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Old March 20th, 2013, 08:56 AM   #1
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My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

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Originally Posted by Art Adams
Recently I taught my first lighting class, for Abel Cine, at Sony DMPC in Culver City, California. It got me thinking about how I know what I know about lighting, and why I seem to be able to explain it.

One of the worst lessons I learned in film school was three-point lighting.
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Old March 20th, 2013, 10:57 AM   #2
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Great little article. Excellent suggestions for newer shooters. For me, it's always been about figuring out what my heroes did (Dean Cundey in particular) to achieve their shots.
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Old March 24th, 2013, 12:01 PM   #3
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

The one big thing I got out of that article was to stand on set and look at what light is coming in. In fact that seems like a good game to be playing all the time... wherever I am, I can think about what does my face look like right now due to the light I can see falling on it. Then I can pull out a mirror or iphone and see.

Last edited by Tom Morrow; March 24th, 2013 at 12:44 PM.
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Old March 24th, 2013, 03:27 PM   #4
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

I agree - it was a good article. The rules like three point lighting can be a good standard starting point, kinda like a cookie cutter. Same goes for the rule of thirds. But when every picture is different one needs to think about what the message is and adjust accordingly.

It is obvious that Art Adams puts a lot of effort into how a scene should be lit and then he knows how to do it.

Chris: Thanks for the post and getting me to think more about my lighting.
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Old March 24th, 2013, 04:09 PM   #5
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

It is indeed a good article.

Over the past five years or so technology has allowed more people with less experience to make better looking images. A log or raw camera is much more forgiving of exposure than one with 709 baked in...once-exotic "toys" have been emulated and cranked out into inexpensive indie versions...sophisticated color correction is available for all. But the one thing that has not become any easier to achieve is great lighting. The process is still the same: add or subtract light, one step at a time.

30 years ago while still a teenager I tackled my first lighting gig, a video for MADD. Someone was to walk through a door. I pulled out the two Smith Victor open face lights and put one in each corner of the room behind camera aimed at the door. Of course it looked terrible, two shadows opposing each other cascading down from the doorknob. I felt helpless as I couldn't figure out how to erase the shadows.

Over the next few years I watched and learned and slowly, it started to make sense. There's nothing quite like standing on a street in broad daylight and telling your gaffer that you want to put a condor with 18K by that building two blocks away, blondes coming off every other streetlight etc and then a few days later, seeing it all come to life and look just like you saw it in your head. But to get there, it takes a lot of experimentation and analyzing and really,being obssessed with lighting, for a good long while.

It's pretty much the most fun part of my job.
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Old March 24th, 2013, 11:50 PM   #6
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

I enjoyed reading this very much as well.

Only one little thing bothered me - and only a tiny bit.

In a few places, the author seems to contrast video production with photography and perhaps subtly implies that the photographer has things "easier" somehow.

Actually, in some areas and ways this may be true. They are, after all, trying to capture a "moment" rather than a scene full of content. Also they have access to huge bursts of light via flash apparatus that can generate more than an HMI's output with a small battery powered device.

But I think we do both our industry and the photographic industry a disservice if we begin to think that our particular job is somehow more difficult to that of the still photographer simply because parts of ours may be less forgiving and more complex in some areas.

Remember, as hard as we work in motion content production, we typically sally forth with massive amounts of CONTROL in our hands. We rely on grip gear and generators and camera rigs and a thousand other tools to provide that control. We don't expect to be given a chance to perfect things at the time of image capture. But often, the still photographer has a fraction of a second to get everything from framing to exposure to focus PERFECT if they are to succeed.

I guess I'm sensitive to the idea that one art form is ever "easier" than another. Thousands shoot video and film. Thousands compose music or play instruments. Thousands try their hands at painting and sculpture and dance - but in the end, only a small fraction of practitioners of any art ever get near the top of the heap.

And I think that this reality is every bit as true for photographers as it is for those of us who are moving picture creators.

