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Lighting for Mood and Styles


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#1 Joey Daoud

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Posted 26 December 2006 - 12:05 PM

I was reading the Dean Cundey interview in Contemporary Cinematographers and he mentioned how he took a class at UCLA taught by James Wong Howe. "We built a little three-walled set - a window, door, a table, and a few chairs - and he showed us how to light that set for different moods and styles. One day it would be a rundown, seedy hotel, the next an elegant room. The set wouldn't change, just the lighting and equipment."

Does anyone know of any websites/books/dvds that give examples of this - the same location looking drastically different simply by changing the lighting? Thanks a lot.
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#2 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 26 December 2006 - 05:01 PM

The "Reflections: Twenty-One Cinematographers At Work" book by Benjamin Bergery has plenty of examples like this.

They're mainly examples of various contrast ratios, but some of them are also scenes where smoke is used, then not used, fill vs. no fill, flashing vs. not flashing the negative, etc...

It's a great book that has a good balance of the technical with the aesthetics of filmmaking.
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#3 Joey Daoud

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Posted 26 December 2006 - 07:47 PM

Thanks Jonathan. Of course no library in my area has it, but I'm working on getting it. The amazon preview of it looks awesome.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 December 2006 - 12:46 AM

When I was in film school, I saw a little short film made by some UCLA or USC students of James Wong Howe doing a lighting demo on a small kitchen set. It was interesting to hear him discuss how he thought through the lighting of a scene. However, compared to modern ideas of realism, in his lighting demo (which was somewhat conservative) you felt that he was going a couple of lights "too far".

In other words, he was creating this late afternoon mood in this kitchen set and started with the sunlight effect coming through the window, but at some point, just when it was looking nice and realistic... he went beyond simply creating a realistic effect because he added a hairlight, and edge light, and eyelight, etc. now making the scene look "lit". It was only odd because his main talking point was realism. Yet he couldn't shake his b&w training that required separation lights, etc.

Of course, John Alonzo told this story about how James Wong Howe would talk about realism, and then one day Alonzo asked him about some key light in a scene that Alonzo thought wasn't motivated by the sources in the room. I think Wong Howe said "Yeah, but did the shot look good?" He also told Alonzo "Source lighting is only for the ASC conventions..."
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 December 2006 - 03:40 AM

When I was in film school, I saw a little short film made by some UCLA or USC students of James Wong Howe doing a lighting demo on a small kitchen set. It was interesting to hear him discuss how he thought through the lighting of a scene. However, compared to modern ideas of realism, in his lighting demo (which was somewhat conservative) you felt that he was going a couple of lights "too far".

In other words, he was creating this late afternoon mood in this kitchen set and started with the sunlight effect coming through the window, but at some point, just when it was looking nice and realistic... he went beyond simply creating a realistic effect because he added a hairlight, and edge light, and eyelight, etc. now making the scene look "lit". It was only odd because his main talking point was realism. Yet he couldn't shake his b&w training that required separation lights, etc.


That's funny, I had a similar experience this semester. My cinematography professor had us put up a basic set on the sound stage and did a lighting demo. We had two walls, one with a window, and the other with a door, with another wall behind the door to create a hallway. Two actors were sitting at a table a few feet from the window, while another actor entered from the door behind them and spoke to them.

When he put a 5k through the window, it looked great - very moody yet realistic, late afternoon feel to it. Then he had us scrim it down because the window was "too hot," like 4 stops over (spot reading), and had us supplement the key with Mickey Moles and Minis high up over the walls for key and back lights on the actors sitting at the table. Then he'd have us diffuse them. Then he kept adding more and more lights. And with every light that he added, I kept thinking, this is getting worse and worse! It looked pretty real with just the 5k, and now the set's starting to look like a sound stage. The funny thing is, he apparently learned how to light from John Alonzo, back in the 70s.
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#6 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 28 December 2006 - 04:18 AM

...Then he kept adding more and more lights. And with every light that he added, I kept thinking, this is getting worse and worse! It looked pretty real with just the 5k, and now the set's starting to look like a sound stage. The funny thing is, he apparently learned how to light from John Alonzo, back in the 70s.


Hmmm, perhaps he hasn't evolved or adjusted to using the faster speed films of today. I'm a huge fan of using large sources such as 5ks or 10ks as a main source, and it's really disconcerting when someone takes it too far and begins to overlight with supplemental sources just for the sake of filling the shadows.

Did anyone see this years Student Academy Award winners? There was one film, shot in HD actually, where literally the DP tried and made sure there weren't ANY shadows in the film. In one scene, he had a great source coming from outside an apartment which set a great mood all by itself, but then the door opened and when there should have been a doors shadow against the wall, we suddenly saw this huge overhead light cancelling out what great shadow it COULD have cast.
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#7 Morgan Peline

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Posted 28 December 2006 - 04:45 AM

http://www.amazon.co...-...TF8&s=books

There's a small chapter in Lighting Film and Television by Gerald Millerson where a set looks different in different styles of lighting - it doesn't however show you how the lights are set differently. The photos aren't that easy to decipher either as they are black and white but it kind of gets the idea across.

I think that the Holy Grail must be when you can add a few extra smaller lights that supplemement your big sources but have them so that they are so subtle that they just add that little extra 'je ne sais quoi' but yet don't ruin the realism of the scene. I suppose it's a taste thing - knowing the point when to stop 'adding' so that things don't start looking fake and over-lit.

My teacher seems to come from the other side of the spectrum. Because he comes from a documentary background and tends to shoot a lot of low budget films wher he doesn't get a lot of time or money, he always tries to use as few lights as possible and then he uses small reflectors and polyboards to make the most use of the few lights that he puts up. His gaffers always comment on how small his lighting packages are.
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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 December 2006 - 06:06 AM

My teacher seems to come from the other side of the spectrum.

Well, in his defense, he's not a DP anymore, more of a writer/director these days. Still, I thought it was really odd when he told me that before he started teaching the lighting class, no one at my school was teaching the subject at all. Jeez, that's SFSU for you!

I agree with you that simpler is better. I think it was Conrad Hall who said that each light should be doing something specific for the scene. If you can't see what a light is adding by turning it on and off, you should get rid of it. My problem as a student is that I usually err by lighting too little and too low-key.

Joey, here are a few examples from Blain Brown's "Motion Picture and Video Lighting" book. They show the process of lighting a set and how each light looks when added to whole. Not quite what you asked for, but all I could find in my library (sorry for the poor quality of the scans).

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ent][attachment=1645:attachment]

(If someone can tell me how to attach these so that they appear full size in the body of the post, I'd be very grateful - the help FAQ is not helpful).
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#9 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 28 December 2006 - 10:49 AM

IMHO,
It isn't just lighting, it is also where do you want to exposure the negative (or any electronic sensor ccd,etc.). In wich part of the latitude.

If for example you stop down to have the curtains of a window that is 4 stops up to normal exposure, you will get very nice silhouetes in the foreground. :)

So lighting itself cannot stand in a scene. It is our job to use the correct exposure. I can exposure a ''low key'' scene 4 stops up and as a result I will get only the eybrows from the actors in the film (exaggerating a bit to make myself clear).

Dimitrios Koukas
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