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Ste Webster

Lighting for cave interiors

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Hi there,

Looking for a spot of advice to help with my line of thinking. I'm about to start the second block on an indie horror soon and a lot of the upcoming scenes are in a series of caves with no natural light/scenes dictate darkness.

I was just wondering if people had any thoughts about approaches to still get light in the scene for exposure but still maintain a dark and isolated feel without all my background just falling into blackness. It's a first time for me working in such environments so I'm just trying to not miss any obvious solutions and open myself up to any possibilities.

My own thoughts are for blanket soft light throughout to get an exposure and then have a few highlights and modeling as and when needed (point out background, modelling for talent etc) that and probably shoot a few stops under. but I'm curious what people's thoughts are?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you can help or shine any light (excuse the pun) I'd love to hear from you. Got the recce tomorrow so I'll have a clearer idea of locations then.

Thanks again


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Since I do not know what the film or the scene is about, my advice can only be a bit generic. I think your approach of having a low base exposure + highlights and modelling works. A super soft top light can read as ambient darkness. It is a pretty standard approach.

Let me bounce some ideas at you. Maybe the characters have flashlights, cell phones or other sources of light? Then maybe you don't need a base exposure at all. Are there any luminescent algae or mushrooms on the walls of the cave? Maybe you can simply bounce your own lights onto the cave's surfaces so that your light takes some of the rock color? Maybe you actually can let things fall into complete blackness for extreme claustrophobia?

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I would take the naturalistic approach. I would only add lighting depending on whats happening in the scene. There wouldn't be any light beyond what the actors are carrying if they are exploring a new bit. Or if it's a tourist 'show cave' it would be lit up like a Christmas tree.  Something like flashlight, glo sticks and practical lanterns used carefully would give you enough shape.  Keep it motivated and these days you don't need much light for exposure on modern cameras. 

The Desent is probably a good example of caving portrayed well on film. Even of the first hour is about one of the most stressful film watching experiences you can have.

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