FWW.
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Old March 25th, 2013, 04:12 PM   #7
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Bill - I enjoyed reading YOUR post very much (as well). This (your post) has got me thinking and, frankly, I'm not sure which way to go on this so maybe I'll just ramble along with some thoughts.

In the olden days (my daughter might call them the prehistoric days), man took his horse-drawn wagon cart complete with darkroom out in the field to take pictures and develop them. Back then there was a Civil War going on in the US and the pictures had various names but one of them was tintypes. I'm not sure what they used for lighting (have to keep this on topic) but based on all the gear, from horses to horse tack, to tripod for the camera, developing tanks, etc., it must have been complicated. As an aside, many of those pictures survive even to today but with progress our digital media might not survive a single decade on a blu-ray disc.

The talent had to say perfectly still for the durration of the exposure back then so time was not of the essence and the photographer could plan everything out almost like an artist doing a portrait. Wonder if they had the discussion then about who's job was easier? Well, the artist could say "I do it in color!", I suppose.

Moving along (skipping earlier video and the Laurel & Hardey movies), it took quite awhile for 35mm to really kick in as a format. Even into the late 1950s and early 1960s, 4x5 was pretty much THE format for photography (press cameras) and to some extent even 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 was classified as "miniature" format. Hasselblad was one of the cameras to have or a twin-lens. Hollywood was using 35mm so in the early 60s it was common for photographers to buy 100-ft rolls of film and "roll their own" using a changer bag but the norm was for B&W film. In the mid/late '50s an amateur videographer used 8-mm (audio was rare) and the more professional videographer was into 16-mm (Bolex). The amateur videographer may have used one video light and Hollywood was where the big-time pros were at. Not sure of Art's age but he may have been born somewhere about this time.

A Sekonic (the light meter maker) "Elmatic 8" circa early 1960s: Home Page | Kitsap Video Club
"Look Ma, no batteries!" Power was from a spring and the light meter ran off a solar cell.
The photographer was able to trade up from their 35mm Argus "the brick" and buy a Japanese-made SLR at the prosumer level. Exacta was a popular 35mm import. The purists were still using rangefinders (the mirror of the SLR caused camera shake) and if they were rich they had a Leica. A Weston light meter would help with exposure (no TTL yet). The US Navy photographers as recent as 1967 (and maybe later) were still using 4x5 formats with B&W film on a daily basis and I'm not sure how much effort they put into lighting. Basically, the standard lighting rig was a camera-mounted flash using single-use bulbs, press reporter style. Those who worked in the darkroom would learn to "paint with light" by blocking areas during the exposure process.

Hollywood made good use of lighting and I can see how Art could have picked this up as an interest. Even, maybe especially, the B&W movies used light effectively because of the monocrome format. Lighting really enhanced the dramatic look of a scene in these B&W movies. Hollywood, back then, probably had the best of the best lighting people and directors in the US movie industry. Europe, and especially Germany, was producing some technically great movies in the 1930s but in both areas there was a huge gap between the professional and the typical amateur.

Based on what I've seen in the movies, it looked to me like professional video in the movie industry was pretty well choreographed. They went from the storyboard to the shoot and everyone had their lines and knew what they were supposed to do up front, at least that is what it looked like to me. On a movie set, the difference between a still photographer and a videographer, then, seems to be more of a continuum.

What do we have today? On TV, a program called "The Amazing Race"? This one gives me a headache. There can be three shots in the blink of an eye. Much of it consists of jerky hand-held shots. Lighting? They probably have one. Just grab a bunch of footage, throw in some glitzy location scenes, and send it into be edited and presto! Now you have something you can sell to the advertisers. All I can say is, different strokes for different folks. Click. Next channel.

Getting back to the thread, though, Bill has a point. Both jobs can be difficult if one puts the effort into learning the craft and applying one's artistic abilities. Personally, I'd give the edge to videography as being the most difficult, and here's why.

