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Why do "Toppers" work?


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#1 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 08:38 PM

I've figured out a lot of things in my time, but I've never understood why toppers work. By topper I mean, if I set up a key light, like an 8'x8' muslin, it looks nice on the subject, but it's horrible on the back wall. Then, if I put a 12' teaser in front so that the top, or most, of the key light is blocked from hitting the wall but still hitting the subject, it looks great. Of course, this is standard practice, but somehow I've never been able to nail down a concrete reason for why it works. My guess is, it's simple geometry, in that the key is at a good angle for the subject, but as you get farther from the key, it just becomes a bland frontal light for the back wall, so it's best to get rid of it. ...Or, is it just one of things, like "everything looks better backlit."?

Edited by Jon Rosenbloom, 28 September 2009 - 08:38 PM.

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#2 David Rakoczy

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Posted 28 September 2009 - 08:43 PM

I think it has more to do with classical painting in that we tend to darken the edges of the frame.. drawing the focus of the viewer towards the interior of the canvas.
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#3 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 12:24 PM

Our eyes are drawn to the brightest parts of the frame first, so by darkening the wall in relation to the subject you're taking away it's visual importance. Like David says, it's painting with light - controlling the image and simplifying it to draw and lead the eye.

David, I'm shocked that you haven't recommended "Film Lighting" in your reply! ;)
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#4 Tom Jensen

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 12:50 PM

It's also because you don't want to light everything. I cover this topic extensively in both of my books, "Painting with Light or Lighting the Paint?" and "Painting Yourself into the Corner with Light." ;)
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#5 David Rakoczy

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 01:49 PM

My guess is, it's simple geometry, in that the key is at a good angle for the subject, but as you get farther from the key, it just becomes a bland frontal light for the back wall, so it's best to get rid of it. ...


I think you are absolutely correct.... that is why we knock it down but still use it nonetheless . It makes sense because it gives us directional light. Most light we experience is just that. Directional. At times we do completely knock the rear wall or background down as much as possible and re-light it from a completely different angle.... and in a classical sense this is unnerving. Great for effect tho!

Here ya go Satsuki FILM LIGHTING :lol:
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#6 Gus Sacks

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 02:53 PM

I feel like what was said is certainly part of it. I also feel like it could be as simple as when you see light come through a window, there's a natural topper on it via the window frame. Or a light coming through a door frame in your house... It's natural for light not to just fly into the ceiling, aside from a few particular circumstances.
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#7 Tom Jensen

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Posted 29 September 2009 - 03:13 PM

I feel like what was said is certainly part of it. I also feel like it could be as simple as when you see light come through a window, there's a natural topper on it via the window frame. Or a light coming through a door frame in your house... It's natural for light not to just fly into the ceiling, aside from a few particular circumstances.


That's a very good point and I was going to mention that but you beat me to it. That's what makes it look natural. The harder the light, the harder the shadows.
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#8 Aaron Medick

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Posted 01 October 2009 - 02:19 PM

Those are certainly the ascetic reasons but the technical reason is the physics of light. Light is ray "like" not a ray so a topper helps it be more ray like instead of bounces all over the place. With out a topper you are getting reflection off of the ceiling and the light from teh head is traveling in directions that are unascetically pleasing so cutter lets us control what we want to feature or hide.
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#9 Chris Keth

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Posted 01 October 2009 - 02:40 PM

For me, it's a couple reasons:

Separation. You had a lit subject and a lit wall. Now you have a lit subject against a dark wall.

Realism. Generally direct sunlight isn't hitting high on a wall. We're used to seeing rooms where the top half is darker than the bottom half.
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#10 stephen lamb

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 05:37 PM

I do it for the above reasons, especially to draw the eye to the subject. Also though, I find that if you start cutting your light a bit, it stops feeling like there is a light pointed at your subject. Makes it feel much less "lit."
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