Video Lighting - Part II
last month's column, we talked about the ingredients necessary
to create a fine, compact lighting kit. Now, let's discuss the best
ways to put this stuff to use.
with the Basic Three-Light Interview Setup: key, fill, back/background.
It's usual to
position the key light first. The preferred instrument is a focusable
source (Lowel Pro-Light, Arri fresnel), or, if you're going for
a more diffuse look, a soft lightbox like the Chimera. Many DP's
put their key on the same side as the camera. I prefer to set my
key on the opposite side (see sketch), about 45 degrees off axis
from the subject's face. This puts the camera-side of the face in
part-shadow, which, to my eye, adds depth to the scene. The key
is usually a "punchy" light, so focus the beam down toward spot.
And use the barndoors to control any beam spill on the background.
fill can go anywhere on the side opposite the key (see sketch).
I usually set it about 60 degrees off axis. Typically, the beam
from the fill light is half (or less) of the key. You don't need
a light meter to measure the difference, as long as you have a color
monitor to check the scene as you go. With someone sitting in for
the subject, just make the ratio between the key and the fill the
one which most pleases your eye (or, in many cases, your producer's
How are you
going to adjust the brightness of the fill light? There are several
ways: Focus the light down to flood. This is the quickest way to
reduce the output.
Move the fixture
farther from the subject (not always practical). Use metal scrims
to cut the light. A double scrim is equivalent to one f-stop, a
single scrim to half-a-stop.
gel in front of the light. This has the advantage of softening the
light while at the same time, cutting the intensity.
Bounce the fill
into a white card or umbrella.
video it is almost imperative to use a fill. A widely-used technique
among still photographers and cinematographers is to key from 90
degrees and use no fill. This gives a very dramatic effect. And
it works, because film has such a wide contrast ratio. But our little
video cameras have narrow ratios, and the no-fill setup will look
awful because it will be too stark. I often use a very weak fill
(say, 10% of the key) to achieve a similar look.
You can warm
up your subjects by telling them jokes, or put some warming gels
on the key and/or fill. A 1/4 or 1*2 CTO usually does the trick.
Just be sure to white balance without the color gels in place.
Now for the
third light. Note that I called it a back/background fixture. You
can use it for either purpose.
In the backlight
mode, it's best to set the light behind and above the subject's
head/shoulders. Finding a way to do this without a light boom is
always a challenge, and hence, part of the fun of lighting for video.
This is why I suggested clamps and pigeons for your grip kit. For
the best results, line the beam on a direct axis between the light,
the subject and the camera. This ensures even lighting across the
shoulders, which is really what a backlight is for. All you're trying
to do is create a bit of separation between the subject and the
background (especially if the BG is dark and the subject is wearing
a dark color). Try to keep light off the top of the subject's head
(using the barndoors to trim the beam). An otherwise beautifully-lit
shot can be ruined by a glowing mane or shiny pate.
The other use
for this fixture is to illuminate the background. Set the light
on either side of the camera so that it has an unobstructed throw
to the wall. Using the barndoors, you can create a narrow "slash"
effect, or you can cut the light toward the top or the bottom of
the frame. Generally, try to keep the background 50 to 60% of the
subject brightness. With your BG light you are striving to add definition
to the background, without overpowering the foreground.
To add more
interest, you might put a color gel in front of the BG light. I
prefer warming or cooling colors-the "cine" blues or CTO series,
usually in strengths up to 1*2. Some producers love more saturated
color, which requires "theatrical" gels. A sheet of a good red,
a green and a blue should be sufficient for your kit.
If you want
to have both a backlight and a background light, you're probably
going to have to add a fourth instrument to your kit. Another alternative
would be to use a "practical" fixture (like a table lamp or wall
sconce), but take care, because their color temperature is usually
much warmer than your lights, and will screw up your color balance.
When doing any
kind of lighting, bear in mind that "shadows are our friends." Too
much light has no character. Too little light looks, well, blah.
The right balance of foreground and background, and light and dark,
can add depth and richness to any scene.
Here are some
practical tips when lighting for an interview: Spend a few minutes
at the location looking at all the different setup possibilities.
Look for one which has both depth and an interesting background.
Take care not
to overload the circuit. Spread your load to at least two separate
circuits, even if you're using low wattage lamps.
If the room
in which you are shooting has a lot of windows with daylight streaming
in, you have but two choices: gel your lights with full blue to
match the color temp (and lose 2/3 of a stop), or block the offensive
light by closing curtains or hanging battens.
If you use a
practical in the scene, control the intensity with a dimmer (buy
a 600w slide or knob-type, available at any hardware store).
Stay away from
walls! Unless it is physically impossible, try sitting your subject
at least four feet from the wall, farther if it's a white wall.
gaffer's tape on somebody's wall. It's going to pull off the paint
or paper, and they're going to get a bit hot under the collar.
Next time we'll
look at lighting general spaces, and I'll give you some ideas on
how to add interest to a scene using materials at hand (like a newspaper
and a pair of scissors).