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Lighting narrative vs beauty


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#1 Artyom Zakharenko

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 06:33 AM

Hello everyone

 

Im doing a short film next week and cant decide what to put preference to, lighting for the story, or for the woman's face. There are lots of scenes where the woman has to look elegant in a dark natural environment. What are your thoughts on this subject, have you ever had the same 'problem' and how did you deal with it?

 

Thanks


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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 07:45 AM

Well if the woman has to look elegant and wonderful in a dark room, I would probably err on the side of beauty lighting for the woman, but motivate it realistically in the wides. For example, she's sitting at a desk in a dark room. For the wide, I'd use a bit of a harder light to pick her out of the dark room, perhaps pretending it is the light from a lamp on the desk or something, and maybe there's a window which I can use to motivate some back-lighting, again, harder on the wide, then 'd clean it up in the close up by softening things and maybe sneak in a diffusion filter (maybe i'd use a lighter grade diffusion filter for the wide shot and go 1 up heavier for the close). It all depends on the story and the lighting opportunities the location/set offers you up-- not to mention the blocking you're planning on doing. 


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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 01:02 PM

It's up to the DP to find the balance - this is an age-old problem, creating mood while glamorizing the lead actress.  You basically need to find a way to create a shadowy, contrasty environment but a fairly frontal key light on the face.

 

casablanca1.jpg

 

 

casablanca2.jpg


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#4 Artyom Zakharenko

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 01:07 PM

Thanks guys!


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#5 Christopher M Schmidt

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 11:21 AM

The question is why does the women have to look beautiful....is it what script/director is calling for and for what reason. I personally feel beauty lighting for the sake if it being a pretty women star is an antiquated idea (note david's reference). If she is to look beautiful for a dramatic reason then go for it! I would be creative about the effect and try to do something interesting with it. maybe under-light your background as natural and dark as you can and give her some unmotivated beauty light blending the dark natural world with the antiquated beauty lighting notion. 

 

 

If she needs to be lit beautiful just because she is a the leading lady I would question the directors intention and I would make sure the work is serving the story first. Not that it shouldn't be a consideration how a face looks on camera...you certainly don't want to just make her look bad or create some sort of odd shadow casting that distorts her face...but you don't want to do that with a man either. I think in end my point is just that if you are lighting a women differently not because of the story but because she is a women you need to consider why you are doing it and remember its 2013 and the way society is treating women's images could use some work.

 

#feminism  


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#6 Christopher M Schmidt

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 11:30 AM

...on the more technical note Mr Sierkowski said it well I think...I personally stay away from filters but if its supposed to call attention to itself then fitlers are great! other then that I would just find ways to motivate light if you want it to be natural and have reason....a hanging light bulb in a dark room or w/e there is always a way and then just control the light on her to keep it of your background as to keep the dark environment 


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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 11:50 AM

Maybe you have more artistic freedom than I do, but it is common for me to be asked to flatter certain actresses with lighting regardless of reality.  I can sit there and argue on the set with the producers and the actress' hair & make-up people about the needs of the story or the reality of the scene and where the source lighting is coming from, etc. but that doesn't go very far when they only have one goal -- make the actress look her best.  Yes, it dates back to the beginning of cinema, but the need hasn't changed today.  It's my job to use all the lighting tricks I know to flatter the actress is a way that still works within the world of the movie and the established style, but given a choice between making the actress look good and being realistic with the lighting, most of the people I work for want be to choose the first so I just have to do it in a way that makes sense to me, that I can live with.

 

Sometimes it's a bit frustrating when I know what everyone wants me to do, which is to key her flatly right over the lens, but I'm trying to maintain some resemblance to reality.  The trick is to design the blocking so that a source of light would naturally be front-lighting her face, or in an extreme backlighting situation, the light on her face would just be soft frontal ambience / fill.  I've worked with some actresses who would stop acting a scene if they felt that the key light wasn't frontal enough for their tastes, and wait until it got moved right next to the camera.  That can be frustrating in a space where the only light, for example, is coming from some windows to one side.

 

It's also hard now that cameras have become so sensitive that the light levels on set can be so low, like for a night interior with a real cityscape outside the windows -- I've keyed a person with a Lowell Rifa with three layers of net over the light, which has been dimmed down. The unit looks too dim to the eye to be providing a light but on the monitors, it looks like a bright light, so for the actress used to seeing a tweenie right over the lens or a 2K bounced into a 4x8 beadboard behind the camera, they can be unnerved with such dim lighting even though it is still coming from a flattering angle.

 

I see plenty of feature films made today in a naturalistic style where the leading actresses are always soft-lit frontally no matter whether it is a day or night scene, or set during a power outage!


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#8 Christopher M Schmidt

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Posted 21 October 2013 - 01:15 PM

I definitely see where your coming from David and that is really interesting to hear....especially the bit about lower light levels making talent feel uneasy or an actress not shooting because of the light.  I do agree it is possible to light both "naturally" and always have an actress lit softly and frontally. Although I think the word "naturally" is a tricky one as it seems to just be the new standard and generally just means scenes looking less lit while often still using classic lighting technique to create a safe image.... I think the need to keep a face dark or contrasty etc is not necessarily due to an onus to the reality of the situation but is simply a creative option to have. and certainly a face can be dark/contrasty....even barley visible and yet still beautiful! maybe producers and actress's do not understand this though I suppose. they should look at bill hensons photos! ....maybe that would not help though haha. 

 

 

I certainly do work in a different world on a much lower tier currently! However when doing commercial work I often run into this and will light nice and friendly to faces. Fortunately though working with the few directors I do in narrative and at the beginning stage of my career we can take risks and have little commercial interests at hand. I think it must be very tough when much more money and commercial interest is at stake. I have to say I feel an actress who is really an actress should have trust in the director and the film and be there to tell the story like everyone else!  I'm sure it gets much much more complicated though and it makes me think those actress's who are willing to take bigger risks in their carers while being "famous" deserve much credit michel williams in Wendy and lucy certainly comes to mind  

 

 

sorry to have taken the thread in a tangent but I feel this is a pretty interesting conversation would be curious what others have to say


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#9 Artyom Zakharenko

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Posted 23 October 2013 - 04:00 PM

''That can be frustrating in a space where the only light, for example, is coming from some windows to one side''

Thats exactly what i was talking about.. 


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#10 Stephen Selby

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Posted 11 December 2013 - 09:46 AM

You probably want to keep lighting soft, but flagged very well to keep light off the rest of the scene - that is more flattering. Add rim lighting that is glamourous. Make sure you keep your actress frontal lit, and high enough but not too steep. Personally I don't think an actress wanting to look beautiful should persuade the director or dop to shoot in a particular way.

 

Though having said that the source light in the Casablanca picture looks pretty hard to me (see highlights in eyes and nose shadow). David is hardness really defined by size and the type of light?! Or is it more to do with ratios of key and fill? What about brightness of the light. When I turn my dedo dimmers right down to equivalent of a 40w incandescent bulb they seem quite soft?


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