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Old September 29th, 2008, 08:16 AM   #1
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Lighting a Dorm Room for Night

So I am a student at Ohio University.(who would've thought... a student asking lighting questions) I am DP for a student-produced TV drama show, and in my last episode we had a "gaffer" who really did all of the lighting work. This episode, our gaffer is much less experienced and I need to do many of the lighting setups myself. I am as well not very experienced in lighting although I work around it all the time I haven't really paid as much attention to it as I should have. Now to my question...

The entire script is set at night in a dorm building. Unless the art director comes through (which is doubtful) we are looking at mostly off-white walls and small spaces (12'x15' room). We use lowell lights and I did most of my tests with lowell omnis (500w) and DPs (1K).
For the most part I am planning on using mostly soft light, as natural dorm lighting is a single ceiling lamp in the center of the room. I am looking to use a 1/2 CTB key to give a "moon/night" look and a bounced tungsten fill. But alot of the scenes have characters sitting close to the walls so a backlight is fairly impossible. What do you recommend doing in this situation? So the questions...

1. Do I use the CTB as key? Or should I use the blue light as a fill/accent?
2. Are practicals recommended for small spaces? What are other tricks for lighting in small rooms?
3. Although soft light is natural, do I stick with soft lighting or can I get away with harder (but still low-ratio) light on the talent?
4. Is backlight necesary? And what is the best way to get backlight when the talent is sitting on a couch that is backed against a wall?
5. Any other thoughts are greatly appreciated.
Thanks all,
-Jeff
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Last edited by Jeff Kolada; September 29th, 2008 at 08:26 AM. Reason: added/edited question
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Old September 29th, 2008, 08:38 AM   #2
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Personally, I would be true to reality. Light the scenes with mostly practicals. A desklamp or tablelamp here and there, and a softlight bounced off a back wall somewhere out of scene to give you the f-stop you need. The off-white walls are going to be natural reflectors so you shouldn't need a ton of light.
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Old September 29th, 2008, 09:04 AM   #3
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I think I would use the Omni's in such a way that it looks like it is coming from your desk/table lamps. And I would have the table lamps on dimmers so that they could be included in the shots without blowing out. I would light toward blue to give it a night time mood. I don't think I would worry about shadows because shadows should be present. I don't know if I would do hair highlights or back lighting. What is the theme? Moody, light???
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Old September 29th, 2008, 09:41 AM   #4
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Well there are two different scenereos going on. One is a dorm room with a party scene, the other is a room where the tone will be much more moody and serious. I am planning on doing much more contrast on the second room, and some party filter flares on the first room.
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Old September 29th, 2008, 12:23 PM   #5
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If you want that overhead look, let whatever's already there get you the exposure you need (if it's enough), but keep something soft, and of a similar power/color to the overhead, standing by for those shots where the actors could use some frontal fill, like if they're getting strong shadows under the brow. If you're going to want to throw some blue in there, that might be nice for back/edge lighting - something subtle. 1/2 blue might work, but you may need something more for it to really register.

Adding practicals is a good idea, but it might not be too practical (no pun intended) considering the size of the space. If you dim or gel them to get a good reading, you may not have the room to carry them with your lights off-screen.

Good luck and don't forget to post some screen grabs when you've shot this.

~~Dave
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Old September 29th, 2008, 01:12 PM   #6
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I'm not really with you guys on the 1/2 CTB concept. If you were talking about a room with most or all of the lights off, it would be somewhat "logical" to give a cool overall ambience to the room but assuming that the room is occupied and lit normally, I think it's unnecessary. The trick is not to over-fill the room so that the overall look is high-key. As was mentioned before, practical lamps on dimmers are a great way to go; have a selection of bulbs handy up to the maximum rating of each lamp (if you need to dim one down significantly it will go a lot warmer, so sometimes it's better to swap out for a lower voltage bulb). When a lamp is off-camera, you may want to bring it back up for the lighting effect. You can block out half of a lampshade with ND from the inside which, when placed near a wall, will prevent the side away from camera from heating up the wall too much.

Placement of the practicals is really critical, as they help motivate much of the lighting. If two characters sit on a sofa against the wall, having a practical on one or both side tables will give a motivation for the lighting to come from that side which can allow you to build up some contrast and modeling. Don't worry about the backlight, you wouldn't want it in this type of setup anyway as it would look stagey. If however you can block the action so that the conversation takes place with the characters sitting on the floor in front of the sofa and the practical is seen behind them, it gives you an opportunity to add a little backlight but I wouldn't go overboard with it. Using a lot of backlight can be a little corny (kind of like using the blue ambient look for a night interior) so use judiciously.

Omnis and Totas are not the easiest instruments to work with for the kind of room you describe. Your Tota would be best served in a softbox which should be equipped with either fabric eggcrates or snoot to keep it from blasting everywhere. Omnis like to leak out of their barndoors so make sure to have blackwrap to avoid light spills and you can use that for a snoot also, particularly with diffusion over the light, inside the snoot. Your key move is to build up exposure on the actors without blasting the walls, which means controllable light.

For the party scene, I imagine you could have some more fun with it. If appropriate you can introduce colors into the scene, via colored bulbs in the practicals or judiciously hidden units. I would imagine that you will need to shoot in all directions as quickly as possible and for such a small room with (I imagine) low ceilings, that can be tricky, so practicals will be your ally to create some highlights in the frame. A soft key light that can be quickly moved to work on whoever you are shooting in the foreground will be helpful, if you need to move especially fast (and possibly handheld) in and amongst the partygoers, it would help for this to be a battery-operated unit to avoid cable hassles. Keep this slightly under exposure and off-axis to camera.
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Old September 29th, 2008, 01:47 PM   #7
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Chris, thanks alot. That is very helpful and I should be able to use alot of what you said.

Dave, the one thing about using the lights already there is that they are fluorescent. I would love to use them but the color temperatures would be across the board. So I may end up shooting an 1k straight at the ceiling to create the fill.

After reading what everybody has said, I guess practicals are going to be huge in this situation. I will make sure the art director knows that I need lamps. All over the place.
haha but really thanks, and I will throw up some stills later.

-Jeff
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Old September 29th, 2008, 01:57 PM   #8
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FYI Jeff, you can get color-corrected tubes (Kinos) for the existing ceiling flo's, but these days even your hardware store tubes are reasonably clean for video shooting. Making a duvetyne (or equivalent) skirt around the fixtures will keep them from splattering on the walls as much, which will definitely happen if you bounce a large unit off the ceiling. May be worth considering going with the ceiling fixture for ambience.
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