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Old September 17th, 2003, 04:00 AM   #1
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Lighting is getting to me

Sometimes on a shoot I'm able to get these great results in my short film type of projects very easily (fake moonlight and sunlight are fairly easy to do sometimes, lamplight too). Other times I'm in a situation like an office, or a living room with incandescent overhead lights, and am stuck for how to make look artsy and interesting. . .adding contrast, modeling, etc. to the scene and still having it look like what it's supposed to be.

This is making me angry, and I don't know what to do about it. I can screw around with a setup for hours and still get nowhere, and I have a decent amount of gear now to work with. I feel it is not a lack of this or that tool, but a lack of experience and skill. I've read the highly recommended lighting books, but the theory contained within them flies out the window on the set, and sometimes I get lucky and "find it" and sometimes I don't.

Is there a book out there called "how to get kick *ss results with two totas, two fresnels, a sheet, a gel pack, four stands, a 5 in 1 reflector, and some clamps"? Does anyone have any tips or recommendations or advice or anything at all to help me?
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Old September 17th, 2003, 04:29 AM   #2
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Josh, probably the simplest thing I can tell you is that it's perfectly natural to feel that frustration. I've definitely had that experience myself. Seeing something in your mind's eye and then knowing how to actualize it is the goal we all strive for. Patience and experience will serve you well (jeez, I sound like Yoda, except my sentences aren't jumbled).

With evenly lit from overhead environments like the ones you describe, it is going to be tough to create modeled, artsy looks. One way is to use negative fill, which is the application of black solids (flags, show card etc) to remove some of the light so that the subject is no longer evenly lit, which will create modeling. It's possible to create a great look just by subtracting light without even adding any.

Otherwise, try turning off some or all of the overheads and relighting from scratch. If that's not feasible or appropriate, restricting the spread of the overheads may give you the results you are looking for. Think about adding a roll of blackwrap to your kit. Next time you are shooting in a room with overhead floods or fluorescent, trying running a length of blackwrap around the perimeter of the light fixture, effectly limiting its spread (called a skirt, this is more commonly done with duvetyne, a black fabric). Similar to the effect of barndoors, this will help keep the light off the walls, which will help create more contrast. Or even play around with unscrewing some of the bulbs in the overheads to contour the light further.

In an overhead light situation like a room full of fluorescents, it's often desirable to knock out the light fixture directly above the subject. This allows you to make your lighting decisions essentially from scratch. Think about it--would you start lighting someone in a completely black room by hanging a light directly over their heads? Not usually--unless it's an interrogration room!

In general, it's more pleasing to the eye if the subject is brighter than the walls (I can list exceptions, but I'm trying--trying!--to keep this simple). If it's not possible to get to the overheads as described above, set your aperture on the camera so that the room is below exposure--in other words, those bright white walls are now reading gray. Then start lighting to that exposure setting. It'll take a fair amount of light, and may look oddly bright on the subject to eye, but it will likely "pop" nicely to camera. Don't overlight of course, make sure the skin tones are nice and rich.

OK, enough insomniac blabbing from me for tonight! Please link us to some stills that may demonstrate some of the stuff you are talking about, so that we can tailor thoughts to that. Don't be shy--and by the way, I appreciate your honesty about the frustration you are experiencing; that's gutsy, Josh.
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Old September 17th, 2003, 05:43 AM   #3
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Gutsy? No, I'm just trying to get better. . .so I can get a job. . .so I can stop being master controller. . .and so I can produce my own projects with superior lighting with spending money on a gaffer or DP.

And I love how Chris changed the name of the thread, though of course now the actual emotions lighting is generating in me are not represented by the thread's title, so it may garner less attention, and hold me back in life, causing me to give up, sell all my stuff, use it to buy massive amounts of black tar heroin, and OD, leaving me filthy, drooling and dead in some gutter in a back alley in Houston.
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Old September 17th, 2003, 06:01 AM   #4
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I edited your post. Sorry it doesn't adequately express your feelings. Buy a thesaurus.
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Old September 17th, 2003, 07:46 AM   #5
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Josh,

Check out this thread.
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Old September 17th, 2003, 12:07 PM   #6
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Okay, here's stills from things I'm decently proud of. I don't have the less proud stuff captured yet.

Obviously no one is going to be blown away by anything, but I think it's pretty decent. For the ones outdoors, I must credit God with the lighting.

www.freewebs.com/joshbass
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Old September 17th, 2003, 12:51 PM   #7
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Charles,

Thanks so much for the quick lesson on lighting. You did keep it simple, and it's great stuff! Finally, some specific tips for general application. ...How'd you do that?

Hope this doesn't sound like nagging--consider it encouragement-- I'm sure looking forward to that dv workshop someday! :)
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Old September 17th, 2003, 03:53 PM   #8
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Charles: most of these locations are borrowed, that is, people's houses, offices graciously allowing us to use their space, etc. I like your ideas, but am afraid doing damage to the environment. What can you recommend taking this into consideration? For instance, in the office situation, we really couldn't turn off any of the flourescents.

