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How to light a scene


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#1 MarcFdez

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 04:21 PM

Hi! I'll be the director of photography in a low budget short film and I have doubts. We'll use a Canon EOS Rebel T2i.

I'm considering to light the short film such as Tom Antos explains in these tutorials:





I want to use a home made soft box with a 500 watts halogen lamp and a chinese paper ball with a 100 watts bulb inside. The soft box as key light and the chinese Paper Ball as fill or backlight (I really don't know how to use it yet)

What do you think about those videos? I really like them, and I can't find anything better on the net. I mean schemes to light a scene or something like that.

I love the photography of the films of Stanley Kubrick. Where can I watch or read about what kind of lights or schemes did he use? The best thing I've found were the American Cinematographer articles, but I can't find any schemes.

In which I'm interested is in how to get a dark film look such as the movies Eyes Wide Shut or the films of David Fincher like The Social Network, Seven or The Game. I made some tests only with the home made soft box (without the chinese paper ball yet) and I used a T4 lens. And to expose correctly I used ISO 800 with low light, but the video also looks over illuminated and flat. How can I get the low light look without the flat look like the great cinematographers? I bought the chinese lamp to avoid this flat look and I'll buy a T2.8 lens to use less light and only 100 ISO. But what scheme should I use or what else could I need?
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#2 Nathan Blair

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 08:39 AM

Those videos are decent for starters, but they are pretty basic in the grand scheme of things. Some of the shots could use a little more detailed assessment.

I would consider hanging the chinese lanterns close to your subjects as a soft key light. Your home made softbox sounds like it's perfect for a large source fill. None of the lights you've mentioned would be very ideal as backlights. The best backlights can be hidden off shot, and shoot a very controlled, narrow source toward your subject from further distances. I would consider investing in a Lowel light of some sort. They're very cheap.

For more dynamic lighting, make sure you're not placing your lights too close to the camera. Also, try shooting the shadow-side of your subjects. For instance, in the second video you've posted, the restaurant scene is a good example of this.

Good luck!
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#3 MarcFdez

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 12:05 PM

Thanks, but for instance I'd like to illuminate one scene in which two actors are sitting at the table. So, how can I light the scene to get the background darker?

I want to know the things are used by a DP to get a dark look. How they set up the lighting equipment?

I would be delighted if anyone could recommend me any kind of lighting equipment to do what I want, because I think all I have is probably useless. According to this, what kind of lighting equipment are used in cinema? I mean fluorescents, fresnels, pars…
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 13 July 2011 - 12:36 PM

2 people sitting at a table with a dark background could be as simple as an overhead china ball lighting the two people, flagged off with a skirt of duvateen to keep it from the walls.
Another thing you could do would be a directional point source straight down onto the table bouncing up into their faces.
Or you could cross light them and flag it off from the background
Or you could hand a kinoflo above them...

It really does get kind of limitless in a way as to how to set up a shot. And as for the equipment a DoP uses for a specific shot, it'll vary based on the DoP. What one might do in one situation another might'n't. I've used everything from big HMIs for a shot down to a 25W bulb i'm holding right under the lens. No equipment is "useless," to get the right shot but you need to decide how you want it to look and work from there based upon your budget, your location, your time, your own skill, how the actors look and respond to light (do you have someone who squints a lot for instance? or who will be adversy effected if you use a hot light on them?) ect.
Perhaps if you have some overhead diagrams and pictures of the location we could help out a lot more.
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#5 Nathan Blair

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Posted 14 July 2011 - 10:10 AM

I've found fresnels to be very useful in most situations. If you're going to start with any lighting gear, I recommend a good fresnel kit with a softbox.
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#6 Alexis Leonel Diaz Rivera

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Posted 15 July 2011 - 09:55 PM

KINOFLOs are pretty awesome. Check out Bandh.com for a couple lighting packages. Try to get some gels for color correction, use wax paper for diffusion. Try to use natural light or practicals to your advantage.
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#7 MarcFdez

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 02:40 PM

I've found one of the problems. I use an in-camera-meter (the reflected light meter of the EOS Rebel T2i), and I always record video with:

Shutter speed: 1/50
ISO: 100 or 200 not far due to noise.
Aperture: I change this according to the situation, 1.4, 2, 2.8…


Ok, I always set the aperture by using the needle or diode of the LCD to know when I have achieved the proper combination.

