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Old January 11th, 2014, 04:42 AM   #1
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Shooting subject on a black background

Hi all,

Let me start by saying I don't have a lot of experience with lighting.

I'm shooting a subject on a black background next week for the purpose of an instructional type video. I have a 4x4ft (edit: 4x4 meters) black backdrop, 2x 600 LED lights and 1x 300 LED light.

In theory a basic 3-point lighting setup should do the trick. But I'd like to get it right the first time, so does anyone have any tips of tricks that might be of benefit?

Thanks in advance :)

Last edited by Jody Arnott; January 11th, 2014 at 09:09 PM.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 10:49 AM   #2
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Jody,
Get more black material so you can make sure your subject and your lighting is far enough away from the background so the light doesn't spill onto the background. Also flags and black wrap help with this. Controlling the environment you are shooting in also helps. Good luck.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 10:59 AM   #3
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Also rim lighting from the rear will help with separating the subject from the background.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 12:50 PM   #4
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

You do have some options here.

A hair light or even any light (a lamp on the floor out of frame, even) from the back will create separation. That is probably a good option.

The rest depends on the look you want. You could light from the sides, with a light on their left (at a 90 degree angle) and a reflector or softer light from the right at a slightly forward 45 degree angle. This is more common in portrait style shoots and will keep light off the backdrop.

This will give you some ideas that still apply to video:6 simple lighting setups for shooting portraits at home (plus free cheat sheet) | Digital Camera World - page 7
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Old January 11th, 2014, 12:51 PM   #5
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

It's critical to control the spill from your lights. Unfortunately, LED arrays splatter light in all directions.

A dark room and distance between subject and backdrop improves things. I agree, a 4x4 is small for anything more than a shoulder shot if that.

If you are in a less than ideal situation, experimenting with your camera may help you find a color profile gamma setting that has hi contrast at the expense of dynamic range but ....

The backdrop is 6' away in this example.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 12:52 PM   #6
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Hi Jody,

They are correct. 4X4 is nowhere near enough background. You will not be able to get the distance you need for 3 point or rim lighting. And even matt black looks bad when light spills on it. The only way to make it a deep black is to move your subject far enough forward to avoid any spill on it.

Do you have barn doors, flags, or other control items for your LEDS? If you donít here is a link for the black wrap Daniel mentioned:

cinefoil | B&H Photo Video

It may look expensive for foil but it is worth every penny. It is durable enough to be reused so it will last you a while. It is a great place to start.

A 4x4 backdrop is going to be very frustrating for you. Have you tried it yet?

I have a couple of LED lights but I am in no rush to replace my Lowell kits. Why, because in addition to the kits with various types of lights I have a Lowell case I bought empty on e-bay. The whole case is full of tools and accessories that I use in conjunction with my lights. To me, good lighting is about how you direct and control the light. Big square LED panels are not as versatile as Soft boxes, tota lights, omni lights, and pro lights. And please understand I am not knocking anything. I am just stating my opinion about the big rush by some guys to go all LED. I like my tungsten, even with their warts 

I love to do lighting. You said ďI donít have much experience but I want to get it right the first timeĒ. Donít make the shoot your first time. Set up your stuff now and work out the kinks before you arrive on the shoot.

Steve
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Old January 11th, 2014, 02:21 PM   #7
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Everyone posted up what I was going to mention in one form or another. Get a larger backdrop if you can, and do your best to separate your subject from the background. I usually try to go for the largest backdrop we can get, and then pull the subject and camera as far away from the background as you can. This lets any uncontrollable spill fall off rather well, and lets you light the BG independently of the subject.

If you are looking to get everything done in camera, you will obviously be limited by how much distance you can get from the backdrop and keep everything framed accordingly, but you could also move out quite a bit even if you show non-backdrop elements and then mask accordingly in AE or which ever application you prefer.

Using this trick you could just move the person out as far as you can with your current 4x4 and then throw a mask over any extra BG elements and fade the BG to black in post. This is usually very quick and easy as talking heads dont move much!
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Old January 11th, 2014, 04:51 PM   #8
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Oops, sorry guys I meant 4x4 meters (not feet). It's height adjustable starting from about 1.5 meters. This should be sufficient I'm assuming? It's quite a large backdrop, I got the biggest I could find.

