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Lighting for a group vs a single actor


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#1 Jaimie Blake

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Posted 05 June 2006 - 11:25 PM

Hello All!

(I'm still new, so please bear with me.)

I have been learning how to light for a single person with the key and fill and hairlight, but I am not quite sure how to light for a group without the lights canceling each other out.

The setup is for an interior night scence, and four of the people are standing opposite three in conversation. The camera is facing their conversation (not over either group's shoulders).

I would like the actors to have a more dramatic look. I wanted to use hard lights for contrast, but the lights spill on each other and the contrast is lose. Will you please give me tips for lighting a situation like this? How many lights would you recommend and where would you place them? Is it better to use softllight in a situation like this?

I appreciate your feedback.

Thanks!
:D
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#2 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 08 June 2006 - 01:20 AM

Lighting for a group of people is easiest with a motivating light; through a window, a practical overhead, or whatever else it is; this way it doesn't look strange when people go in and out of light.

Remember that in real life, people go in and out of light all the time; don't try to light people 100%, that just kills it.
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#3 Jaimie Blake

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 12:47 AM

Thank you so much for your time. I will definitely keep those tips in mind while I work on the scene.

God Bless!

:D
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#4 Michael Nash

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 01:06 AM

The principles of 3-point lighting don't have to change for a wider shot, although the number of lights may increase. Instead of one each key, fill, and backlight, you might have several units spread out to do the same thing. Or you might have bigger units farther away lighting the group as a "mass."

You can also look at wider shots as simply a combination of closeups. The same lighting principles apply to each of your subjects, you just have more subjects in frame at the same time. Usually it's a combination of the two approaches, where you have "mass" lighting and then some individual or "special" fill lights or kickers.

But as noted the wide shots don't have to have all the same nuances as a closeup. You only have to have a plan to make the lighting of the CU's match the wide shot and still look good.
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#5 David Sweetman

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 01:46 AM

Once you've got a basic understanding of the 3-point formula deal, I find the best way to do it is to just mess around with stuff and see what works. You may get on the location and decide to go with only one light. or two. or six. but you'll tweak it, bounce it, cut it, and whatever else based on what you percive to be flattering or condusive to the story. Theory can only go so far, at least in my experience the real learning happens when you look at your image and make on-the-spot decisions, because every scenario is different.

An example of how to light a group (of two..keep it simple) is if you've got two people looking at each other and you want each to have a key and a back light, and say you decide to leave out the fill for more contrast. You don't need four lights (two lights for each) - put one light behind each actor; the fill for one will be the backlight for the other.

It sounds like the problem you're having is you're putting in too much light at too flat of an agle - perhaps you are placing lights where you are placing them simply because that's how you learned to do it from the book, so you're trying to follow the textbook example of a three-point setup. (I had exactly that problem the first time I lit a scene.) If your lights are the same wattage, and you try to give each of those two groups a seperate key and fill, then of course it will be flat, you're blasting them in the face with light. Especially if you're going for 'dramatic,' start out trying to light it with as few lights as possible, and add lights where you see they're needed.
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#6 Sam Wells

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 09:09 AM

If you want to keep it hard this is what flags and cutters are for.

You can go with wider, softer sources - not easy to cut but there's ways to finesse them.

-Sam
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 11:15 AM

In wide shots, it's better to think about light sources in the room rather than trying to key each person from a conventional angle. In fact, even in the close-ups it's better to think about the light sources in the room, but just tweak them to look more flattering if necessary. 3-point lighting is just a general concept.

If someone can't be standing in an off-camera light simulating a source from the direction -- a lamp or window, i.e. they can't be keyed from the side, then that logically leaves front, back, above and below to get light on them, right? Examples of above would be a soft box simulating an overhead light or skylight. Examples of below would be a low light source or natural light that is bouncing off the floor or something. Behind would be a strong backlight like from a window that again maybe is bouncing back up into the faces. Frontal is generally too flat but you can cut the light to create some contrast -- for example a strong spot of frontal light as if it were the sun hitting someone waist or chest down, with dim soft light or bounced light up on their shadowed faces.

If you can't light someone from one of those directions (side, front, above, below, back) then that just leaves throwing them into silhouette, which can also work sometimes.
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#8 Jaimie Blake

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Posted 13 June 2006 - 12:59 PM

Thank you all very much.

This answers all my questions.

I am very grateful for this forum and appreciate you taking the time to help me.

God Bless!
:D
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 13 July 2006 - 11:53 AM

Thank you all very much.

This answers all my questions.

I am very grateful for this forum and appreciate you taking the time to help me.

God Bless!
:D


As was mentioned, as the group grows larger (more than 2), I worry less about individual lights and begin thinking about what the room should look like and where the light is motivated from. Avoiding one Actor shadowing another is a matter of working out the marks and blocking the action well. You can help by using a larger source and softening it with diffusion.

I once had a group of 15 sitting around a campfire in a Night Exterior in the desert. I used a 10K bounced off a gold checkerboard grif (being "waved" by a PA for the flicker effect). It covered the environment quite well. The harder part was working in the backlights as I didn't have a condor available.

Write back and let us know what you did and how it went!
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#10 Jaimie Blake

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Posted 23 July 2006 - 10:56 PM

Thank you for your interest!

The project was pushed back to the end of September, but I have been practicing the advice I received on a few friends, and I do have a much better understanding.

Thanks again!

:D
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