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when to change lights


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#1 Jim Nelson

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 03:52 PM

hi,

I'm a film student and I'm having some difficulty on something. Can someone please tell me why you adjust the lights when you go from a wide shot to a close up or medium shot.

I know obviously that you should change the lights when you see them in the frame or you go 180 degrees or you cast your own shadows. But apart from that I don't understand why you should change the lights when you go from wide shot to close up. I've seen many dp's do it and it's quite confusing to me.


Can someone please help me out.

Thanks
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#2 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 03 April 2009 - 04:00 PM

When lighting a wide shot, it's often necessary to use harder sources than desired. It's also occasionally necessary to light from angles that are not ideal. When going in for closer coverage, many DPs will take the opportunity to soften and/or reposition lamps in order to light the actors in a more pleasing or appropriate manner.

Generally, the adjustments are minor, such as softening a keylight, whilst maintaining it's original direction and intensity.
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#3 Jim Nelson

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 06:39 AM

Hi,

Thanks for replying.

I'm sorry I don't get why you would use harder lights in a wide shot and then soften them in a close up. I get it that you should do that when the lights are far and then when you bring them closer for the close up you should soften them. But what if you keep them at the same distance?

Also someone told me that you change the lights from wide shot to close up to get the same feel than the wide shot. And also to bring out certain elements (shadow, highlight etc) in the close up or to weaken them. I don't really understand that. Can you please tell me if you know what that means?

And also how you can see what to change and what not to change?


Thanks a million for your help.
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#4 Pete Wallington

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 07:09 AM

Wide shots are usually a compromise. You are limited to where you can place lights while keeping them out of frame. You're also limited in how much you can control these lights with flags etc, as you also need to keep all the grip gear out of the frame. When you move in for the close ups you are much less limited, you can usually put lights pretty much wherever you want and have a lot more control over them. That's why a lot of times you will adjust the lighting for a closeup. In the wide you have to compromise and in the closeup you don't, so you can often get a better image by moving your lights into a more favourable position.

Shadow and highlight may look completely different in a closeup even with an identical lighting setup. The contrast through a frame is affected by what's in the frame. Often in a wide shot you can get away with imperfections that would show up much more obviously when you punch in for the CU, such as a shadow so dark it holds no detail or what was a small highlight in the wide shot becomes a huge highlight when you punch in closer.

Edited by Pete Wallington, 04 April 2009 - 07:09 AM.

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#5 David Rakoczy

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 07:28 AM

FILM LIGHTING
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#6 JD Hartman

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 08:39 AM

Your profile indicates "film Student". What have you instructors talked about in regard to lighting the "wide", "medium", "cu"?
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#7 Jim Nelson

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 08:07 PM

Thank you so much for helping me.

-So what you mean Pete, is that when you go from a wide shot to a close and the lights remain at the same distance, you would adjust a light to weaken or enhance something. Because in the wide shot the effect looks good, but in the close up and even in the medium shot it looks too weak or too big. It looks less present or more present.
Am I correct? and is there anything more?

-But what do you do when you move the camera around, such as doing a dolly in?

-And also how do see what you should change and what you should not change? For me a wide shot, a close up and a medium shot look the same in terms of the effect of the lights. What do you advice me to do to see exactly what's wrong and what's not? I know this last question is a bit complex :(


Thanks for all your help.


David, thank you for advising me this book. I will try to buy it.

And JD, our instructors have just told us to light so that the shots look good and the way you want them to look. However I didn't see why every DP kept adjusting a light when we moved in for a close up and the lights were at the same distance.

Thanks again
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#8 timHealy

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 10:11 PM

Put it this way. In a wide shot you can barely see the actors faces. Then you go for a close up, you put a magnifying glass up to the actors face, if you want them to look good, you have to light them differently. When you start doing it you'll understand, so go out and start shooting.

Best

Tim
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#9 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 02:21 AM

Is there anything more?

Yes. When you light a wide shot, you are generally lighting a room or an environment. You're mainly thinking about how to make the light look motivated and realistic (or at least interesting) while at the same time creating a mood that is appropriate for the scene. Making the actor look perfect is often secondary to these goals. In a close up, you're more concerned with complementing the actor's performance by modeling their features in a flattering way, getting an eyelight to catch in their eyes, modeling the background to complement the actor in the foreground, and cheating all these tweaks so that the audience buys that both the wide and close up were shot at the same time.

The reason the key light in the wide shot is often a compromise is because you often want a larger (and thus, softer) source but you can't get enough exposure with the fixture that you have. So you end up taking the diffusion off, or the softbox, or using a direct fresnel instead of a bounce to get more exposure. So the light doesn't wrap around the face as much and throws a harder shadow than you would like. But for the close up, you can change this. So, then why wouldn't you? With bigger budgets, you tend to have more gear to pull this off. But then the shots become more challenging, so it's never enough.

But what do you do when you move the camera around, such as doing a dolly in?

Whatever you can get away with and still achieve the goals I mention above. This frequently requires having lights on dimmers, grips feathering flags or nets on a light, electrics panning lights, and all kinds of other tricks. And if you can't get away with any of that, like on a long steadicam shot, then you live with what you have. But good DPs look at every frame critically and are always tweaking to try and improve the shot - for us, the lighting is never perfect, it's usually just "good enough."

