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Cameron McAlpine

Help with lighting white cyc.

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Posted (edited)

Hello! I am currently working for an e-commerce photo/video studio. We are moving into a new space and we are trying to put together a solution to shoot video of models in front of a white cyc. These would be full length with the entire set needing to be pure white in the end. We would also like to be able to shoot stills on the same set using the same lighting. We are planning to build a 12’ wide white cyc but we have been having trouble coming up with a solid lighting plan. Any help in this regard would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for any help or advice you can provide!

Edited by Cameron McAlpine

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Will this be a permanent installation?

Here's what I think you should do:

  • The ability to control the output of all sources is key. Some units may be rigged up into the ceiling and accessing them will be difficult. What I recommend is building a lighting plan around the a DMX system.
    • Essentially, you just need to purchase lights that can be controlled via a DMX connection. Most professional grade lights have DMX inputs/outputs already installed in them if the units are LED
    • You'll need a way to control the lights via DMX and there are a few options:
      • A traditional DMX control board is cheap on amazon
      • DMX iPad apps - It'll require a few more expensive DMX parts like wireless DMX
  • The reason you'll want to control the output of all sources is because working with white cyc's involves ratios. You'll want the white background to reach a certain IRE so that it looks white (or is actually white). If you're in a pinch and your camera is at a decent ISO with fast lenses, you can keep your background lights at 100% and reduce your key to 50%. This will definitely blow the background out to white while giving you a great key light
  • It's reasonable to expect some post work with the white cyc. Certain areas of the floor, particularly where the subject is standing, will still underexpose because of the subject's shadow. An increase of contrast, lifting of highlights, etc will fix the problem.
  • Distance from your subject to the white cyc is key. Too close and you'll get a lot of spill from the white or the actual background light illuminating the subject instead of the key light.
  • The white ground can act as an excellent fill, but I'd have solids ready to control contrast such as 4x4 floppies, T-bone 8x's, etc.
  • Color temperature needs to be consistent across the board. Tungsten, Daylight, it doesn't matter. Just keep it the same.
    • *If color accuracy is your goal, then shooting with actual tungsten units (not LED) will yield the highest CRI. However, the trade off is physical heat and the need for a lot of power.
  • Since you mentioned using photography, there may be the need for high speed photography or video. If that's the case, high output lights like HMI's may be your best choice.

I live in Burbank, so if you're interested in hiring for consulting on this project or installation, shoot me an email: AJYoung.DP@gmail.com

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Another tip.  In Premiere Pro,  and most NLE's there's a slider for whites that will let you increase them without affecting much of the rest of the picture.  Assuming your subject isn't dressed head to toe in white.  Best to avoid white and black clothing if possible.

This slider tool can be useful if the white background isn't totally even or if lighting it at 100IRE starts to flare the image.  Using hardmattes on your mattebox can help you protect the lens as well.


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One thing I have learned is that lighting a cyc with bounce light can save you a lot of trouble vs trying to shoot lights directly at it and getting an even spread. Even when the lights are going through diffusion and what not. Having a lot of 8'x8' v-boards/foam core, along with lights strong enough to bounce effectively, is incredibly useful. White side walls and/or ceiling can be useful for bouncing as well.

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Do you have a height limitation? What's your ceiling look like? If you're limited on height like we are, we found that a ladder light system is incredibly useful, and also incredibly soft due to its large source. See pic:


Please ignore the temporary rigging and droop effect. This was taken mid set up and unfortunately don't have a pic of it final.

This works for a very high key look, with other fixtures on the ground to help shape the talent. This also has helped eliminate the annoying shadows on the ground if doing anything full body. It would also require either cyc lights or something like 4 bank kinos/leds to bring the wall up, and just play with the ratios. Again, if you're limited on height, then the cyc lights have to be placed further back to reduce fall-off.


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