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Old November 19th, 2007, 02:07 AM   #1
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Lighting a book reading

I've been asked to make a video of a local author reading selections from her new book. She and her husband are close personal friends of mine and I'd like to make a nice DVD for them

There are a couple of challenges that I think are different from a normal interview situation so I'd like some thoughts on how you might light this.

Because she'll be reading, her head will mostly be tipped fairly far forward, although she will occasionally raise her head to look more directly at the camera. But a lot of it will be rather face down and I don't particularly want to light the top of her head better than her face!

This whole thing is also complicated by the fact that she has advanced MS and only has the use of one arm and is permanently in an electric wheelchair, so asking her to sit up and look more at the camera or lean a bit to the side etc won't work. She'll basically be in whatever position her chair supports her in. Also, because she can't use both hands, her husband will be sitting with her and holding the book on her lap and turning the pages for her

So we'll need to do a decent lighting job on him too. He'll be turned toward her from her left and also mostly looking down at the book in her lap.

I was thinking of fairly low camera position and a softbox or fluorescent fixture with diffusion to the left of the camera, but just slightly above her head height. She'll be facing pretty much straight on toward the camera, but her husband will be turned more toward the light.

I think because of the downward tilt of the faces I'll need some secondary lighting/reflection from below. I had thought of possibly placing a white sheet on the floor to get at least some reflection up into the faces. If she could sit at a desk to do the reading, a reflector of some sort on the desk might work, but that's out of the question in this situation.

I'm a little puzzled by what to do about backlighting/hair lighting, but am thinking to skip it as it might add to the problem of lighting the tops of their heads too much.

Haven't thought too much about lighting for the background yet.

Any comments/suggestions would be most welcome
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Old November 19th, 2007, 06:53 PM   #2
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I don't think there's anything unique about the setup you describe. Adapt standard 3-point lighting principles to the situation. Hair/Back/Kicker lights are critical for separating your subjects from the background. If the subject is bald, use barn doors so the light stops before it gets to the top of his head but still lights shoulders.

I think a big annoyance to viewers will be reflections from the wheelchair or glasses. An approach I thought of when reading your post was to use a black void setup. That is, the background and floor is black and you light up the subject however you want (see attached). This setup was based on a collapsible 8'x8' backdrop by Botero with an 8' train for the floor. The nice thing about it is that you don't get shadows on the black which means you can put lights in places that you normally wouldn't.

I've recently developed an appreciation for what many refer to as "painting with light" where you control spill and put light only where you want it. I quickly run out of small under 100w lights but the results are spectacular.

Visually, your subject seems like a boring one to look at for very long. Multiple camera angles will create some interest. Maybe use a camera move on a jib or dolly at the opener of each chapter. Have some sections re-read using a close up shot.....

Here's a site with great instructional articles on lighting:
http://bluesky-web.com/new-page6.html
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Old November 19th, 2007, 07:39 PM   #3
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Thanks for the comeback!

Yes, I also think it won't be the most visually exciting 30 minutes I could think of, so I was thinking of pans and zooms/dolly shots to liven it up a bit. We'll also keepo it on the short side - maybe around 20 minutes or so.

I like the idea of a black background and I'll run it by my friends amd see how it goes. Both my friends wear glasses, but the wheelchair is a sort of matte black so it shouldn't cause too many reflection issues - might even sort of disappear against a bleack backgrounfd
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Old November 21st, 2007, 06:51 AM   #4
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Hi Jim,

IMHO, I wonder why you would spend too much time on the subject reading at all as anything other than an audio track with occasional cuts to the reader. Personally, I'd talk them into putting some appropriate photos, other video or photos or drawings from the book or whatever fits and pan across them while she's reading. It would make it come alive so much more than just watching someone read which could get pretty dull even with some pans back and forth.
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Old November 21st, 2007, 10:01 AM   #5
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Hi Richard. Nice of you to drop in, so to speak.

Good questions.

In a way I'm taking it as a challenge to make it visually interesting. I've gone to some of her readings, and her range of expression is quite fascinating. There's also a lot of interplay between the reader and her husband, who sits there quietly turning pages and holding the book for her, that would be lost in a sound only recording. From watching her it's clear that she considers being about 90% paralyzed as a minor logistical inconvenience that she really is too busy to have time to worry about.

Considering that her lastest book is about aspects of Catholic theology, there aren't any pictures, amusing or otherwise.

And another reason - they're really good friends and I think they'd enjoy it. Her husband and I were high school classmates - class of 1958!

But it will have to be kept short!
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Old November 21st, 2007, 02:09 PM   #6
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No reason why the soft key can't be lower, as long as she doesn't throw her shadow onto her husband. I would position it a few feet off the ground.

If you had the means to do so, a pin spot hung overhead that is focused on the book at several stops over key will create a beautiful soft upglow onto her face and probably her husband's also. If you were to combine this with a white Promist or equivalent, this could create a really lovely look. And adding a hot rim light for the hair would continue this feel. Don't be concerned about the hair light being an issue if their heads are forward--it will do exactly the same thing as if they were looking straight ahead, just further back on the head (in other words, the head migrates but the effect is the same).
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Old November 21st, 2007, 03:28 PM   #7
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Charles,

Thanks much for the suggestion. I had thought about the book as a reflector, but it may not work as I'd hoped because it will be either completely flat on her knee or even tipped slightly toward the camera. She can't hold it in the normal orientation (ie front high) as she has no use of her left hand/arm. I think it would make the book look overly "hot" in the image. That's why I was thinking of a somewhat larger reflector on the ground and tipped up to reflect into her face, or even a white sheet on the ground around the front of her chair.
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Old November 28th, 2007, 06:46 AM   #8
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Instead of trying to reflect light, how about using a low small light with diffusion instead?
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Old November 28th, 2007, 08:15 AM   #9
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Good idea - I'll try it. There's no set schedule for the reading, bu it will be after Xmas so I still have time to work out the details. I was thinking of modeling a couple of different set-ups over the holidays.
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