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#1 James Chindley

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 04:25 AM

Hi guys, 

 

I wanted to find out what techniques people are using to combat/harness overhead light. I've got a scene coming up where there's a bunch of fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling (the only motivation for light in the location) so I'd like to use it as the main source but keep it fairly low-key with nice shaping to the faces.

 

In my previous experience I've found it difficult to achieve a flattering look on the talent (such as the attached image from Skyfall - which works well for the scene but is what I'm trying to avoid). Are there any techniques you employ in your own work to avoid overly shadowy eyes?

 

I thought Rodrigo Prieto's work in Wolf of Wall Street (image attached) was really well handled as there's a nice shaping of light on the faces in what would otherwise be quite a flat looking environment with banks of fluorescents in the ceiling of an office - would he have employed additional lamps from lower angles in conjunction with the practical lights in the ceiling to create a pleasing lighting contrast to the faces?

 

There are a few ideas I've already experimented with such as softening the overhead light with diffusion - which I like but, again, still gives pools of shadow under the eyes.

 

Bouncing the light from below with reflectors softens the contrast of overhead lighting but always feels like an additional source coming from an angle which doesn't feel natural? Maybe I need to be more subtle..

 

What techniques do you recommend/use in every day situations? I'd be interested to hear advice for all manner of situations (low key, high key, dramatic, experimental, etc). I love Robert Richardson's top-light look but I'd like to avoid this style in favour of a softer, more natural feel for my upcoming project.

 

Thanks in advance!

 

- James.

 

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  • Skyfall.jpg
  • WoWS.jpg

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#2 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 08:27 AM

Forget diffusing all the over heads.. take for ever in an office and will not solve your eye shadow problem.. 

 

The bottom frame look that you want is of course another light source being used ..  its very soft and pretty flat.. so its not really looking out of place.. I wouldn't be too worried about there not being a logical reason for every light you set..   unless its totally visually jarring .. (unless its an effect you want of course )..  where does the music come from, an orchestra just out of frame. ..  it could be coming from a window say.. anyway if you don't and keep it totally as "natural" well its over head so you will have the eye socket shadow effect..  at the very least you could just use a reflector for close ups..  


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#3 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 08:27 AM

I'm no expert, but I'd like to explain a simple overhead setup that I recently did. I once tried a tungsten 650w fresnel as a top light and got some horrible shadows (I would never try that again unless shadows where wanted). On the next shoot I tried a kinoflow 401 coming from a top angle of 45 degrees from behind the actress. I was quite happy with the result, the softness of the kino wrapped around the actresses face really well. It was an extremely simple setup, but I'm happy with the results. I also used a Pro Mis 1/2 filter on this shot as the scene called for that kind of feel.

 

I'm DOPing a short film in a couple of weeks time. The scene is set in a really small prison cell, and the actors walk around throughout the scene. So I can't place light stands to be honest, so I've planned to use polecats on the ceiling to rig lights out of the way. I think I'm going to go for a kino top light again, and might try some +green gels to make it lot gritty like an old prison cell would probably be like. 

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  • 11221328_814910011957590_7004104988121290017_o.jpg

Edited by Bradley Stearn, 11 August 2015 - 08:27 AM.

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#4 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 09:52 AM

Hi Brad

 

How did you get that light on her face with a kino 45 degrees behind her .. would any light hit her face..  did you have some bounce..

 

Looks great.. I just cant imagine that light hitting her face like that from 45 degrees above and behind her..  never found the kino,s to be that soft .. even then to wrap around to the front of her face and hand.. from such an acute angle behind her.. did you use any other lights for this frame.. 

 

It looks very nice of course..


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#5 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 10:41 AM

Hi Brad

 

How did you get that light on her face with a kino 45 degrees behind her .. would any light hit her face..  did you have some bounce..

 

Looks great.. I just cant imagine that light hitting her face like that from 45 degrees above and behind her..  never found the kino,s to be that soft .. even then to wrap around to the front of her face and hand.. from such an acute angle behind her.. did you use any other lights for this frame.. 

 

It looks very nice of course..

 

Now I think about it, the light was positioned long ways, more behind the actress, like a backlight, but with some light hitting her face. Which is why the backlight seems stronger, but it was all from the same kino.