The LEDs do have barn doors so I can control the light a bit. Is it recommended to diffuse the light? I don't have any soft boxes or gels, so would something like a white sheet draped over the light help?

Thanks for the tips anyway. I'm going to set it up tonight and practise getting the right look before the client arrives.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 06:39 PM   #9
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

That sounds like it will work, longer focal lengths help (narrower field of view). Quality of light is more driven by the angle subtended by the light from the POV of the subject (closer=softer) and draping a sheet over the light would more likely contribute to spill.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 06:56 PM   #10
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Diffusion recommended? That depends on a lot of things, including the look your after. You said "instructional video". You can probably get by without diffusion. To soften those panels use distance. A light that is turned up full will be softer than a light at 50% power half the distance closer.

Can I use a sheet draped over the lamp? In theory yes......but for me, no. Since LEDS burn cool there a lot of things some guys do use. I know a guy that buys cheap plastic shower curtains and cuts them up. So you can experiment if you want to but I wouldn't. If you do, remember that anything you put in front of a source that is not made to be there is going to change the color temperature. If you don't do it to all of your matched lights you could end up with a crazy mix. And something like a white sheet is going to knock your output level way back. LEDs run softer than tungsten burners so I would start out with nothing first if you can not get some diffusion gels.

Jim, I wrote this and was about to hit post when I saw your new one. I believe it is the other way around....farther = softer. Distance can make your source larger....larger = softer.

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Old January 11th, 2014, 08:13 PM   #11
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Stephen, Jim had it correct--the closer a source is, the larger it is in relation to the subject and thus softer. Think of it this way: if you were to look at a 1x1 panel that is 6 feet away and another at 12 feet away, the one at 12 feet will appear smaller in size. Smaller sources are harder sources.

Regardless, a direct hard source is not going to soften much with the kind of distances we are talking about here. In most instances it is preferable to soft light a subject. With a large backdrop as described (4x4m), start by positioning the subject and camera as far away from the backing as possible without seeing off the edges. You could push the LED units through a sheet to diffuse it, or use a piece of white posterboard and bounce the LED into that. Not knowing what camera you are using--if it can shoot at at least 800 ISO you should be able to get enough exposure this way. Bounce light has a pretty fast falloff and with enough distance between subject and backdrop, you should be able to maintain a deep black back there.

A hair light when shooting against black is a matter of taste. I don't generally use them much, or if I do, on the subtle side. It depends if you are going for a "TV look". Black hair will require a bit of separation against the backdrop thus will benefit from a backlight, but with lighter hair and complexion, it's not necessary--again, matter of taste.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 03:14 AM   #12
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Three point lighting is not just about three light sources in location, it's about key, fill and backlight. LEDs are nice for soft light, but rubbish at creating shadows. Without shadows your lighting is bland and boring.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 04:02 AM   #13
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

I would have to agree with Jim. The closer the source is, the softer is will be.

Also a close light at 50% power will be BRIGHTER and a 100% light at twice the distance. For the father light to be the same brightness, it would have to be at 200% power or only 1.414 (root 2) times the distance away. This is the inverse square law in operation.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 09:16 AM   #14
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

All things considering your lights are covered well. so how about the space?

are you shooting during the daytime or night time? in a studio or non-video purposed space? If during the day, does it have good control over sun entering?

another trick you may be able to pull if for some reason you find yourself limited during the shoot...

if you're going for superblack, and still have some spill or other erroneous non-black object around the edge of your frame and not near the subject, you could potentially garbage matte it out, and drop your black levels to 0 IRE in post to have the transparent matte match the black in the shot.

this works great for white screen, but black tends to show more texture and might not be as easy to match, but is something you could play around with. typically will only work if the camera isn't moving nor the subject moving.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 10:07 AM   #15
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Re: Shooting subject on a black background

Broad sources do not follow ISL precisely. Instead, they act as an array of point sources, each of which follows ISL, and for each you could calculate a distance via Pythagorean theorem. It is possible to think of the broad source as a point source with an origin behind the actual position provided you know the beam spread (and apply a little trig), at which point you can apply an f-stop feet rule to calculate points at which intensity doubles, e.g. if 8 feet from the virtual point source yields f8 then 5.6 feet from the virtual point source yields f11.
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