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Justin Oakley

Interior bedroom—lighting

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I know there are industry pros here, so I hope I’m not out of line. I’m just kind of throwing myself to the wolves because YouTube university only gets you so far.

But I’m wondering if I could trouble you guys for some advice on lighting a “simple” interior.

Theres one scene in particular that kind of intimidates me, which is probably pretty basic for a number of folks here. And that’s “int. Bedroom - night”.

I’m trying to figure out how to do this for a short I wrote, and I’m currently making (kind of in a holding pattern due to COVID).

I’m self-taught and self funded, so what I have essentially a small hodgepodge of lights: (1) Aputure 120DII, (1) dracast 2k fresnel—LED, (1) Aputure amaran, (1) Aputure MC. I also have some mods—flags, reflectors, muslin, etc.

Using these lights, how would you set up a bedroom night scene? Like sleepy time night scene—no practical lamps or anything. Shoot one light through a window with 1/2 CTB? Bounce some light of a corner of the ceiling? Should I mess with the temp in camera? I just want to do it right and not be all lazy and ‘blue’ everything all to hell with day for night. 

As always, any insight is greatly appreciated. 

Thanks! 

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There are infinite amount of possibilities. A good place to start might be some reference's you like and if you can share pictures of your location and describe the actors positions that will help a lot too! 

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Depends on what look you want -- light coming through a window at night could be almost any color depending what source it is supposed to be outside. Could be coming from any angle too.

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You also want to consider, does the chsracter sleep with their windows uncovered? (I certainly don’t).

And if the curtains are drawn, where is the light coming from? Is it just a soft ambient light? If so, where do you bring it in from, directly over-top? Angled in from a particular direction?

F9DC7385-1CDA-4FF7-8815-F132007E2FE0.jpeg.0536dcbde235bf42963d5cc36f2a03dd.jpeg

This is the only source of ambient light in my actual bedroom (though of course it’s much dimmer at night), but because of how it leaks through the sides of the curtains the ambient light in the room comes in very much from the side rather than overhead. 

These are the questions you need to ask yourself. Do you want the lighting to feel realistic and motivated? Do you want something more stylised? And build from there.

 

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I agree with Albion, I think the best thing you can do is find some reference frames from other movies, photographs, and paintings that approach the look you want. One of my favorite references for night interiors is ‘Panic Room.’ But it wouldn’t be appropriate for a romantic comedy, so consider the tone you’re going for.

Then take scout photos of your potential locations, not just from the camera positions, but also where you intend to place the lights. For example, if you want to put a light outside the window but the room is on the 2nd floor, then you may have to look for another solution. 

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4 hours ago, Justin Oakley said:

Using these lights, how would you set up a bedroom night scene? Like sleepy time night scene—no practical lamps or anything. Shoot one light through a window with 1/2 CTB? Bounce some light of a corner of the ceiling? Should I mess with the temp in camera? I just want to do it right and not be all lazy and ‘blue’ everything all to hell with day for night.

You're already on the right track! I'd recommend testing out looks in your bedroom. 🙂

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Thanks guys. 
 

I did previously do some tests, but I can’t help but feel that I did it all wrong. It still looks...off. 
The scene is a father lying in bed while his son is knifing him in the chest. 
 

In this particular set up I stuck some black fabric over the window in our guest bedroom...since it was broad daylight. I warmed up the 120d and stuck it in the hallway, then I kind of flagged the light off a little bit with the door to create a shaft of light coming into the room. I initially decided to do this, not for stylistic reasons or the purpose of story, but to simply get more light on the scene. 
 

I then blasted the amaran into a corner of the room. 
 

since we’ll be shooting this during the day, I’m wondering if I should black out the window from the outside or crack the blinds a little bit and let the natural light leak in through the slats. Maybe cool the temp down in camera? 
 

I want it to look “natural”. And as someone mentioned here, I don’t “naturally” sleep with the curtains pulled back. And even if I do, there is almost never a lot of ambient light coming in...and it certainly isn’t blue.