In math one goes from one math level to another, addition & substraction to multiplication & division, to algebra, geometry, trig, calculus, differential equations, etc. Each level builds on the previous and expands on what can be computed. Then with physical bodies, there are "degrees of freedom". One can do statics in a single plane two-dimensional situation or dynamics in a spacial three-dimensional situation. Everything being equal, the three-dimensional situation is much more difficult situation.

Videography has the time element all the time while photography pretty much does not. In the case where one wants to capture a still picture of a moving object, that could be considered a grey area but mostly, with cameras made since the mid '60s, they have motor drives so one can just rattle off the frames.

One of the "tricks" with photography is to just take lots of pictures and out of the bunch select the best shot. Back when (late 50s), processing a color negative and a print was quite expensive so one had to be very careful with each shot, but not so today, especially with digital. The big expense with digital is storing all the files because it's soo easy to rattle the shots off and so hard to select which ones to delete!

In target practice, one has a stationary target. In skeet shooting the target moves and one knows where it is coming from and where it is going. But in hunting, there is definitely the moving target. One can be really good at shooting a stationary target but lousy at hunting. I would liken photography to the stationary target or perhaps skeet shooting, but videography to hunting. Videography is definitely like a moving target. Even with a storyboard it is more difficult than the skeet shooting analogy.

Degrees of freedom? Script writing, storyboarding, lighting, audio (remember, 2/3rds of good video is good audio!), talent, directing, editing, and .... oh yes, almost forgot, video.

Photography doesn't have any audio. None. Zero. Grip? what's that???

Thanks, Bill (and Chris), as you can see I really enjoyed this.

Last edited by John Nantz; March 26th, 2013 at 04:36 AM. Reason: 2-1/4 x 2-1/4, not 2-1/4 x 1-1/4, added Weston light meter
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Old March 25th, 2013, 04:31 PM   #8
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Back in the olden days when the 5D first broke (haha, oh so long ago), I did a number of jobs with Vincent Laforet. One was essentially a corporate and we did a number of interviews which I lit, and he would then shoot still portraits which he'd do with strobes. He used to comment that he found it interesting how I would light both the subject and the background, where he was used to just focusing on the subject. I in turn marveled that he could get it all done with the big strobe sources and no cutters or shaping. But of course I came from shooting most interviews on 2/3" cameras and the notion of the background falling out of focus so deeply that it just became a blur of tones was pretty unusual (although we'd try our hardest).
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Old March 25th, 2013, 05:55 PM   #9
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

A very good article

One of the best studio photographers I know is Bret Lucas of F-Stop Studios in Auckland

Biography - Fstop Studios - light it right

To say Bret is obsessed with light would be an understatement. He once told me a story about standing in the hallway of his home for twenty minutes trying to work out why the SET (Shadow Edge Transfer) was greater in one axis than the other. He worked out that it was because the main light source was a strip light that was obviously long and thin, so the SET would depend on the angle of the light to whatever he was looking at in the hallway.

I've run lighting workshops locally, attended by several of the local pro photographers, and have attended a two day lighting workshop run by Bret. He managed to teach me things I didn't know, and I was able to give him tips on some of the product photography I do commercially. Especially bottle shots that I do for the local wine and craft beer industry. It's a big subject, but IMO a lot of it boils down to understanding angles, and the 'family of angles' - as laid down in Fil Hunter's excellent book, 'Light Science & Magic'. Essential reading folk learning about product photography.

Is lighting a black art? I don't think so, but it can be complex, and even if you have a feel for it, there's a lot of 'job knowledge' involved. Getting back to Bret Lucas, he is a deep thinker who likes to know why things work. He is also a bit left field, and I've seen him set up his lighting in a way I've never seen anywhere else, but when you see it, you think 'Hey. What a great idea!'. Two of my favourite stills photographers are David Hobby (we'll try not to hold the Strobist movement against him) and Joe McNally. What I like about them is their ability to think on their feet, and overcome problems. I can remember being most impressed with David Hobby turning his camera upside down to make use of a faster than flash sync speed shutter.

