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1504ART Digital Video Foundations
After making sure that your actor is saying the right lines, that the picture is in focus and the camera is recording probably the last thing on your mind is the way the picture is lit. But wait, the difference between something that is well lit and something that isn't can be the difference between a ﬁlm that's great and one that's totally pants.
Generally you want to keep your light level up. Video cameras work best in a certain range - too bright and whites get blasted out too dark and you get a grainy image without much colour. The worst part of this is that if something is ‘blown out’ the camera records no image data, so you cannot just ‘ﬁx it in post’. But you also want to create a play on light and shade on the objects before you, revealing depth, form and mood.
SO HOW DO WE LIGHT A SCENE???
My advice, keep it simple and fast. Work with the light that is already there.
Put as many existing lights and lamps on in the room to increase the room's overall light level. (Techie Tip! Lights that are in the scene anyway are called 'practicals')
Replace existing lightbulbs with more powerful lightbulbs.
Use a reﬂector to bounce an existing light source onto your subject.
This is all very well & good, but even after bumping all the practicals up we don’t have a very professional looking setup...
Three-Point Lighting Setup
In order to complete our three point setup we are going to need how many lights??? OK, that wasn’t so hard, but what sort of lights do we need? The equipment coordinator has two different types of lights available - the ‘redhead’ and the ‘tota’, both are very good, very expensive lights - so what do we do in the real world when we don’t have these lights laying around?
THE LIFELINE LIGHT KIT
Now what I am about to show you is not good occupational health & safety procedure, but over the years I have developed what I like to call the ‘Lifeline Light Kit’. It’s not called the Lifeline Light Kit because it has saved my life, but because it comes from Lifeline, or Vinnies or the Salvos. Not only is it cheap, but I’m giving something back!!!
Now that that is out of the way, we can get on with the how-to part... Set something up you want to light. The example that is always used is a person. Set up your ﬁrst light and put it in front of the subject at a 45 degree angle looking down on them a little.
This is the key light. Our subject is now lit.
But the subject does seem to have heavy shadows on the opposite side of their face. Erect another redhead making this one more diffuse by reﬂecting it off a wall or a reﬂector, or use a diffuser in front of the light.
This is the ﬁll light and helps soften the shadows.
Once the key & ﬁll lights have been set up we need to add a light above and behind the subject to add a slight corona (ie. white line) around them that helps to separate them from the background.
This is called the back light it is also known as a ‘hair light’.
We can see here the effects of each of the lights, followed by the overall effect of the three point lighting setup.
Three-Point Lighting Setup
Remember that the further you move a light away from the object you are lighting the less light falls on it - not exactly rocket science eh? While this may seem simple, if you don’t have a reﬂector, or can’t get a decent bounce off of a wall, or the subject simply looks too bright, try moving the lights further back!
This is where your subject is standing with the sky or a window or white wall behind them. The camera goes 'Hey, loads of white I better set my exposure to that', so when you come to look at your footage all you can see it a silhouette of your subject and you can hardly see their face. Solution - turn around, and use the light from the wall/ window to light your subject.
Light not only differs in intensity, but also in its colour. This means that you need to be aware of what type of lights your location has so that you can be prepared. Sunlight - Bluey Artiﬁcial Light - Orangey Fluorescents - Greeny Another problem is that sunlight will actually differ slightly in colour throughout the day.
All light is not white...
Your eyes can sort this information out, but the camera tends to make everything look all one colour if it’s on the wrong setting. The Solution: check the white balance on your camcorder. White balance is essentially what colour your camera thinks is white.
Some cameras have buttons for this i.e. indoors, outdoors etc. Other cameras sort this out automatically (although they can make a botch job of it) and some allow you to set it manually (by sticking a piece of white card in front of it and saying 'Hey, this is white you dumb camera'). The simple rule is to check & make necessary changes everytime you change location, or the lighting conditions change.
LIGHTING AT NIGHT
Lighting at night is no fun at all. However much light you seem to pour onto a subject it still looks dark and grainy, either that or your subject looks blasted out - white and washed out, like a rabbit caught in a car's headlights.
The best bet is to shoot all your night stuff just before light is about to go, when it looks like night but there is still some light on the horizon (you better be quick). This time of day is known as ‘magic hour’. You can help out the look of your shoot by adjusting the aperture, or iris, of your camera, to limit the amount of light entering the CCD.
Another option is to shoot ‘day for night’ - a cheapo technique (found in a lot of ﬁlms from the 60s) that you could try to replicate by ﬁtting a blue ﬁlter to the front of the camera and decrease the aperture, or iris, of your camera. Remember to make sure that what is in front of the camera looks right, so lights in houses need to be on and remember, no birds ﬂying through shot!
Whether you are shooting at night, simulating it or shooting during the day, the most important thing is to ‘follow source’.