It still seems like there’s not enough light. Is it common practice to light it really well and bright, and then take it down in post?  

130D3CE3-D02C-4B64-AE77-BB3F659F28DF.jpeg

A8B32150-50F4-4ADB-AA80-0AA5D22DCDDB.jpeg

76341871-6F85-4686-ADCF-7C58A7A877A7.jpeg

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Generally I wouldn't shoot a night scene during the day if the source of light in the scene had to come from the window -- unless I could build a pretty big tent outside the window. I suppose you could make a leaning tent against the window and let daylight leak in from underneath and uplight the blinds as if there were a lower source and the room was on a higher floor.

If you are using an ISO setting and gamma setting that gives you a good noise and black level, then there is no real reason to over-light and darken in post, besides, just dropping the ISO setting a little is the same thing.  

The biggest problem I see here is just that it is very hard to do dark scenes in a white or off-white room, the degree of underexposure that looks right for the walls is too much for the people or action unless you want that stuff to be almost silhouette. Which means that if you can't paint the walls, you need to work more on flagging your light, another reason to light through the windows at night so that the window frame acts as a natural flag, plus it is always nice to see where the light is coming from.

Even in your lighting set-up, if you had a 4'x4' floppy flag (or something more like 3'x6' vertical) to cut the bounce light off of the wall to the left of the window so that it only hit the bed and the wall behind the headboard, that would have been better.

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6 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Generally I wouldn't shoot a night scene during the day if the source of light in the scene had to come from the window -- unless I could build a pretty big tent outside the window. I suppose you could make a leaning tent against the window and let daylight leak in from underneath and uplight the blinds as if there were a lower source and the room was on a higher floor.

If you are using an ISO setting and gamma setting that gives you a good noise and black level, then there is no real reason to over-light and darken in post, besides, just dropping the ISO setting a little is the same thing.  

The biggest problem I see here is just that it is very hard to do dark scenes in a white or off-white room, the degree of underexposure that looks right for the walls is too much for the people or action unless you want that stuff to be almost silhouette. Which means that if you can't paint the walls, you need to work more on flagging your light, another reason to light through the windows at night so that the window frame acts as a natural flag, plus it is always nice to see where the light is coming from.

Even in your lighting set-up, if you had a 4'x4' floppy flag (or something more like 3'x6' vertical) to cut the bounce light off of the wall to the left of the window so that it only hit the bed and the wall behind the headboard, that would have been better.

Awesome advice. Thanks so much for this. I’ve got a couple flags. I think the only other issue may be space. It’s not a massive room. By the time I sneak a stand and flags in, it will most likely decrease my “wide” shot. 
 

Also, that (warmer) light next to the window is the shaft of hallway light that I created with the 120d though. Should I still flag that you think? Or were you talking about the rest of the wall? 

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A vertical flag wouldn't cut into your shot if you had to frame this window out anyway, but this is another reason to use the window and light through it so you can widen out.

If you're saying that the door slash was also lighting this wall as well as the bounce, then at least that hallway light needed a topper flag to create a cut halfway down the wall plus the flag to take the bounce off of that wall (also if that bounce is supposed to represent something coming from outside then that wall shouldn't be hit by the bounce).
I also think the hallway slash should be brighter than the ambient window light because right now, it's too subtle. Make it brighter but use a top flag (or raise it so that the door jam cuts it more) so that the upper half of the wall stays dark, unless you need the slash to silhouette the killer (but likely they'd be lit by it unless it came from further off to the right.
If it helps you, you could consider flipping the bed to the opposite wall.

bedroom.jpg

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3 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

A vertical flag wouldn't cut into your shot if you had to frame this window out anyway, but this is another reason to use the window and light through it so you can widen out.