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Old March 26th, 2013, 06:17 PM   #10
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Hi all-

Sorry I didn't weigh in sooner, I'm getting the hang of the forums here on DVInfo. I check so much email every day that until I learn how to streamline something it takes me a while to get into the groove of a new information source.

I certainly didn't mean to belittle still photographers in general. There are many amazing still photographers who shooting stunning images that I couldn't come close to matching.

But...

Most of the still photographers I've run into tend to light big and broad and focus completely on the subject itself. They don't interpret it through lighting at all. They will interpret through framing, cropping, exposure, contrast, printing, etc. but many times the lighting is meant to illuminate a subject that is already pretty interesting on its own.

There are still photographers out there who do very dramatic work, but those don't seem to be the ones I run into. Especially rare are the few, like Vince LaForet, who can master both stills and motion. On a number of occasions I've worked with still photographers-turned-directors who just don't get motion at all. They come onto the set thinking they know 95% of what's going on because they've spent 20 years shooting stills, and they really only know 5%. Motion and stills work are very, very different, and it's really hard trying to teach them that. Generally they want to shoot fast and impulsively, and sometimes that works in motion... and other times it really, really doesn't.

The point I was trying to make is that, in my opinion, it's much easier to be right brain dominant in still photography because it's you and a camera and a subject, and the rest is up to your spontaneity and your vision. You can get engrossed in the complexities of lighting and craft a truly provocative and moving image, or you can do the same by shooting the right moment with the right subject from the right position. In motion we're thinking about continuity, telling a story sequentially, keeping lighting consistent, and crafting a mood. One still photo can stand on its own, and you can shoot lots and lots of shots to capture that one amazing image. When I go to work, on the other hand, every image has to be amazing and I generally have to know what it's going to look like in advance and then deliver. Sometimes I shoot entirely with natural light, but most times I have to make it.

So I'm not denigrating still photographers at all. Most can shoot rings around me when it comes to stills. I'm reasonably good at stills but not amazing. But... when I do shoot stills I light the heck out of them, and they look really good from that perspective. The still photographer whose studio I rent doesn't quite know what to make of me. I don't work the way he does. But then he doesn't have national spots on his reel and I don't have several hundred photo books about Burning Man adorning coffee tables across the U.S. the way he does. When he shoots those images it's just him and a camera, and he does amazing work... but he doesn't light them.

I do think that, to a certain extent, still photography is easier from a lighting perspective partially because many still photographers don't light, and when they do light they can carry the sun in a briefcase. And I think that, because of that simplicity, they tend to be a bit more right brain than a lot of cinematographers are, because we have to juggle a lot more to make our shots happen whereas they often don't. That's not saying still photographers are lesser artists because some aspects may not be as physically challenging... it's just different.

Still photography sets are very interesting places. The power structure is almost entirely vertical: typically there's a still photographer, a stylist and a bunch of PAs, and most of the action is around the still photographer and the model/models.

Personally I'd love to see Vince LaForet light a set. I'm sure I'd learn tons. He does amazing work.
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Old March 26th, 2013, 08:17 PM   #11
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

An interesting take on the subject,, and I wonder how it pans out with other notable still photoghers who have gone the Motion route? Bill Simone has long been a favourite stills photographer of mine, and has a portfolio of dramtic images with that Dave Hill Chase Jarvis look. But the thing with a lot of their work is it that it constructed bit by bit and put together in post. Bill was an early Red user, and calls himself a DP nowadays, but I can't say as I've seen any of his moving pictures:

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Old April 4th, 2013, 01:27 AM   #12
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Just to add a few more thoughts...

