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Photon Management
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Old January 4th, 2004, 03:57 AM   #1
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Doing the best with what I got

Over the past two years I have been progressivly upgrading my lighting equipment. From a home depot clap on light to what I feel suits my lighting needs right now, Smith-Victor's. I'm trying to achieve a drama mood in my work. My equipment contains: Two 600w Smith-Victor spots with stands, One 300w Smith-Victor spot and stand, gel frame holder, and a 45 inch umbrella. Usually I would use 600w as a hard key light with the other 600w shooting through the umbrella. The 300w one I would use as either a back light or background light. Most of my shots will place the camera with-in 10 to 15 feet from the camera and is indoors.

My question is will I over light this shot and should I use any gels to achieve a drama mood. I have a GL-2, could I possibly add to this effect with in-camera functions?

I know this as a rule and stand by it: Hight production values during the shot will give you high post production editing value. To me that means good balanced lighting. If I do achieve this drama effect will I loose out in post?

Thank you for all your time.
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Old January 4th, 2004, 11:46 AM   #2
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Good for you! Yes, you'll see much discussion and debate here concerning come expensive lighting instruments. While such devices do provide certain luxuries the simplle fact is that photons are photons. Nowhere is this more true than the world of videography. Unlike film which has fixed color balance points, video is very flexible concerning its white balance adjustment.

Taking the postion of "Darn it, this is what I will work with" can also lead to some of the best learning and creative experiences.

It would be impossible for anyone to accurately comment on how you should light a particular scene. We can't see the set and simply looking at wattages is not meaningful. The only tip I can offer, for whatever it may be worth, is less can be far more when it comes to lighting for video. Keep in mind that your goal in lighting is to control the viewer's eye within the frame. Lighting is just one component of this control system. Size, movement, brightness/color, and placement are the compositional components available to you in affecting this control.

Block your scene, compose your frame, then determine where to place light in that frame...and where to reduce it.

There are many good books on the subject of lighting and composition. Take a stroll through our Read About It forum for some excellent tips on books.

Good luck and have fun!
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Old January 4th, 2004, 09:16 PM   #3
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Ken is right-on.

Sometimes the best weapon to have is the one at your disposal at the time you need. it.

For example, I was shooting a doc, Super 16, in Mexico when I was assured that the location generators would handle our lowells just fine. I plugged in a 1K totalight as a test and the bulb blew "spectacularly!"

After alot of headscratching and a couple of cold Bohemia beers the locals announced that they had found the problem and assured me that all would be well and that I should plug in all my lights in order to "take the shock" out of the empty cable when the switch was tripped and the electricity entered the circuit. Welllll...not THIS city boy! After a couple more Bohemias I reassured them that I would be more than happy to plug in all my lights as soon as I saw a practical test of the electrical system. They proceded to hook all of the house lights (it was a small stone kitchen, deep inside an open building with picnic tables, in a remote part of the mountains, high up in the Ajusco), to the genny. When they threw the switch...over 200 bulbs exploded... almost in unison! Very, very exciting!

I fianly lit the scene using a an existing working wood fireplace as the keylight and three maglights of different wattages wrapped with scraps of opal and 216 as the fill and rim lights. After viewing the dailies, I thanked GOD that the genny didn't cooperate. The pictures were beautiful.

You learn something new everyday in this business, hell, in this life and if you go through a day without learning at least two new things, you're not paying attention!

Good luck and good lighting!
"The future ain't what it used to be." Yogi Berra.
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Old January 19th, 2004, 10:02 AM   #4
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Here's what I would do with your set-up. Slap the umbrella on the 600watt and use as my key. The 300 watt would be my backlight and the other 600watt would light in the background. I'd slap a gel and some diffusion on the background little and/or shine it through a window to create a pattern.

A fun thing to do to break up backgrounds is to put some kind of pattern or shapes in front of the light. Sometimes I'll break off a tree branch, attach it to a stand and put it in front of the light to create the look of sunlight or at night moonlight coming through a tree. Sometimes I'll try different random shapes in front of the light to simulate some obstacle in the path of the light. Again, just something to break up the light so it's isn't just some bland evenly lit wall.

I'm a huge Conrad Hall fan and I recommend that you get the highly under-rated movie "Searching for Bobby Fisher". First, watch the movie because it's very good. Second, watch it again with the sound turned down and study the lighting. Look at not only how he lights the people, but how he lights the background. He creates depth with the use of shadow and light. They'll be dark areas and then a splash of light on a wall in the background to create depth. I could write all day about the lighting in this movie, but just watch it because a a picture or a series of them shot at 24 frames a second will speak a thousand words.

Good luck.

Scott Spears
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Old January 19th, 2004, 10:28 AM   #5
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Location: Boston, MA
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I took a film lighting class in Boston, MA which was taught by some industry seniors. In the class I learned a bunch about light, but here are some of the more important things:

1) Light how you feel - don't follow technical mumbo jumbo just because you think you should. Know the technical somewhat, but don't be a slave to it...every single lighting condition is different.

2) Photon management is so true - think of a red laser pen. That directs the light so fine...its noticable. Now think about the most massive source of light there is...the sun. It covers the that's a big light source! Your able to work with any single solitary source between those's exciting really. When you think about it - it really doesn't matter "how" you get the lighting. No matter what you's actually perfectly fine!

3) Anything can be used to manipulate light. That's basically what you are...a photon manipulator. I've used mirrors to create little streaks of hard bright lights that move while you twist your writsts (great for actors eyes), I've used reflectors to bounce light in the weirdest places.

4) Ah yes...reflections. That's always something people forget. You have all these lights sending out photons, but what about when it reaches its first destination? When it hits a THAT has become a light source! If it's a white you have reflected white. How about changing your perspective and lighting a scene with ONLY reflections and no direct light from main sources? If you want a "drama" mood...pick rooms with lots of browns in it.

This may not shed new "light" on anything. But, it is what I think about when approaching a scene. My personal favorite thing to do (because I LOVE darkness more than light) is to shut out 100% of the light and start from there. I see so many people trying to manipulate exisiting light in a room. Shut them all off and then start turning them by one. If something doesn't work - throw the light away. (not literally)

Scott, I'm going to "Netflix" the film "Searching for Bobby Fisher" - thanks for the suggestion.

Christopher C. Murphy
Director, Producer, Writer
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