If you're saying that the door slash was also lighting this wall as well as the bounce, then at least that hallway light needed a topper flag to create a cut halfway down the wall plus the flag to take the bounce off of that wall (also if that bounce is supposed to represent something coming from outside then that wall shouldn't be hit by the bounce).
I also think the hallway slash should be brighter than the ambient window light because right now, it's too subtle. Make it brighter but use a top flag (or raise it so that the door jam cuts it more) so that the upper half of the wall stays dark, unless you need the slash to silhouette the killer (but likely they'd be lit by it unless it came from further off to the right.
If it helps you, you could consider flipping the bed to the opposite wall.

bedroom.jpg

 

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Ahhh, ok. I think I’m picking up what you’re putting down. So a topper on the hallway light to simulate the ceiling light being cut off by the top of the doorway. Instead of just shooting it straight through. 

And make it brighter. 

still flag the bounced light if possible

moving in tighter for the close ups and meds isn’t as big a struggle as getting the wider master shot. That’s what’s really kicking my butt here. But the shot is kind of necessary as it will keep everything somewhat oriented. 

I also might try shooting light through the window. 
The reason why I was planning on shooting it during the day is mostly a scheduling thing. It gets dark a little later, and there’s a kid, and I don’t want to keep him up til all hours of the night. His dad is a buddy of mine and he’s been cool about letting me use his kid for this project...which is already a little messed up and weird. 

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5 hours ago, Justin Oakley said:

Also, that (warmer) light next to the window is the shaft of hallway light that I created with the 120d though. Should I still flag that you think? Or were you talking about the rest of the wall? 

The 120D in the hallway is having a somewhat strange effect because the light is coming straight through the doorway (and playing high up the bedroom wall). If it were an actual practical light in the hallway, it would be mounted in the ceiling and the top of the doorframe would be cutting off a lot of the light that plays higher up the wall.

If you simply lift the 120D higher, the top of the door frame will act as a cutter and you'll get a tighter pool of light on the bedroom wall. This will make the image lower-key overall and should help a bit.

I'm with David though - white/light-toned rooms are incredibly difficult to make low-key - you really have to keep all of the light off them for a truly dark feeling environment. Do you have a snoot  or the fresnel attachment for the 120D? A more controlled backlight/edge light on the subject as he sleeps would probably be your best bet for keeping the overall scene low-key, whilst still being able to clearly discern your subject.

 

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17 hours ago, Mark Kenfield said:

The 120D in the hallway is having a somewhat strange effect because the light is coming straight through the doorway (and playing high up the bedroom wall). If it were an actual practical light in the hallway, it would be mounted in the ceiling and the top of the doorframe would be cutting off a lot of the light that plays higher up the wall.

If you simply lift the 120D higher, the top of the door frame will act as a cutter and you'll get a tighter pool of light on the bedroom wall. This will make the image lower-key overall and should help a bit.

I'm with David though - white/light-toned rooms are incredibly difficult to make low-key - you really have to keep all of the light off them for a truly dark feeling environment. Do you have a snoot  or the fresnel attachment for the 120D? A more controlled backlight/edge light on the subject as he sleeps would probably be your best bet for keeping the overall scene low-key, whilst still being able to clearly discern your subject.

 

I do have a fresnel. I don’t have a snoot, but could I maybe make one out of some cinefoil or something? I’ve got some of that. 
 

also, there still needs to be SOME light in the scene though, right? The viewer needs to at least see that he’s lying in a bed and not just suspended in darkness. Maybe not necessarily see a detailed picture on the wall, but that there is a picture on the wall. 

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6 hours ago, Justin Oakley said:

I do have a fresnel. I don’t have a snoot, but could I maybe make one out of some cinefoil or something? I’ve got some of that. 
 

also, there still needs to be SOME light in the scene though, right? The viewer needs to at least see that he’s lying in a bed and not just suspended in darkness. Maybe not necessarily see a detailed picture on the wall, but that there is a picture on the wall. 