I can't remember if we had bounce for this frame, but I might have had a 2x2 white polyboard doing a bit of bouncing. 


Edited by Bradley Stearn, 11 August 2015 - 10:42 AM.

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#6 Mark Dunn

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 11:09 AM

Yes, looks like catchlights from a board in the eyes and earring.


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#7 John E Clark

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 11:48 AM

 

Now I think about it, the light was positioned long ways, more behind the actress, like a backlight, but with some light hitting her face. Which is why the backlight seems stronger, but it was all from the same kino.

I can't remember if we had bounce for this frame, but I might have had a 2x2 white polyboard doing a bit of bouncing. 

 

Looks like bounced light for fill, the pearl ear stud suggests something lower than the camera frame kicking light back into that area.


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#8 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 11:59 AM

You guys are great! You know more about my setup than I do haha :)


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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 August 2015 - 12:10 PM

In a top-lit fluorescent environment, the light comes in soft pools and sometimes is slightly behind, in front, or dead overhead, or even slightly to one side but overhead, etc.  So it's partly just a matter of not having the source end up directly over the head.  If it's more ahead of the actor than it's a bit more frontal and less toppy, and it's slightly behind the actor and creates a soft toppy backlight, then the light on their faces again is coming from the next fixture ahead of them and is slightly more frontal.  

 

So often the practical solution, if you can't get the actor to not end up with direct overhead light is to cover or flag the light right over there head and then key them with another soft fluorescent unit like a Kinoflo from a more flattering angle, still high-ish but from the front or side more.

 

When I shot that single episode of "Mad Men" on their office set last year, they had black coroplast cards cut to cover either half or all of a fixture in the ceiling, with magnets on the corners of the card so they could just slap it up there and cover the fixture or part of it, then we lit with 4' 4-bank Kinos high up on the stands to replace that overhead, but from a more flattering or more dramatic angle.


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#10 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 12 August 2015 - 12:47 AM

You guys are great! You know more about my setup than I do haha :)

 haha sorry.. I just don't see how you got that very nice light on her face if the light was behind her as a back light.. and high pointing down at 45 degrees.. would seem to defy the laws of physic,s..   not getting on your case.. its lovely lighting what ever you did.. beautiful frame sir.. ! 


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#11 James Chindley

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Posted 12 August 2015 - 03:24 AM

Great answers guys, much appreciated! 

 

Lovely frame grab Bradley, it's so useful to see examples of people's work to illustrate their point. Thank you David for your input which seems like a very clever and simple solution and I also appreciate Robin's point about being able to cheat the lighting to suit your needs.


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#12 Guy Holt

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Posted 13 August 2015 - 10:29 AM

 

I wanted to find out what techniques people are using to combat/harness overhead light. 

 

As previously noted, one of the biggest challenges  in situations like this is getting light into the eyes of your talent. If you don't, your talent's eye will look dark and bruised because the very toppy light of the overhead fluorescents won't dig into their eyes.

 

 

samplethief8lg.jpeg

 

 

You may want to consider the approach we took in the production stills above and below, where we hung 4'-4 Bank kinos with Opal coved below the fixture to make a "Bay Light."

 

 

samplethief6lg.jpeg

 

 

Coving the Opal under the light, redirects it horizontally so that it will dig into the talents eyes.

 

 

samplethief4lg.jpeg

 

 

You may also want to consider using a combination of hard and soft light as we did here to create contrast in a situation where the practical lighting  is usually very flat.

 

 

samplethief3lg.jpeg

 

 

Typically with drop ceiling hangers (baby pins on scissor clips) lights hang below the ceiling where they are likely to be caught in shot. However we developed a system we call the “Porta Grid” that enables the rigging of larger lights or kino banks above the ceiling (see picture below.)

 

 

ExHomeBut13Detail7.jpeg

 

 

As you can see here, with the right rigging equipment, you can use drop ceilings like a studio grid. Use this link for more pictures of productions that used drop ceilings on location as if they were a studio grid.

