What kind of lighting setups or references can I use to make my daytime shots more appealing and thoughtful?
The approach that I find works best is to shoot the establishing master shot when the sun is in a backlight position. Up to that point I shoot the close coverage under a full silk. Shooting the coverage under a silk offers a number of advantages. If the sun breaks through the canopy, the silk takes the directionality out of the sun and knocks down its’ level by two and half stops. Now a smaller HMI light will have more of a modeling effect. Shooting into talents' down side under a silk, I find that a 4k Par through a diffusion frame is a sufficient key source for a two shot.
If you wait to shoot the wide coverage until the sun has moved around to a back light position, your background is also back-lit so the discrepancy in exposure between the background and your talent to camera is not that great and so you can open up to gain exposure of your talent in the foreground without burning out the background. Also, when your background is back-lit, it does not over expose because of the discrepancy in levels under the silk and outside the silk – it helps to strike a good balance. Also, your background looks better because it is not flatly lit, but has some contrast. Finally, with the sun in a backlight position, if it comes through the canopy, the shadows of the silk frame and stands are thrown forward, which enables you to frame wider before picking up the shadow of the hardware.
A good example of this approach is a scene I lit for a low budget feature that took place around a campfire in a small clearing surrounded by woods. Surrounded on all sides by woods, we knew that we would lose direct sunlight in the clearing early in the day and would need lights. We also knew that the scene was going to take all day to shoot because of its’ extensive dialogue, so we figured out where the sun was going to be throughout the day and where it would look best for our establishing wide shot. Where it was a two shot, mostly over the shoulder of one character talking to the second character who was standing with his back to the campfire with the woods behind him, we decided to wait until the sun had moved into a near back light position to shoot the establishing shot. So we shot our close coverage first with nothing more than a 4k Par and 1.2k Par under a 20x light soft frost on top of which we threw leaves. The 4k was heavily diffused and positioned so that it gave the talent the most attractive modeling. The 1.2kw was positioned as a backlight where the sun would be when we would eventually shoot the wide - this way there was always an edge in every shot for continuity.
When the time came to shoot the establishing shot, the shadow of the overhead frame and stands were thrown forward and did not interfere with the wider framing. Since we were still shooting under the Frost, we were wider open on the iris and so our exposure dug into the dark woods and brought out more detail. As an unexpected added bonus, the smoke from the campfire drifted into the woods, creating shafts of light where the sun broke through the tree canopy. What would have been a high contrast scene without lights, turned into a beautifully lit scene, and was accomplished without a lot of amps. The whole scene was lit with nothing more than a 4k and 1.2k Par and powered by nothing more than a 60A/120 circuit from a modified Honda EU6500is/Transformer Gen-set.
Guy Holt, Gaffer, Screenlight and Grip, Lighting rental and sales in Boston.