You do, but it sounds like what you’re trying to create is an impression of darkness, and in a white/light-coloured room, that rarely requires adding much light to the background itself, as it’ll pick up and reflect whatever small amount of light you do put in (say to light your subject).

It’s the trickiest aspect of low-key lighting - highlighting/revealing what you do need the audience to see, whilst keeping enough light off the environment surrounding them, that you can maintain the impression of darkness. 

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If you forget the real arrangement of the room, since you aren't seeing either the door or the window in this shot, what would be an interesting lighting design?

For example, I can imagine one where a bright slash of door light falls on the man's face (to see his reaction) and the killer is silhouetted by a glow on the wall behind them from some off-camera window. You could even flip the shot around so that the door is in the background and the hallway light backlights the bed when the door opens, or hits the man and the killer is framed against the bright door.

Or I can image a slash of window light that is always on the man and bed, but off of everything else, and then the door way off to one side creates a slash on the wall next to the bed and the killer is silhouetted against that bright slash. 

Or I can imagine a shot done at night where the bed is backlight through the window, which is framed in the shot, and the light is falling on the man's face throughout.

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3 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

If you forget the real arrangement of the room, since you aren't seeing either the door or the window in this shot, what would be an interesting lighting design?

For example, I can imagine one where a bright slash of door light falls on the man's face (to see his reaction) and the killer is silhouetted by a glow on the wall behind them from some off-camera window. You could even flip the shot around so that the door is in the background and the hallway light backlights the bed when the door opens, or hits the man and the killer is framed against the bright door.

Or I can image a slash of window light that is always on the man and bed, but off of everything else, and then the door way off to one side creates a slash on the wall next to the bed and the killer is silhouetted against that bright slash. 

Or I can imagine a shot done at night where the bed is backlight through the window, which is framed in the shot, and the light is falling on the man's face throughout.

I really like the idea of reversing the shot. Or the very first example you provided. 
It kind of sucks that it’s such a small room too. I understand that it’s important to have an “establishing” shot to keep the audience oriented. That’s where I’m kind of intimidated by how I’m going to make this work. Pretty much every example you gave I kind of smack my head because I’ve already filmed another sequence in the same room. And turning the set around might disorient (?). It’s not a super wide shot revealing a whole lot, but it gives a pretty good idea of the layout. 
 

this is a shot sequence with a reverse OTS showing the doorway in relation to the bed. He’s watching the boy’s shadow through the light leaking under the door...as he roams the halls at all hours of the night. 

 

7B45C8DC-01CA-4489-8EB4-A5173F4E1778.jpeg

E7B6D5C3-F721-410C-A6E3-7A96C23FC5C1.jpeg

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In the shot of him sitting on the bed you can just baaaarely see the edge of the window. So I wonder if I can motivate a light from that general direction (without blasting the walls), elevate the camera height a bit and shoot the scene from there. Keeping the shaft of doorway light—cut like you said with a topper. Obviously the practical won’t be on. 
 

sorry. I know this is probably a basic setup but for some reason it’s the bane of my existence. Anything in a room with some practicals I’m sort of ok with figuring out. But this nighttime stuff is a real ball buster. I just see a lot of low budget stuff that involves creating this unrealistic blue atmosphere that is somehow supposed to emulate evening time. But he just looks overdone and fake as hell to me. 

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11 minutes ago, Justin Oakley said:

I really like the idea of reversing the shot. Or the very first example you provided. 
It kind of sucks that it’s such a small room too. I understand that it’s important to have an “establishing” shot to keep the audience oriented. That’s where I’m kind of intimidated by how I’m going to make this work. Pretty much every example you gave I kind of smack my head because I’ve already filmed another sequence in the same room. And turning the set around might disorient (?). It’s not a super wide shot revealing a whole lot, but it gives a pretty good idea of the layout. 
 

this is a shot sequence with a reverse OTS showing the doorway in relation to the bed. He’s watching the boy’s shadow through the light leaking under the door...as he roams the halls at all hours of the night. 