Also, any more recommendations on books? I already have "Lighting For Digital Video and Television," "Matters of Light and Depth," "The 5 Cs of Cinematography," "Cinematography, Theory and Practice," and I just ordered "Film Lighting" by the guy whose last name is "M-A-L. . ." can't remember the rest of the letters.

Obviously books won't make me a genius, but maybe you all know of someone with a radically different approach from all the others that'll teach me something.
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Old September 18th, 2003, 12:26 AM   #9
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Josh:

Turning "off" fluorescents is simply a matter of getting up there and giving the tube a half-turn twist--done it many, many times in all kinds of offices. Barring that, you can try spring-clipping show card over the flo's themselves.

Are you guys hip to show card? White on one side, black on the other. You can get it at art supply stores. Indispensable stuff, a thousand uses. Instant bounce or flag. For the bounce application, to keep the light from spilling everywhere, bend the card into a U shape and tape it so that it stays that way, then spring clip it to a light stand, then bang an open face or fresnel into it. This is called a "cove card". This will keep the light from spilling out (you can mount it in whatever orientation serves you best.

Books-wise, I'm afraid I haven't kept up in recent years and I don't recognize those titles; and my books are all in storage pending a house renovation, sorry!

I found that once I was out there lighting, I started watching films and television in a whole new light (no pun intended). I think at least half of what I know about lighting came from watching the finished product and thinking about how it was done, and probably another 1/4 from watching DP's at work on set, and the rest from reading books, articles etc.

You might want to think about subscribing to American Cinematographer Magazine?
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Old September 18th, 2003, 01:05 AM   #10
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Josh:

There are some great images in that page. Several from "The Catchphrase", and I also liked the couple standing in the doorway in the smaller thumbnails.

Some specific thoughts:

From "Texas Live", the frontal shot of the couple at the bar with the neon in the background: you need a little more contrast on the actor's faces to help separate them from the background. Since you had such a strong neon sign back there, you could have had a hard backlight gelled red to match the neon placed out of frame to the right, which would have balanced and separated nicely.

The shot from "The Catchphrase" of the guy in pajamas watching TV in bed: Having that hard light (one of your fresnels, I'm guessing) coming from frame left eliminated the possibility of motivating from the two light sources in the frame: the bedside lamp and the TV. One way to go is to have snooted the fresnel so that it played on the actor but not on the wall behind him--adding 1/4 CTO to a tungsten fresnel balances visually with a standard household bulb. Blackwrap makes a great snoot.

Another way to go is to make the TV the dominant light source. One easy way to do this: Gel your fresnel to daylight blue, and set a bounce card just under the TV. Aim the fresnel from outside the shot (to the right probably) at the card. By erratically panning the light on and partly off the card, you can create the TV variable intensity look. You can get a simple lamp dimmer from a hardware store and dim down that practical lamp so that it has a nice glow without blowing out the shade, This will create a pleasing contrast between the blue TV light and the warm lamp light.

More thoughts later, if this is worthwhile for you.
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Old September 18th, 2003, 01:07 AM   #11
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Josh,

You're not interested in what Walter Graff has to offer? I suspect he'll have several books worth of information on his 1.5 hour DVD.
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Old September 18th, 2003, 01:41 AM   #12
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John, it's not that I'm not interested, it's that I've seen his interview shots on his site, and am looking for more instruction on serious hardcore film-style lighting. . .I don't feel that based on what I've seen of Walter's that he can offer me that.

I remember a post from a Pepi Singh Kari (sp?) regarding a film he did called "Far From India" that looked brilliant. . .what I wouldn't give to have that DP living in my attic, always ready for an instant consultation!

Charles,

That bar scene, we ran out of red gels. . .I wanted the backlight too. Also, it looks darker on the web than it does "in real life".

The Catchphrase scene you saw was not lit by a fresnel at all. Ha! I've fooled you (or something). That was my first attempt at real lighting, using Paul Sedillo's Tota and my girlfriend's omni light. The tota was outside her window, on a roof-ledge type deal, the stand actually on one of the sloped sides, secured with bags of kitty litter and cord tied to a door knob. Gelled blue for moonlight, which you could only see when the "lamp" was turned off.

The lamp was augmented by a the omni, with its barn doors mostly closed and bounced off the closet door. The "TV" was my little 50w bescor on camera light, with my girlfriend lying under the table waving it back and forth.

I didn't have the knowledge or the tools at the time to really control where the "lamp" hit.

I was thinking of buying some flourescents, not the kinos, but real home depot flourescents. . .any thoughts on this? I already have some very weak ones, but I was gonna look at bigger ones. Has to be something I can plug in, cause the Bass don't do no wiring.

Also, I'm going to have to request a prayer on everyone's part for me to actually be able to finish the Catchphrase. . .those scenes were shot MONTHS ago, and I'm stuck 'cause I can't find my office location. Pray to Officus, the god of offices, to grant me a location.
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Old October 5th, 2003, 09:37 AM   #13
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Anyone have any more resources on lighting help?
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