especially with that much headroom. If you look at David's frames, the subjects are all pushed frame left or right, and he uses depth of space behind the subject to help create the illusion of dimension. You're making things difficult for yourself by putting your subject in front of a white wall and placing a practical lamp that is between your subject and the his key light. Though it's not casting a shadow on him, it's something that you have to work around and without it you would have more freedom to move the key more frontal. On the other hand, if you had placed the practical on the other side of the couch then it might even have made sense to have it on, since the (supposedly) window-lit side of the frame would be on frame right, and thus should be brighter than the left.

 

As for lighting, as David said, you usually to start with the idea of what you want the frame to look like before you begin placing instruments. So if you want it to look like a sunny morning, then create a picture of that in your mind. Then start with the key light first and get it to where you want it. Once you have that placed where you like it, then start adding other lights. Add the fill light last. That way you won't be confused as to what effect each light is creating.

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Unless you have a story or aesthetic reason for doing so... the first decision I'd make is to not have a white wall right behind the subject's head. Generally faces look nicer when they are framed against darker backgrounds, based on the old rule that highlights advance and shadows recede in a 2D image of a 3D subject. Plus a white wall will show off every bad shadow that the lighting creates. At the least, I'd pull the couch away from the wall so that it falls off a little more.

Wow I had no idea about that rule, thanks. That's interesting because the first thing that I thought of for a 'light and bright' image would be a light background, rather than dark. The wall doesn't really seem to take any of the shadows though. What I also thought at first was to have a brighter light hitting the side of his face, looking as if it was coming from the window. I see I could maybe have used that with your idea of diffusing part of the light, the lower section in this case. As for the positioning, perhaps have the subject sitting far away from any wall and perhaps at an angle to a wall or walls for depth.

 

I think part of the problem is in the composition - it's unusual to center a sitting subject, especially with that much headroom. If you look at David's frames, the subjects are all pushed frame left or right, and he uses depth of space behind the subject to help create the illusion of dimension. You're making things difficult for yourself by putting your subject in front of a white wall and placing a practical lamp that is between your subject and the his key light. Though it's not casting a shadow on him, it's something that you have to work around and without it you would have more freedom to move the key more frontal.

Yeah the final shot I ended up using was tighter in, thanks for the pointer on that though. I'm not sure that putting it more frontal would help with the modeling of the face, wouldn't it just look flatter, and also my hope was to have it hitting one side of his face, surely I couldn't achieve that by moving the key near the front?

 

Yeah. It tends to be the battle when using small units for sunlight, but like David said, the level of brightness is only relative to your exposure. If you're shooting a T1.2 on a 500 ASA stock, pointing a 650 at someone from only a few meters away will most likely be too bright.

I had a 2k blonde I could have used. I had thought to maybe put that outside in the garden and shine it through (about 6-7m away) but didn't bring it in the end. Would that have been preferable? Shooting on film - I wish! Unfortunately I have to use good ol' video.

 

 

So I've reached this idea so far: Diffuse half the light if using a hard source, for realism, though I'm not sure if that would solve the shadow issue if one left the top half undiffused. Try moving the source further away or use a soft light/diffused hard light at an angle round about 90 degrees to create one brighter side on the subject's face. Of course in the orignal situation posted above I was bouncing an 800w so increasing the exposure to restore the original brightness of the key would create an overexposed couch. ND it perhaps. A darker background might have worked better here. Change the composition of the shot to include a sense of depth and it would have been advisable to stay away from the white wall as a backing.

 

So the problem of the shadows seems to be solved by distance with a greater intensity beam (or lower ambient intensity with compensating F stop) or using a soft light quite angled to prevent it from looking flat. Is this about right? Also, it seems to me that in the stills posted there aren't any shadows because most subjects are far from the backgrounds or they're against dark backgrounds which would hide the shadows anyway.

 

I'm still learning, please be paitent!

 

Ben

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Don't be afraid of a shadow if it looks natural. Light hitting an object makes a shadow.