I've actually been shooting as much in stills as video the past year. (Probably because my quite handsom adopted teenage son has a lot of friends of both sexes who are equally attractive, and when they found out I have a studio, they started asking me if I'd do portraits and portfolio shots for them - so I found myself with access to a free cadre of models and therefore, an easy way to study more photography. So I've been doing two to three studio still shoots a month for the past six months.

First, as a 20 year plus video guy, yep, I'm hugely envious that I can explode a ball of light in a fraction of a second that makes exposure and aperture manipulation trivial compared to video!

But it's also caused me to think quite a bit about how I work when I'm doing stills compared to how I work when I'm doing video.

And for me, the major difference is that with studio stills, it's a process of refinement and adjustment, trial and error that's incredibly focused and relentless - leading to the moment that I feel I've solved my technical problems. Then there's a kind of a wild freedom where I get to totally concentrate on directing my subject and trying to search out that decisive exposure. That process for me is very intense.

Actually MORE intense than rolling the camera in video. Maybe it's just because I've been shooting video so much longer. But I actually work a LOT harder when I'm shooting stills than I do when I'm shooting video. Well, not harder, but more intensely. It's like video is a distance run and stills are more a sprint for me.

But the funny thing is - when I'm done with a video shoot - I'm seldom as physically wiped out as I am when I finish a photo shoot. It's more like a long trot, rather than a series of sprints trying to manipulate everything to be perfectly ready when the model hits his or her stride and is exactly where I want to see them.

Is video more complex? Probably. But it's also strangely passive. You know there's no one decisive moment that you can easily miss. Just a whole performance that unfolds somewhat leisurely over time that needs to both advance the story and be more than solid enough technically to make work in post - where it will always be surrounded by other content.

But that still shot? I know it's destined to be be stared at, picked apart, scrutinized in a way the video really never will.

So I think in some ways, there's even more on the line.

Or maybe I'm over thinking this stuff. But it's how I see the two disciplines at the moment.

The more I shoot stills, the more I respect both crafts. And the more I realize that it's damn hard to reach excellence in either.

FWIW.
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Old May 26th, 2013, 11:14 PM   #13
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

I am often asking myself why so many people don't just LOOK at the lighting and instead want to apply some formula to it.

I recently lit a studio set (green screen with two people talking) and a young colleague looked at the lights, counted them and said "so... you do a 6-point lighting here?" - and I wanted to say well, no, it is not really 6 points, because these two are an edge light and these two are fills and then there's this additional fill... but then I realized he wasn't gonna listen to it anyways and just memorize the angles and amounts of lights. What he wouldn't be memorizing at all was the intensity and softness/hardness of each light, which I didn't choose by some ratio from a book, but by looking at it. No meters, just looking.
Our own eyes are the best tools when it comes to lighting! :)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Davis View Post
But that still shot? I know it's destined to be be stared at, picked apart, scrutinized in a way the video really never will.
That is totally true! A still shot needs to be really perfect because it is not going to go away after just a few seconds!
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Old May 26th, 2013, 11:43 PM   #14
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Quote:
Originally Posted by Art Adams View Post
There are still photographers out there who do very dramatic work, but those don't seem to be the ones I run into.
Gregory Crewdson comes to mind... however he is probably more of a painter/set designer/lighting artist than a normal photographer. Anyways, he does these amazing stills:

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Old May 27th, 2013, 10:36 AM   #15
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re: My First Lighting Class; or How I Learned to Light

Quote:
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Personally I'd love to see Vince LaForet light a set. I'm sure I'd learn tons. He does amazing work.
Vincent and I worked together on a few combined video/still jobs in the heyday of the DSLR era (whenever that was--2010 I guess). I'd light the video aspect and then he lit the still components, with strobes. I was always interested to watch that part of it because I've never worked with strobes myself. He used to marvel at the fact that I would shape the light all through the set because his MO was to find a decent background and then just light the foreground (since the background would generally just be soft anyway). He has a fantastic eye, of course, but meticulously lighting a set from front to back is not what he's most interested in--these days, it's mostly directing.
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