Well, I read that: reflected-light meters are designed to make all subjects appear average in brightness, the brightness equivalent to medium gray, they suggest camera settings that will overexpose (make too light) very dark subjects.

I think I understand what happens to me. As I said, with my eyes I see a scene with a light subject and a dark background, but If I follow the suggested settings of reflected-light meter of my camera I record a too light shot.

Should I modify the meter's exposure? How? I want to feel sure that I am exposing properly and I don't want any noise. Please, give me an example.

I include an overhead diagram of the location. I hope with this you can help me better. You can draw on it.

http://imageshack.us...locationmx.png/

The diagram shows this: We can see two actors sitting at the table, the walls are yellow. Behind one of them there is a small table. Behind the other there is a door with glasses and a curtain and behind these door there is a place in which I can hide lights.

In front of the last actor there are two doors, but without the doors ;) I can place lights there. I don't want to use natural light. There is only one real lamp, in the ceiling, but I never use it.

Please suggest me where to place my lights:

My homemade softbox
My chinese lantern
Some practicals.
And a new tungsten light that I bought.


It is not necessary to use everything.

Also tell me what light equipment you will use and where to place it. All for get a dark look like I said from the beginning.

I am considering to buy blue gels or another light equipment because I want to get a dark look and color effectslike the film in the vimeo video. Especially the 1.42 minute, we can see blue light and practicals, in a room with a man and a girl, in a great dark look :



The DOP of the film was Larry Smith, the same like Eyes Wide Shut and I think the color is also similar. Do you know what color gel it could be?
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#8 MarcFdez

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Posted 22 July 2011 - 08:15 AM

please, any suggestions?
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#9 Cody Cuellar

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Posted 23 July 2011 - 09:44 PM

It sounds like you are asking everyone to cram years of knowledge and experience into a few paragraphs, which isn't really possible. Also, what good is it for someone else to tell you exactly where to put lights and how to expose. This is something you will learn through experience and trial and error. It's like asking someone to tell you exactly which colors of paint and where to apply them in order to make a painting that looks like Picasso.

I think you need to understand a bit more of the basics, especially if you want to DP more things in the future and be confident in your abilities rather than panicking for someone else to do your job for you. Here's a few tips I can help you with, however.

First off, NEVER use an averaging light meter to set exposure. Reflected measuring is a purely relative method of reading light. Please read forums, photography books, etc to understand the methods of metering and how to interpret the readings. The short story is a reflected meter measures how much light is reflected off a surface and tells you where to set your meter to make that part of the image render at medium grey (halfway between black and white on the final image). So if its a black shirt, you would not want it to be that bright, so you'd underexpose your image a few stop from what the reading tells you. If it was a white shirt you would want it to be brighter than medium grey, so you would open up your iris a bit. Do yourself a favor and learn how meters work. Until then, use your eyes, and look at the image and expose based on how it looks to you. That's the art of cinematography is lighting for a specific look, instead of just for a "normal" exposure.

As for your scene, try something like this:
Softbox just over the top of frame, behind your characters but facing the table and characters. This will create a rim of light that will wrap around their faces. You could then use a white reflector just under camera to bounce some light back on their faces. Use your other lights to rake across your backround or add more edge/fill/key to your characters. Like everyone else said, there's 1,000,001 ways to light any given scene based on personal taste, experience and preference.