 

But the shadow created by soft window light would be very diffuse and a shadow created by a beam of hard sunlight would be very sharp and strong -- but what you have in your original photo is neither one or the other, hence why it looks like the shadow created by a movie light. Again, it comes down to thinking about what happens in real life, not just throwing a light on a subject. You need a stronger, harder, direct sunlight effect that cuts across part of the subject, if you want sunlight, and you need a very large soft light that creates the impression of a window source. And those lights need to create the right shadows on the wall behind the subject's head.

 

I'd take a bunch of stills of the subject sitting in natural light and study them.

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At the least, I'd pull the couch away from the wall so that it falls off a little more.

 

That's a very good point David makes here.

 

Don't be afraid to move furniture and fixtures around to help create a better frame/composition. It also gives you more opportunity to create some separation from the background.

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I'm not sure how you're creating your soft light, but clipping diffusion to a light is not really enough -- you either need to bounce the light off of a large white surface or make some diffusion frames -- 4'x4' is a common size for shooting closer shots of actors. You can also bounce off of large posterboard or foamcore sheets, or white bedsheets.

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I'm not sure how you're creating your soft light, but clipping diffusion to a light is not really enough -- you either need to bounce the light off of a large white surface or make some diffusion frames -- 4'x4' is a common size for shooting closer shots of actors. You can also bounce off of large posterboard or foamcore sheets, or white bedsheets.

 

David,

 

What lighting unit did you use for the direct sunlight on the shot with Billy Bob? It looks like there is ambient and the harder shaft.

 

Thanks

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I think that was a 4K Xenon creating the beam, and the soft was a 6K or 18K HMI through a diffusion frame, all on a condor since this was a third floor space. Plus natural daylight.

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One of the cool things about being a cameraman / filmmaker is that you can create worlds that may or may not exist elsewhere. Shaping light is probably one of the first tell tale signs of production value. To me shaping light is creating interesting and beautiful settings for people to be in, sometimes at the expense of realism. But it depends of the project, first and foremost. One cannot necessarily light a soap opera the way Blade Runner was lit, say. For docs, there is a wide range of lighting styles (as many as subject matters) available to filmmakers.

 

When it comes to empty backgrounds, I often go with strong shadows and some art department as well. Anything to keep the lighting from being flat. I am a sucker for moody lighting. This example has nothing to do with lighting for documentaries, but it gives you an idea of the type of shadows I like to work with. This is my wife at our home, and it is not for any particular project, just shot it because I like the light and I like my wife . . .

 

3288450160_5dc3c27062_b.jpg

 

Now this type of lighting would be impossible to recreate and maintain for longer periods of time without bigger lamps. But you would be surprised how much you can do with a few lights, especially if you do it at night or darkened rooms where the light is not changing.

 

I agree, sometimes the most beautiful light is meant to be observed and captured with a still. Also helps to have beautiful light/wife. And to like them both. LOL

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I agree, sometimes the most beautiful light is meant to be observed and captured with a still. Also helps to have beautiful light/wife. And to like them both. LOL

 

Thanks, technically it was uncorrected 7218 500T (rated 320) motion picture, not still, film. That is why it is a little grainy.

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I'm not sure how you're creating your soft light, but clipping diffusion to a light is not really enough -- you either need to bounce the light off of a large white surface or make some diffusion frames -- 4'x4' is a common size for shooting closer shots of actors. You can also bounce off of large posterboard or foamcore sheets, or white bedsheets.

Thanks David, I would have just clipped it to the barn doors. I'll try and shoot some tests when I can of a bounced 650 or 800 maybe, for diffuse shadows, and your half diffused direct sunlight look, perhaps with a 2k maybe. Thanks for the advice!

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Thanks David, I would have just clipped it to the barn doors. I'll try and shoot some tests when I can of a bounced 650 or 800 maybe, for diffuse shadows, and your half diffused direct sunlight look, perhaps with a 2k maybe. Thanks for the advice!

 

Just remember that softening a light is just another name for enlarging the size of the source. The softer you want the light, the larger the source must be in relation to the subject and the distance. That means a 20x silk 50 feet away will look about as soft as a 4x silk 10 feet away, but the falloff will be different for each of those.

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