 

7B45C8DC-01CA-4489-8EB4-A5173F4E1778.jpeg

E7B6D5C3-F721-410C-A6E3-7A96C23FC5C1.jpeg

These two frames look pretty good!

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It's always problematic to me when you have a night interior lit with moonlight or streetlight and you never see the window with the light coming through it -- sure, it happens sometimes but it always looks more motivated when you see where the light is coming from.

If you flipped the bed to the opposite wall so that the hallway door is closer to being in the background behind the head on the pillow, I think you'd need much less light before the door opens.

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5 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

These two frames look pretty good!

Damn. Thanks man! 
so I want to get a pretty good look like this...but 86 the practical and I’ll be content. 

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On 8/20/2020 at 10:53 PM, David Mullen ASC said:

If you flipped the bed to the opposite wall so that the hallway door is closer to being in the background behind the head on the pillow, I think you'd need much less light before the door opens.

This reminded me a shot in "Mrs Maisel" since I just watched it (I'm not sure it's ok to post screenshots so here's link to some website showing it: https://recapguide.com/recap/567/The-Marvelous-Mrs-Maisel/season-1/episode-4/#50). Here the shot was cool and got warm as the door was opened (warm lights on dimmers I assume) and then back to cool as it was closed again.

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Yes, I had a scene with a bed in the foreground that wasn't near the window but I did a soft backlight from above using a half-blue Litemat 2L, plus some half-blue light raking through the window across the background. Next to the Litemat 2L above was a second softlight, maybe a tungsten light in a long skinny Chimera, that dimmed up when the door to the kitchen in the background opened to suggest the room got brighter from the spill from the next room:

maisel16.jpg

maisel17.jpg

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1 hour ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Yes, I had a scene with a bed in the foreground that wasn't near the window but I did a soft backlight from above using a half-blue Litemat 2L, plus some half-blue light raking through the window across the background. Next to the Litemat 2L above was a second softlight, maybe a tungsten light in a long skinny Chimera, that dimmed up when the door to the kitchen in the background opened to suggest the room got brighter from the spill from the next room:

maisel16.jpg

maisel17.jpg

Sir David, Love the way you moulded the face of the person on bed with a soft top light (on both looks). I feel the light on the white table could have been reduced or altogether cut off ..and just let the light on the flower vase and door way. More intense focus would have been there for the face which is slightly getting robbed by the white table of draws. This is significant only in the first shot. Love the way the chair gets a highlight (adding 3 dimensional quality)  along with increasing the depth with the backlight for the person at the open door. The best part is the 'Eye light' of the person in bed really captures the mood of that character without a single word uttered. Also am thinking do we need that much light on the pillow!? am i being too finicky! Thanks for sharing the images...it got me to do some 'lighting in head' after a while. 🙂

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Not sure I had the room to fly a net flag between the soft light and the upstage 1/3 pillow because of the headroom, but it's possible -- sometimes on the day you just don't have the time for more flags and stands. It might have been nice to silhouette her more before the door opens but she is thinking before and after the door is open and I didn't want to not see her performance or have people scrambling in post to "fix" the shot because they decided they needed to see her expression in the dark.

Unfortunately I couldn't really have the moonlight rake down high from the window on the left and hit the mother in the doorway without also hitting the white desk (and white chair and white door frame!) I probably already had a net flag bottomer on the desk, but take the light completely off of the desk and there is not much for the light to hit back there and it couldn't reach her in that bed and there was no mid-ground area for the light to hit. That's the problem with white objects on a set, they never go dark enough. I would have preferred the moonlight rake the wall above desk instead but the window cut the light off of most of that wall and there's a fire escape staircase outside that window that limits how much you can move the light side to side.

I also try to avoid ending up in a night shot like this where the actor's face is lit and the background is completely dark because it starts to look too theatrical, I'd rather have some depth which is why if I could have done it, a silhouette against a moonlit background might have been nice if I didn't need to see her eyes and expression.

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