Hopefully this helps you a little bit. Good luck!
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#10 Cody Cuellar

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 01:01 PM

I want to use a home made soft box with a 500 watts halogen lamp and a chinese paper ball with a 100 watts bulb inside. The soft box as key light and the chinese Paper Ball as fill or backlight (I really don't know how to use it yet)


Also, you'll want to be careful with the halogen work lamps, as they vary in color temperature. They are probably more close to the 3000K mark, so you'll want to set your color temp to that if you want the light to appear white to the camera. If you want a look like the video you gave in the last link, you'll want a low blue ambience, with tungsten practicals to mix the colors up.

I've found fresnels to be very useful in most situations. If you're going to start with any lighting gear, I recommend a good fresnel kit with a softbox.


Nathan, I actually prefer open faced lights for bounce and softbox use. You get more efficient light and since you're going through diffusion or bouncing the light anyway, you just need the power. You can then throw a dimmer on it or scrims if you need to knock the intensity down. 1K open faced lights with soft boxes work wonders IMO.

Anyway, Marc, just remember, cinematography is an ART not a SCIENCE. There is no right or wrong way to light something, no right or wrong piece of equipment. It's just finding and using the tools you have available to you that can get the current task at hand done.
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#11 Nathan Blair

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 01:38 PM

Nathan, I actually prefer open faced lights for bounce and softbox use. You get more efficient light and since you're going through diffusion or bouncing the light anyway, you just need the power. You can then throw a dimmer on it or scrims if you need to knock the intensity down. 1K open faced lights with soft boxes work wonders IMO.


Thanks Cody, I actually had never thought about the difference between using openface and fresnel lights with softboxes. Both are definitely power hogs. The first lights I purchased were Arri 650w Fresnels and they're always great for throwing a controlled light from a distance. I've never owned any softboxes, although I wish I did. If I don't have money to rent soft sources I just use one of the many methods to soften my fresnels via diffusion, bounce, silks, etc... I feel that they're pretty versatile lights in that respect.

Like everyone's said, there are probably 100 ways to achieve lighting in a given scene, it just depends on your taste as the artist. My tip for you, Marc, is to think about shadows on a scale of 0-10, 0 being pure black and 10 being pure white, and use this full range within your shots. Remember that with any visual art, your most basic tools are the elements and principles of design, such as Line, Shape, Color, Texture, Balance, Contrast, etc... Learn how to use these well and you'll master cinematography.
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#12 Cody Cuellar

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 05:12 PM

Thanks Cody, I actually had never thought about the difference between using openface and fresnel lights with softboxes. Both are definitely power hogs. The first lights I purchased were Arri 650w Fresnels and they're always great for throwing a controlled light from a distance. I've never owned any softboxes, although I wish I did. If I don't have money to rent soft sources I just use one of the many methods to soften my fresnels via diffusion, bounce, silks, etc... I feel that they're pretty versatile lights in that respect.


Yea, fresnels are great for lighting things directly, as the lens helps the light become more controllable. It also produces cleaner shadows when the shadow edges will be visible in frame. They just don't have as much light output per watt as an open face, which makes the open face ideal for bouncing, diffusing, etc.

Like everyone's said, there are probably 100 ways to achieve lighting in a given scene, it just depends on your taste as the artist. My tip for you, Marc, is to think about shadows on a scale of 0-10, 0 being pure black and 10 being pure white, and use this full range within your shots. Remember that with any visual art, your most basic tools are the elements and principles of design, such as Line, Shape, Color, Texture, Balance, Contrast, etc... Learn how to use these well and you'll master cinematography.


This is very true. We could sit here and tell Marc how to light the scene all day long, but without the person who sees the frame understanding the principles of art and design, the images will never come out right (unless you're extremely lucky or artistically gifted). I think the best advice here for you Marc is to just shoot, buy a bunch of books, read a lot of forums and learn :)

Edited by Cody Cuellar, 24 July 2011 - 05:13 PM.

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