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Old May 4th, 2010, 11:58 PM   #1
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Lighting a two shot in front of a fireplace?

I have a shoot coming up on Saturday with a couple drinking champagne in front of a fireplace. I would like it to look like it is mostly lit by the fire so I am thinking of just back lighting the couple from just off-camera from the direction of the fireplace with lights gelled down to amber (~1000K). The problem is that I would like a soft wraparound shadow but I don't think it will be easy to get a light from that direction to stay out of the shot or cause flares. Any suggestions?
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Old May 5th, 2010, 12:12 AM   #2
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Marcus,

What camera will you be shooting with? How good is it in low light? How large will the fire be?

I've seen a similar scene lit only with a couple of china lights as practicals. The fireplace wasn't huge but gave off enough light and the couple was close enough so that the fireplace provided a nice glow.

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Old May 5th, 2010, 12:25 AM   #3
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I'm shooting with the Canon 5Dii with prime lenses, so it's about as good in low light as possible. The problem with fire is that it is fairly bright itself, but it doesn't cast much light on people nearby. To get anything but blown-out flames, I will need to add a lot of light. I also don't want to spill light all over the place and give away the true light source.

Keep the ideas coming. I'm starting to imagine something like a small softbox with a giant snoot keeping it from spilling too much.
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Old May 5th, 2010, 09:34 AM   #4
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Marcus:

In my experience shooting this scenario you don't have to worry much about spill as fire is a pretty omni-directional source--you expect to see the effect play all over (in fact it will look more fake if it is too confined). I also wouldn't worry about making it a soft source, fire is pretty hard light. Generally I'll do it with a single unit with perhaps diffusion on front to spread the beam mounted above the fire. If the subject is sitting spread apart in front of the fire (and the camera is looking directly into the fireplace), I've also done it with units just out of frame left and right that are flagged carefully, i.e. the unit off right is lighting the subject on the left side of the frame and vice versa. This gives a good wrap and can be at the same height as the fire. Probably the biggest giveaway is if you have to mount the unit above the fire and the subject stands up--the source of the light becomes too high. However the audience will usually accept this.

What helps more than anything is using a flicker box to simulate the wax and wane of the fire. If you don't have access to one, having someone work a dimmer in a random fashion will do OK, it's just energy-intensive on their apart!

If you happen to have the Netflix streaming player, you can see an extensive scene I shot with this method in "The Perfect Sleep"; starts at 15:00 (another scene with same lighting plan at 1:36:10) For the shots facing into the fire I used a 1K gelled red and orange mounted above the fireplace, for shots looking back at the actors I used the same gel package on an open face (probably a blonde, maybe dimmed down) bounced into foamcore in front of the fireplace, as I wanted to give Rosalyn (Sanchez) a softer light source. Actually, as I learned throughout the shoot, she took any kind of light well!
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Old May 5th, 2010, 01:55 PM   #5
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Thanks, Charles! I was starting to think about trying something like the two lights at fire level each working on the actor on the opposite side. I am going to scout the location again tonight but I remember the fireplace is in a corner near a window. Seeing your photo with the light mounted so high above the fireplace, I realize that the light can be off-axis quite a bit so I probably don't need to worry. My concern with the floor-level lights is a possible reflection in the window of a light fixture. I also see from your shot there are practical electric candelabra on either side. I was thinking of adding some candles to pump up the romance texture a bit, to fill in the background, and to give motivation to any spilled reflection in that area from a light source.

How horrible it must have been to light Rosalyn Sanchez!
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Old May 5th, 2010, 02:11 PM   #6
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haha, it wasn't TOO bad, no! Very pretty.

A lot of this sort of thing depends on what variety of coverage you have planned. It may be OK to move the fire sources around from shot to shot if that suits your needs. Another trick is to regulate the intensity of the fire gag so that it doesn't look fake. Your eyes will tell you!

A restriction of having two lights on either side of the fire is if one of the characters moves to the other, you may see the fire "change direction" or have a dead spot in the middle depending on how much room you have to work the flags. The similar giveaway with a top-mounted gag light is if the actors stand up, which is what happens in the scene above (Roslyn gets to her feet and throws her drink into the fire, and you can see the firelight remains above her head which is now above the level of the fireplace). If I'd had time I would have topped the light with a flag so that it didn't play on her upper body when she stood up, but there wasn't any time! This was actually a legendary day on this production in that it went to so many different setups for a "simple" dialogue scene between two people--there's something like 15 different setups in there. As I told the director, "you'll use all of them"...and he did.
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Old May 5th, 2010, 03:01 PM   #7
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I am fortunate that this shot is totally within my control so there is not much moving around. I do need to reverse the shot (actually shoot a closeup perpendicular to the fire) so using hard light for the shot towards the fire then bouncing it for the reverse is a good suggestion. I don't have 15 setups, but there are three different shots to do this day. Easy setup is going to be important so the hard light above the fireplace is probably how I will go. I will probably have someone that can ride a dimmer. This hard light above also solves one other possible problem with a lower-angle light because it won't have the problem of lighting feet more strongly than faces. I know a lower light can be snooted and flagged to prevent this, but it will be easier with one light higher up. For the reverse, I might even bring the light down to the level of the fire if that looks good.

Simplicity is going to be important as I just realized there are about 9 setups to shoot in 4.5 hours (plus a couple hours of prep time). Thanks again for the advice and that picture is worth even more than a thousand words.
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Old May 5th, 2010, 03:28 PM   #8
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All sounds good Marcus. Yes, it's a good plan to have the bounce at eye level or lower to suggest the fireplace source.

Looks like someone put up the scene I was referring to on Youtube--sadly it's squeezed into oblivion (2:35 into a 4:3 frame, fantastic). You can get a sense of the lighting though.

YouTube - The Perfect Sleep | Roselyn Sanchez 's first scene
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