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Working with smaller lights


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#1 Alex Hall

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 11:23 PM

I find myself, on a lot of my projects, working with smaller wattage lights ( below 1k). I thought it would be useful to have a thread that discussed how you guys approach working with smaller lights and also any tips or techniques you could offer to others when working in this situation.

Share the knowledge.
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#2 Walter Graff

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 11:36 PM

I find myself, on a lot of my projects, working with smaller wattage lights ( below 1k). I thought it would be useful to have a thread that discussed how you guys approach working with smaller lights and also any tips or techniques you could offer to others when working in this situation.

Share the knowledge.



Check out some of the articles on my website were I use mostly small lights.
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#3 Alex Hall

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 11:48 PM

Check out some of the articles on my website were I use mostly small lights.



What is your website Walter?
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#4 Bill Totolo

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 11:54 PM

I find myself, on a lot of my projects, working with smaller wattage lights ( below 1k). I thought it would be useful to have a thread that discussed how you guys approach working with smaller lights and also any tips or techniques you could offer to others when working in this situation.

Share the knowledge.

It depends on what you're trying to accomplish first.

There are ways to make lights larger and softer, there are ways to shape light, and there are techniques to control the texture and pattern of light. Then you add color to the mix and you can accomplish quite a lot.

Can you give us a scenario so we can consider a few approaches? That will provide a lot of insight as no two DP's approach photography exactly the same way.

Cheers,
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#5 Patrick Neary

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 12:20 AM

Hi-

Working with small lights generally means that your working with what's already there (natural light) and augmenting. You can't really light a city block at night with a 1k, but you can expose for the existing light and fill or "clean up" a face with even a small pepper.
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#6 Serge Teulon

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 07:39 AM

If you are lighting something like an interview from black then small lights can be used for sculpturing. I have used in the past a combination of a 650w fresnel with a chimera for Key, and 2 300's fresnel as back and kick.

As said already, if not shooting in controlled situation and if shooting a something simple, then they become more of augmenting tool than anything else.

Edited by Serge Teulon, 30 December 2008 - 07:40 AM.

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#7 Walter Graff

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 07:56 AM

For me the answer is there simply is not answer or tips that one can simply say work with small lights. It's such a broad topic and so dependent on what you are doing as to be unanswerable.
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#8 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 08:46 AM

When you only have small units to work with, you are somewhat at the mercy of the situation, however that shouldn't mean you just throw in the towel and decide that it can't be done or just point the camera anywhere and shoot.

I've found that knowing the tools, how to use them and what the limitations/parameters are, helps me to create shots where others haven't been able to.

For instance, I once had to shoot an interview (head and shoulders) and was led to the "only" place I could do it, near the set, quiet, but damn ugly. I couldn't black it out entirely, but I COULD overpower the ambient light with my 1K as a key on the subject. Just doing that allowed me to drop my exposure to around an 8 and the ugliness of the background went away. We moved in a couple of set pieces to go behind/over the shoulder and I lit those appropriately. To finish it off, I had a 300k on a dimmer for a backlight.

For comparison's sake, when I came in to work a couple day's later, the Unit Publicist thanked me for the interview. It was no big deal to me, so I inquired as to why he was thanking me. Turns out that a crew from E or ET or Access (one of those) came to shoot an interview with the same guy and was given the same place to shoot. He evidently took one look at it and decided that it was impossible so he (the Cameraman) led them all down to the noisy street (with no movie set in sight) to shoot their interview.

I could have shrugged off the situation and given up too, but most of the time, my job requires that I use a less than ideal location for one reason or another. So it is often about taking a look at what I've got to work with and then choosing my angles wisely. I don't want to be shooting a beautiful background if there is no way to key the talent to that level. So I pick a darker background, or one that I have some moderate control over, that will produce a nice frame.

I look at it this way... nobody except me knows what I DIDN'T get. When my stuff runs on TV or on a DVD a year later, there isn't anyone sitting at home saying, "Why didn't that Cameraman turn the camera the other way toward that better angle on the room?" All they know is what they see and I do my best to make THAT look as great as possible. To do that, in collaboration with the Director/Producer, I take into consideration everything that could affect my work.... that includes the lighting I carry (or could carry if given advanced notice), the camera and it's parameters, and how much TIME I have to work. If I have two hours to light something, then I could make a difficult situation work. But if I only have an hour or less, then I have to make other choices.

But that's true whether you have small sources, big sources, a crew of twelve (Electric, Grip, Camera), or a crew of one.... it's all about managing the resources you have to get the job done within a given amount of time. A DP with a forty-footer full of gear and a full crew may go through the same thought process of "I don't have time to light that, but I can do that instead and it will be just as good."
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 12:50 PM

Are we talking about using small lights when most people would use small lights, or small lights trying to do the job of big lights?
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#10 J. Lamar King

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 04:10 AM

Are we talking about using small lights when most people would use small lights, or small lights trying to do the job of big lights?


That's my question too. It all just depends on the situation you are in. I work off a 10 ton electric truck and all the time find myself lighting INT. night scenes with Inkies, tweenies, red heads and EAL's.
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#11 Alex Hall

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 06:31 PM

Are we talking about using small lights when most people would use small lights, or small lights trying to do the job of big lights?



David,

I was thinking more along the lines of small lights doing the job of bigger lights. Obviously you cant light a city block with them, but what can you do when you are limited to working with smaller lighting units?
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 07:26 PM

Some of this is purely practical, i.e. how large an area do you need to light and what's the minimum acceptable level you can get away with once you take into account the sensitivity of the camera, speed of the lens, frame rate, etc.

Now what's "acceptable" in terms of noise, grain, depth of field, sharpness may also be a creative issue specific to the look you want to achieve.

Basically harder lighting techniques are more efficient in terms of intensity levels than soft lighting techniques, so it gets harder and harder to create large soft lights at an acceptable level when the lights you are using get smaller and lower in output.

But if your limitation is, for example, the amount of electricity available, you can work with fluorescents, for example, like Kinoflos, which are naturally soft with a low power consumption.

Otherwise it may come down to lighting the wider shots with harder, more projected lights and closer shots with softer lights. If what you really want is the effect of a 20'x20' diffusion frame filled by a Mini-Brute or a 10K, it's hard to do the same effect with a 100w Pepper. Unless it is a very tight shot...

If I am working with limited power, then I try to carry a few "brute force" lights, lights with a lot of punch for their consumption -- a 1K PAR64 with a spot or narrow spot globe, for example. A 1200w HMI PAR. The 1K Xenon, though that's a very expensive unit with a limited effect, but it can create a real sunlight beam effect. On a smaller scale of the same idea, a 800 Joker HMI inside a Source-4 for example.

I once lit an entire alleyway at night by putting a 1K PAR 64 spot in the background pointed back at the lens, then blocked the flare with a piece of art direction hiding the source -- the glare off of the sides of the buildings and ground from reflecting the PAR was enough to give the illusion of full exposure (it helped that everything was a little damp.)

The thing with soft lighting techniques is that you can use multiple units and blend them into one soft source. So if you are carrying four 650w Tweenies, for example, you could shine or bounce all four of them and get a decent level. But then you've used up your four Tweenies...
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#13 Alex Hall

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 09:03 PM

Thanks David, lots of useful info once again.
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#14 Patrick Nuse

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 03:26 AM

Check out some of the articles on my website were I use mostly small lights.

Nice info on the site!
Only one thing, In the article setting up a standard def monitor, I think there is a typo. should it say brightness control instead of contrast?
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