Video Lighting

We spend a great deal of time talking about setting up lighting for interviews and single camera work. While this is very helpful, it ignores two distinct lighting problems that you may run into; the moving subject and/or multiple cameras. In this column, we will take a look at these two distinct lighting situations. We’ll also provide ways that you can create lighting for these situations that will give your video productions a professional look.

Sitcom Lighting

The primary goal when videotaping a moving subject is to make him look as natural as possible. Position several large, soft instruments to flood the area with light and everyone and everything will be brightly lit. This soft, shadowless lighting is commonly used on television sitcoms. The actors can walk anywhere on the set because they will always be in the light. The camera records brilliant colors, and everything is bright and cheery.

Film-Style Lighting

The key to film-style lighting of a moving subject is to duplicate the environment in which you are shooting. If you are shooting in a living room, you probably do not have a great deal of available light.

There are usually four sources of light in a living room, a ceiling light, a floor lamp, a table lamp and a window. Determine the source of the primary light in your scene. Let’s assume we’ll light the room as if the main light is coming from a table lamp that is seen in the shot and a secondary light is coming from a floor lamp that is not seen in the shot.

To set this up, remove the bulb in the table lamp and replace it with a fifteen-watt bulb. This way, you can get the lamp in the shot without it turning into a huge glowing ball of light. Next, place a soft light behind the lamp. Focus this light on the couch or chair that is beside the table. Flag the light so that it doesn’t shine on the lamp.

The resulting light will cast a soft glow that appears to come from the table lamp. If the actors move from the couch, they will move from the light of that lamp to the light of some other source.

It’s okay for the talent to be out of the light sometimes. Just make sure your actors are in the light when they will need to be.

By setting up a floor lamp at the other end of the couch and lighting it the same way, you can add a second light to the setup. If you want a dramatic back light, set up a light with a blue gel over it and place it out of camera shot above and behind the couch.

Focus this light so that it falls on the back of the head and shoulders of anyone sitting on the couch. It simulates the moon or a street light outside the window. Add a set of blinds in front of it to add a striped shadow and increase the dramatic look of the shot.

Enhancing Outdoor Light

If you are outdoors at night, determine where the light in the scene is coming from. If you are in the city, set up a series of small lights at a high angle in order to simulate streetlights.

If you are shooting in the country and the moon is full in your scene, set up a blue-gelled soft light as your primary source. Use a bounce card to reflect it into your talent’s face. As long as you stay out of the shot, you can move with the talent and provide light as they walk.

If you are shooting in the daytime and the sun is shining through a window, use it. You can supplement the ambient light in the room with soft lights gelled blue to match the color temperature of the outdoor light. Set up your scene so that the main action takes place to one side of the window to prevent a bad glow in the shot.

Lighting for Multiple Cameras

Setting up lighting for multiple cameras is simple if you remember one basic rule: position your lights based on the placement of each camera (see Figure 1). It may sound as though you would need to a lot of lighting equipment, but not really. You can light a three-camera shoot using just five lamps.

In any setup where you have three cameras focusing on two or more individuals, you will probably place the cameras to the right, left and center of the talent. Starting with the right camera set up your three-point lighting so that the key or main light is just to the left of the camera and about forty-five degrees above the talent. Focus on the talent that is facing the camera in the conversation or interview you are videotaping.

Set up the back light so that it is opposite the camera. Make sure the back light is hitting not only the talent facing the right camera, but is also hitting the side of the face of the person talking to the talent. The fill for the right camera will be provided by the lighting setup for the left camera.

The left camera’s lights are set up to focus on the person looking towards it in the conversation. Set up the key light just to the left of the camera and forty-five degrees above the talent. Focus this light on the talent facing the camera, yet make sure the rest of its light provides a fill for the right camera.

The right camera’s key light will provide a fill light for the left camera. Place the left camera’s back light directly across from the camera making sure you flag the light from the lens of the camera (see the Foiling Flare sidebar).

So far, you have set up four lights for two cameras. A fifth light, usually a soft light, can be added just to the right or left of the center camera or above the camera. This light will provide an overall wash for the scene and soften the shadows a bit. This light must be less intense than the key lights so that the cameras will see some differentiation between the light and dark areas.

Once you are done setting up the lights, look through each of the cameras and watch the scene. Slightly move the lights around a bit until you get the feel you are looking for.

Each camera should read the lighting equally. If done well, you will be able to cut between cameras with very little change in light density.

Remember, the key to multiple camera lighting is to light for each camera individually. Use your imagination and always light the scene to match the mood and action.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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