And also how do see what you should change and what you should not change? For me a wide shot, a close up and a medium shot look the same in terms of the effect of the lights.

Start looking more critically and you will see flaws that can be corrected in every frame. Experience will teach you how to fix a certain problem, or how to create an effect, but there's always more to learn.
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#10 Karel Bata

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 06:35 AM

I'll echo the heads up on Kris Malkiwiecz's book. One of the best books on the subject!

May I also add Lighting for Location Motion Pictures, Masters of Light, New Cinematographers, and of course the video Visons of Light?

Happy reading! ;)
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#11 Jim Nelson

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 12:45 PM

Thank you so much for all the help.

Just one thing though, if you can see clearly the face of the subject in a wide shot, do you still adjust the lights for the medium and the close up?

And is it the same case when you go from a medium shot to close up?


Things are getting much clearer, but there are still some points which are a bit confusing. Thank you very much for all your help and advice.
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#12 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 12:57 PM

Sam there are always gray areas, ya know? It's not that you can't see the faces in the wide, it's that it's harder to tell the quality of the light on 'em in the wide.
If you watch Road to Perdition, in the warehouse scene, in the beginning where the kid is watching, you'll see the lighting changes from the wide to the close.. though you won't notice it unless you look for it.
Watch any film and note how it changes from wide/medium/close and you'll get a good understanding, ya know?
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#13 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 02:19 AM

... if you can see clearly the face of the subject in a wide shot, do you still adjust the lights for the medium and the close up?

If a DP's sole criteria for good lighting is that "the audience can see the face," then he or she would never get hired - that's not even close to being good enough to justify calling yourself a DP. Any village idiot with a light meter can light a face so that it exposes on film. The point is, does it look good? And could it look better? The better the DP, the more often the answer to the first question is "yes" and the second question is "no." If you haven't guessed by now, DPs are perfectionists by nature. :)
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#14 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 02:36 AM

Additionally, it helps to think about lighting this way:

Motivation: Where is the light coming from? What is the source of the light supposed to be? A window, the sun, the moon, streetlights, car headlights, fluorescents, neons, light bulbs, reflections off of car windows, etc. For every source of light in a scene (and there can be one, two, or a dozen in a single scene), you would use the following criteria to determine how to use your lights to mimic each effect.

1. Quantity: How much is there? Is there enough light? Too much?

2. Quality: Does it cast a hard shadow, a soft shadow, or hardly any shadow at all? How does it make the environment or face look? Is it static or moving?

3. Direction: Where is it coming from? Above, below, side, back, 3/4, front? How high or low? How far or close?

4. Color: Is it red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow? White? Tinted? Mixed colors? Complementary?

Edited by Satsuki Murashige, 06 April 2009 - 02:39 AM.

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#15 Jim Nelson

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 05:22 AM

The better the DP, the more often the answer to the first question is "yes" and the second question is "no."



So what you mean is that a good DP doesn't change the lights when he goes from a medium shot to close up?


Sorry if I keep insisting on these things, it's just that I want everything to be clear?

Thanks for everyone's help.
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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 05:26 AM

Sam, abandon thoughts of clarity. There is no hard and fast rule. Sometimes you can, or have to, light a whole sequence with just one setup, sometimes you have to tweak em for the close ups. How much one tweaks or doesn't isn't the measure of a good or bad DP. i would say, instead, a good DP knows when the lighting must be changed, and how much he can change it and still keep it feeling like the same "space," whereas a bad DP doesn't
Of course this is assuming we're going for a "realistic" treatment of things. If you want to get stylized you can change lighting as much or a little as you want so long as it's motivated by the story and the visual treatment you and the director have arrived at.

Perfect example:
Once shooting a student film I didn't change the lighting at all from the wide to the close. Instead, I just sat and waited with the director for just the right time so that the sunlight coming through the windows into the room did all the work for us.
Other times I've fussed with an eye light or a rim light trying to get it just right; moved lights in and out, killed big sources and totally relit for a close up. It just depends on what's going on on the set around you and in the specific scene.
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#17 Jim Nelson

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 05:45 AM

But usually, would you adjust the lights from a medium shot to a close up?
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#18 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 05:53 AM

Yes, as a general guideline it's good to adjust lights when you can, as in from a medium to a close up.
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#19 timHealy

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 10:29 AM

I few DP's I know like to change and adjust lights between takes and not just between shots.

Best

Tim
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#20 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 03:04 PM

But usually, would you adjust the lights from a medium shot to a close up?


No. Generally the adjustments would take place after you have the wide shot in the can. Given that the wide may have forced you to place lamps in positions that weren't ideal, or to have used harder sources than you wanted, you would take the opportunity to move the lamps to their ideal positions, and perhaps use some diffusion on them to create a more pleasing shot.

However, there are a number of reasons why this might not happen. One is a shot that develops from a wide to a much closer shot. In this case you are stuck with whatever you light the wide with. Another reason (probably the most important) is Time. Most productions are pushed for time. You may get away with tweaking lights once, but doing so between every setup will slow production down, and doing that will eventually get you fired.
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