 

- Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston


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#13 Albion Hockney

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Posted 13 August 2015 - 11:18 AM

I think it really depends on what you are trying to achieve especially in terms of mood and tone.  The bigger/softer you get the source the more it will wrap around the face and clean up the eyes. I think you need to think bigger then a single kino if you want something softer and rig something overhead. I have done kinos through two layers of diff overhead and that is pretty good. 250 on the barndoors of a 4ft kino through a 4x frame of 216....once I tapped bulbs to a ceiling in a grid array like 6 bulbs in 2 lines over 8ft or so and then draped 216 over that for a wide shot and then for closeups I added in another frame of 250 over the talent to further soften it.

 

An example I really like is Harris Savides work on Birth. He covered whole rooms in an over head book light I believe making a huge soft top source. If there is no other motivation and you want to be subtle I wouldn't add in any other sources other then maybe a low angle bounce....which depending on your floor may happen naturally.... if the floor is super dark then a little bounce might help.


Edited by Albion Hockney, 13 August 2015 - 11:24 AM.

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#14 James Chindley

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Posted 24 August 2015 - 03:31 AM

Thank you for that great explanation Guy - very cool to see in action!

 

I will check out 'Birth' Albion - like the sound of a super soft overhead book light.


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#15 Michael Collier

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Posted 24 August 2015 - 04:19 AM

never fight the light of the location you find yourslef in. The main difference between the two shots you used as examples was where the light was relative to the the subject, and only by a matter of a few feet.  There is a reason to use very tolpy light, just as there is a reason to use nice soft 3/4 light. You can push a director into staging for natural light. If the framing keeps that from happening, you can spin out the tubes in that unit, and place a 4x4 kino where you need it.  But in every scene you need to make a call about where the key is coming from.  Every other light should be meant to wrap that light (even if it doesn't make logical sense) or it needs to augment and stylize that key light.

 

You are best served by deciding what the one light is that lights the scene (in the mind of the viewer) and then add lights that builds on that motif, without disabusing a viewer of that direcionality.  I have learned that there is a lot you can get away with that doesn't make logical sense, but makes thematic sense, or sense within the overall structure of the image.  You should always know where "the" light source is coming from, and that is usually informed by your DP, but so long as you aren't fighting against the gravity of the scene, there is a lot you can do to make the scene make sense, while also fulfulling the reqirments of lighting.

 

Keep in mind the 3 things lighting must do: provide exposure for an image of appropriate value, compensate for the contrast difference between a camera and your eyes, and give the brain a logical representation of a 3D world in a 2D space.  Those are the things lighting must do, what lighting can do is much more nuanced than that (OK, I stole that from cinematographer style. The point remains valid)


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#16 James Chindley

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Posted 30 August 2015 - 05:49 AM

Great post Michael - thanks for sharing. I'm going to try and commit that last part to memory!


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#17 Stuart Allman

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Posted 30 August 2015 - 02:45 PM

James,

 

I faced a similar situation two weeks ago while shooting in an abandoned hospital here in So Cal.  In the ER there wasn't a really great way to hide lights and the 2nd unit absconded with our kit!  What I did to add a bit more flattering look is I tape a large piece of diffusion over the fluorescent lights and billowed it down just above frame.  That way the multiple overhead small fluorescent lights became one larger, softer light.  The actors didn't seem to have any issues with eye shadows and it only took 5 minutes to setup.

 

For a more intimate scene I used a 4' black floppy on a c-stand and put it overhead to strategically block a few overhead fixtures.  That created a nice contrast to separate the characters from the brightly lit background.  I imaging you can create a more subtle effect by taping a 6' double net scrim to the ceiling.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Stuart


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#18 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 30 August 2015 - 08:38 PM

This might be old news for a lot of you .. but I got to use the Kino Celeb 400 and 200,s .. idea to recreate a sort of fashion catwalk look in a studio.. from the top about 30 degree angle down..   a lot more power and a lot "softer" than any of the other Kino,s Ive used.. 

Great lights for top lighting.. and super thin.. 


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#19 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 31 August 2015 - 02:11 AM

My standard approach would be to simply turn off (or if that's not possible, block out) the lights immediately overhead. Then key with something more frontal, using gels to match my key light to the ambient colour from the overheads.

 

It's a pretty simple approach, and works well. 


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