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How do you know how much light you need?


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#1 David Calson

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Posted 05 April 2008 - 10:43 PM

I'm very green when it comes to lighting. But with any type of situation (a huge hallway, a scene at night, etc) how do you know how much light you need? Aside from educated guessing and experience, how can you gauge the amount needed?

There's a picture in ASCmag with Roger Deakins standing under hundreds of spacelights for a scene from 'Jarhead.' How did they know they would need that many?
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#2 Michael Nash

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Posted 06 April 2008 - 01:18 AM

Aside from educated guessing and experience, how can you gauge the amount needed?


Educated guessing, experience, and asking someone who knows how to do it!

Really, experience (between the DP and gaffer) and educated guessing (interpreting known photometrics) cover the bulk of it. That's really how it's done. And when you get into a situation you don't already know how to do, you ask someone who has more experience with it than you do. There's no shame in a DP asking a gaffer or another DP how to do something tricky, and there's certainly no harm in a student or entry-level crew member asking a higher-up how to do something.

The best thing is to just watch (and ask) and learn on film sets. Once you see something done, no matter how huge, it doesn't seem so mysterious.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 April 2008 - 01:54 AM

You learn one light at a time, one movie at a time. Maybe your first student movie you have two 1K's and two 650w lights, and maybe on the next you have a 1200w HMI PAR... well, eventually you get a sense of what you are getting from those lights and where they fall short, so maybe on the next show, you get a 5K to go with the 2K, or maybe a 4K HMI PAR to go with the 1200w HMI PAR, etc. And you learn how much they tend to put out on certain sized sets, across certain distances, etc.

The other general rule in Hollywood tends to be to use a light that you know is probably too bright and then scrim it down or soften it, rather than accidentally call for a light that is too dim for the shot. So you need a light to go through an 8'x8' lt. grid cloth for a medium shot outdoors at night and you ask for a 5K, let's say, and you want to get a T/2.8... but after you set it all up through the diffusion, you get a T/4, so you drop a double scrim in it.
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#4 David Calson

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Posted 06 April 2008 - 07:08 AM

Very enlightening (no pun intended). Thanks guys!
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#5 Malik Sajid

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Posted 08 April 2008 - 09:56 AM

One more thing, related to this...

how you guyz start? I mean you reach on a location, you take a look at it, and learn the situation, how you start lighting?
Do you start lighting the environment first, or do you think of the talent first?
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 April 2008 - 05:24 PM

Generally you light your widest shot and then march in for closer coverage, so you light the space but keep in mind how that lighting will look on the faces when you go in tighter, so that any changes you have to make for the faces in close-up are not major.
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#7 Michael Nash

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Posted 08 April 2008 - 05:56 PM

One more thing, related to this...

how you guyz start? I mean you reach on a location, you take a look at it, and learn the situation, how you start lighting?
Do you start lighting the environment first, or do you think of the talent first?


Arrrgh, it happened again. I wrote this long reply only to find out later it didn't post. I probably only hit "preview"...

Anyway, I'll try to tighten it up.

Lighting a scene is like cooking a meal. You have to decide what kind of meal you're going to make and how many you need to serve; break it into its components like entre, side dish and vegetables; make a list of ingredients, and start by putting together whatever takes the longest to cook.

With a scene you decide what kind of "look" you're trying to create and what angles you need for coverage. You break that into its components of the set, the talent, and smaller details also seen on camera (like deep background or important props). You have to understand how all of them fit together; you can't just start "cooking" one thing first and hope that the rest will fit. Then, you start putting together whatever lights take the longest to rig, fitting in the other lights simulataneously as much as possible.

Usually in a drama there's a lot of actor movement and different camera angles, so the lighting of the set IS the lighting for the actors. You do a blocking with the actors to see what marks they hit and where the camera will be, and try to make the set lighting accomodate that. The lighting then gets tweaked or sweetened on the closeups, as David suggest. In other types of productions like some commercials or music videos it's more important that the talent be lit a particular way, and the set is merely background.
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Aerial Filmworks

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