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Lighting FAQ

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Lighting basics

  • “Hard” or “soft” light characterizes the shadow appearance.
  • In general, the larger, more diffused the light source, the softer the light quality.
  • There is no rule as to when to use hard or soft light for a shot or scene, and there is no correct or incorrect method.
  • While soft light is more forgiving when lighting people, hard light can be used to produce dramatic shadows and attractive lighting effects.
  • The primary light source (the key light) generally sets the softness of the light.
  • Color Temperature & Color Rendering Index: Candle (1800K), Incandescent (2800K), Thungsten Halogen (3200K), Household Fluorescend (~4500K), Noon Sunlight (5600K), Shade (8000K), Skylight (12000K)
  • Key, fill, separation (“hair”), and background lights.
    • The key light is the primary light source for the subject area of the image. Its technical purpose is to produce a level of light that will permit proper exposure. You can place it anywhere you want, but a common placement is about 45 degrees to either side of the camera, about 45 degrees up from the subject, and above the camera.
    • The fill light is an additional light source designed to fill in the shadow areas created by the key source. Note, that reflectors and white foam core boards may be used, instead of a separate “fill” light to fill the shadows.
    • The separation light, or back, or hair light, is designed to help visually separate the subject(s) from the background.
    • The background light can be the first or final light to be set for a scene or shot, depending upon the importance of the background lighting in the scene and your lighting style. It’s extremely helpful to have barn doors on this light, so you can control the direction of the light and prevent it from accidentally spraying light in the camera lens. Attach this light to a dimmer.
  • Creating Dimension:
    • Lighting is the tool to make a 2D image —the frame projected on a screen—appear three-dimensional. To create a convincing three-dimensional image, the subjects and layers of the scene must be separated from each other. This is accomplished with light or color, creating contrasts of light against dark or dark against light, and by strategic placement of lights and color elements.
  • Realistic (“Naturalism”) vs. Unrealistic (“Pictorialism”) lighting
    • “Natural” look (interviews, documentaries, etc.) follows the logical positioning of light sources in a scene and is often referred to as motivated lighting. For example, when two people are photographed facing each other in an exterior daylight scene, and one person is backlit, the other person should be in full sunlight.
    • Stylized “Unrealistic” lighting (fantasy, sci-fi, art-house movies) that bear little resemblance to real life: strong colored lights, heavy shadows, lights coming from strange places, unexpected pools of light, and so on. Pictorialism allows the use of light angles that violate Naturalism’s logic for artistic effect. Though not realistic, both people might be backlit simply because it looks better.
  • High-key lighting is predominantly bright and allows few dark areas or shadows within the scene. This kind of lighting features strong illumination on the subject and often an equally exposed background.
  • Low-key lighting (Mostly darks shots)
    • Shoot a scene where much of the screen is dark, allowing the audience to focus on one small part of the shot. Low-key lighting enhances depth by using contrasting tones of highlights and shadow. Only a few areas are lit at or above key, resulting in more shadow areas.
    • “Night”/ Dark lighting setup in daylight can be considered as one of the low-key techniques. Useful if background is dull and/or you want to add depth of field to the scene and to focus the viewer on the main subject(s). Underexpose the scene and add a couple of front lights.
  • Faking lighting continuity
    • Shoot a scene with several different lighting setups -reset the light for each scene- but make it look consistent. The aim is to make every shot look as good as it can, and create a pleasing visual composition. In some scenes, a character may be lit from completely different directions, or may have different colored lighting on them. If it’s done well, the audience will never notice the lack of continuity.
  • Moving lights
    • Light a scene, but have the lights moving so that the lighting changes during the scene. This allows to create atmosphere, as part of the story or as a way of creating a reveal. For example, a light bulb swinging from side to side, or a flashing neon sign to create a disorienting feel, you could light a stage show, or you may have car headlights swing past, light up the scene, and then disappear again as the car pulls away.
  • Handheld Lights
    • For example, a character using a burning torch to illuminate a cave. The torch only provides part of the light: the set is lit with a dim glow in order to provide some lighting outside the area that would actually be lit and create a more pleasing composition. Cutting to the close shot creates a contract in light levels, from the primarily dark screens at the opening and closing to a brighter shot in the middle of the sequence.
  • Silhouettes
    • Silhouettes can be a way to add drama to a scene. Place a dominant, key light at the back of the scene.
  • Shadows
  • Type of fixtures that hold lamps:
    • Open-faced and Fresnel-lensed lights – hard light;
    • PAR lights use parabolic reflectors, and are available in various beam spreads from narrow to wide, they allow for selective, controlled subject lighting
    • Light Banks—PAR lights mounted in multi-unit configurations, usually from 6-light up to 36-light, light large areas with diffusion—a large soft source
  • Light subtraction and modification:
    • Softbank, frost - light-softerners
    • Barn doors on the light sources control the width of the light. They’re used to prevent unwanted shadows or to create shadows where we do want them. They offer greater control in the “flood” position of the lighting unit.
  • Lamp types:
    • Tungsten
    • Fluorescent
    • Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide (HMI)
    • Light Emitting Diode (LED)
    • Light Emitting Plasma (LEP)
  • Reflections and reflectors
  • Tips and DIY cheap solutions:
    • Dimmers. By changing intensity of the tungsten light, you change its temperature, thus the light color.
    • Batten strip/Covered Wagon/Strip light: These are increasingly cheap to make and the most versatile. These consist of pony cleat porcelain sockets, wired in a series, and screwed into a strip of batten (any length you want). Zip wire (18/2 wire) and quickons are all you need to wire them together (if you're feeling ambitious throw a rotary dimmer on the end of it). You can use regular household Edison incandescent bulbs on this fixture just make sure you don't go over the max amperage of the wire. After you've done the electrical business, take a piece of chicken wire and extended it over the bulbs along the length of your fixture, leaving a couple of inches between the chicken wire and bulbs. This not only makes it safer but also allows you to affix diffusion to the fixture thus; covered wagon.
    • Chinese Lanterns/ China Balls: offer an inexpensive, yet very efficient way, of creating a soft light source. They can be used off-camera, and yet when needed, they can be placed within a scene as a practical light. Affix the lantern over a bare bulb socket (make your own or steal one from a clip light or lamp).
    • Clip lights: These are great low budget back lights. You can also cover the front with a lot of diffusion to make what so-called a “basher”; small diffused fill with a lot of punch.
camera-usage/lighting-faq.txt · Last modified: 2016/10/18 06:06 by vitaliy_kiselev