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Is it common to opt for a harder light when wanting more contrast?


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If my intention is to have a soft but contrasty image and I am lighting a subjects face with a 8x8 diffusion frame and find that it is wrapping too much light into the fill side of the face (even with a negative fill lets say), is it considered good technique to then switch to a harder (but still soft) light such as a 4x4 diffusion frame? and if the problem persists, keep going smaller or increasing the distance of the light (harder) until I get the right compromise? Or would it be better technique to use more flags or change position of the light to be more a more 180 degrees from the subjects key side? or perhaps something else?

Hope that makes sense, many thanks!

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It would depend on what else is in the scene if it's not just a face for an interview. I use flags to prevent light spill onto the background resulting from big sources, never really considered using them to change the quality of the key light on the primary subject.

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The bigger the key, the more you have to move it side-ier to keep the shadow side dark. You may then need to add a dimmer fill light on the key side or a frontal eye light to keep the eyes from going black.

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Here are some soft side-lit portraits, the key for the first three frames is a 2K open face tunsten lamp thru 8x8 Bleached Muslin. For the last three frames, the 2K is replaced with an S-60 Skypanel thru 8x8 Bleached Muslin.

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6 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

The bigger the key, the more you have to move it side-ier to keep the shadow side dark. You may then need to add a dimmer fill light on the key side or a frontal eye light to keep the eyes from going black.

Ah brilliant, thanks! The portraits look great. How soft of a fill light did you use on the key side? Or if you used a frontal eye light, what kind of source was used for the portraits? Cheers

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7 hours ago, imran qureshi said:

Ah brilliant, thanks! The portraits look great. How soft of a fill light did you use on the key side? Or if you used a frontal eye light, what kind of source was used for the portraits? Cheers

Thanks for the kind words, Imran. 

01. Has a hard frontal fill light from a dimmed-down Dedolight 150w tungsten, which doubling as an eye light. No other fill or negative, as we are in a dark studio. 

02. Has a hard strip light across the eyes, similar to 01. I used the Dedo again with a DP2 projector to cut a strip across both eyes, diffused with the DP Eyeset filters to feather the edges of the cut. There’s also a low beadboard with another Dedo bounced into it for fill. *I added Fire Red gel to this light, as I was playing with mixed color temperatures for this project. 

03. Same as 02, except no eye light this time, so just key and low beadboard.

04 - 06. Key only, plus a soft kicker from camera left. I don’t remember what the unit was specifically. 

Edited by Satsuki Murashige
*Added info
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On 1/27/2021 at 2:54 AM, imran qureshi said:

If my intention is to have a soft but contrasty image and I am lighting a subjects face with a 8x8 diffusion frame and find that it is wrapping too much light into the fill side of the face (even with a negative fill lets say),

A couple of other things you can try:

Use a smaller light source in closer.
If you bring a smaller light source close enough that it subtends the same angle as the larger one did, it won't be any harder on the subject, but light will fall off more quickly because if the inverse square law, so you can direct it more at where you want it to fall and away from where you don't want it (the far side of the face).

Use a different sort of light modifier
It may be that your diffusion frame setup is bouncing light about the room and filling in where you don't want on the subject. A gridded soft box can be equally soft, but only go where you want it to.
You might try a beauty dish too, I've heard them described as a "soft hard light source" - that won't help much in visualising but if you search for examples you'll see what it means.

 

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Satsuki's photos all have the subject looking straight at camera. 

The direction the subject is looking can make a big difference as to what is the best lighting. In narrative it's more common for characters to look off camera, and in that situation a light further around to the side can work better.

 

 

Edited by Mei Lewis
(Spelling corrections)
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