The technique of following source has now become a standard approach in many dramatic productions. To do this a lighting director must ﬁrst determine where the sources of illumination might be within a scene. They may be visible, or just suggested by the setting. If none is obvious within the scene—such as a visible window, or lighting ﬁxture—it becomes a matter of determining where a logical source of illumination might be.
In a poolroom scene, for example, the light source might be a light above the pool table—although it might not be visible in the scene. It then becomes a matter of keying important camera close up positions so that they are consistent with this suggested source of illumination.
Watch for the subtle differences in lighting between night and day & also different interiors.
Other Lighting Styles
The three point lighting setup is only one basic technique in the ﬁeld of lighting. While it may not be the most fancy of styles, once mastered it allows the ﬁlmmaker to understand more advanced or stylised techniques. The two most prominent styles of lighting are known as ‘high-key’ and ‘low-key’ lighting.
High-key lighting is a style of lighting for ﬁlm, television, or photography that aims to reduce the contrast ratio present in the scene, it is therefore also known as ‘lowcontrast lighting’. This was originally done partly for technological reasons, since early ﬁlm and television did not deal well with high contrast ratios, but now is used to create an upbeat mood. It is often used in sitcoms and comedies. High-key lighting is usually homogenous and free from dark shadows.
In the 50s and 60s, high-key lighting was achieved through multiple light sources lighting the stage usually using three ﬁxtures per person (left, right, and central) which results in a uniform lighting pattern with very little modeling of the face. The advantage to high-key lighting is that it doesn't require adjustment for each scene which allows the production to complete the shooting in hours instead of days.
The primary drawback is that high-key lighting fails to add meaning or drama by lighting certain parts more prominently than others.
Low-key light shows the contours of an object by throwing areas into light or shadow while the ﬁll light provides partial illumination in the shadow areas to prevent a distracting contrast between bright and dark. Therefore low-key lighting can also be known as ‘highcontrast lighting’.
For dramatic effects, one may wish the contrast to be high — to emphasize the brightness of the sun in a desert scene, to make a face look rugged, seamed, and old, or to isolate details in a mass of surrounding shadow. Low-key lighting makes use of a very strong key light, while other lights are often kept to a minimum.
Low-key lighting is also knows as ‘mood lighting’ because the use of light to illuminate an object or background in a deliberate manner can help to evoke a certain mood or emotion.
This highly skilled lighting technique is very subtle but nevertheless can achieve highly effective outcomes.
The majority of ﬁlms today will use a combination of high & low key lighting to achieve a balance between emotion and narrative. Low-key lighting, while the most difﬁcult to achieve, often yields the most powerful emotive effects. While modern day ﬁlm does not use low-key lighting as extensively as ﬁlms from the past the following are some good examples.
Almost all incandescent lamps used in TV production are tungsten-halogen lamps (commonly called quartz lamps). They normally range from 500 to 2,000 watts in intensity. Quartz lamps get extremely hot, which makes ventilation important. Because of the great heat associated with tungsten-halogen lighting instruments, burnt ﬁngers are a hazard for the unwary.
Special care must be taken when these lamps are changed (in addition to unplugging the lights and letting them cool down) to make sure that oil or dirt from ﬁngers is not deposited on the outer glass (quartz) envelope of the lamp.
HMI, which stands for Hydrargyrum Medium Arc-length Iodide, is a type of lighting element that emits an intense light that's the same color temperature as sunlight. HMI lights are much more efﬁcient than tungstenhalogen lamps and they generate less heat (an important consideration when shooting inside in a conﬁned space).
The main disadvantage of the HMI light is the large, costly, high-voltage power supply that's needed. Even so, because their colour temperature, efﬁciency, and high light output, HMI lights are often used for onlocation production—especially for ﬁlling shadows created by sunlight. Now that we've covered the lamps used in lighting instruments, we can turn to the lighting instruments that house these lamps.
For several decades the Fresnel (pronounced fra-nell) light has been the primary source of illumination in most ﬁlm and TV studio productions.
The ellipsoidal spot produces a hard, focused beam of light. Used with gels, they can project colored pools of light on a background.
There are also number of other types of studio lights in use, including Broads (for broad-beamed lights), Background lights (designed especially to illuminate backgrounds), and Beam-spot projectors (a spotlight-like device that creates sharply deﬁned shadows and can simulate sunlight coming through a window).
In ENG (electronic newsgathering) work where quality is often secondary to getting a story, cameramounted, tungstenhalogen or HMI lights (often called sun-guns) are sometimes used as a sole source of illumination.
As a result of the straight-on angle involved, picture detail and depth are sacriﬁced. Because of the relationship between distance and light intensity, the detail and colour of foreground objects often becomes washed out, and objects in the distance typically go completely dark. For these reasons a camera light works best if important subject matter is all at about the same distance from the camera.
In describing the basic techniques for lighting in we've covered approaches that will provide good results for most studio and ﬁeld work. The lighting required for sophisticated, multiple-camera dramatic productions requires the skill and artistic ability of an experienced lighting director. At this level of sophistication lighting moves into the realm of a true art form.
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