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Whether your capturing images on a camcorder, a DSLR, or even film, what you're really doing is capturing light. Enormous time and expense is spent crafting the lighting for each scene in a high quality film. In this segment, we'll discuss
the purpose of lighting, light sources, lighting instruments, and lighting styles. Knowing how to use light properly will help make your video, look like film.
While lighting styles have changed over time, most movies today attempt to achieve dramatic lighting, while still maintaining a sense of realism.
Lighting in a scene performs many basic functions, such as illuminating your subject and background, defining shape and texture, and directing the viewers attention. It also creates an emotional mood, and helps give a context for location and time.
Knowing what types of light are available, and how they affect a scene can help producers achieve the specific lighting style they're striving for. There are three main types of light sources available.
Natural Light, Available Light, and Lighting instruments.
Natural light comes from the sun or the moon, and unless your indoors with no windows, you'll have to be prepared to harness or counteract these sources to light your scene correctly.
Available light includes all the existing light sources at a given location, such as outdoor streetlights, or overhead lights in an office.
And finally, there are professional lighting instruments. The main types of lighting instruments you'll find available today for video producers
are open faced, lensed, softbanks, and specialty.
There are two main types of open faced lights, broad and scoop.
Broad instruments are used to wash light over a large area such as backgrounds, and are often place in softboxes or bounced off umbrellas.
Scoop lights are circular fixtures without lenses that have a reflector at the back of the fixture to direct light. These are used to flood a set with light, and have no focusing control.
Lensed lighting instruments are often used in film and the most common are called Fresnel lights.
These lights have a housing with a fresnel lens, and are used for large and small washes of light, as well as backlights.
Softbanks, or sofboxes have wire frames covered with fabric and diffusion material which attaches directly to the light, and often use quartz halogen bulbs.
Specialty lights cover a wide range of instruments such as chicken coops, chinese lanterns, wand lights, and on-camera lights
A chicken coop is used for large overhead soft lighting, and is often used to light vehicles and medium sized sets. They can be up to 6000 watts and 30 feet wide.
Chinese lanterns use white paper diffusion that surrounds a single lamp and are often used as fill lights.
Wand Lights are typically small, fluorescent fixtures that can be wrapped around a car visor to light a subject in interior automobile scenes.
On Camera lights can be attached directly to your camera, and are usually LED or other types of low power lights.
These lights can give a deer in the headlight look, and can also be used to provide eye light.
In addition to the wide array of lighting instruments available to producers, there are also a host of commonly used accessories used to control your light.
Gels, reflectors, diffusion, flags, cookies, blackwrap, and dimmers are all commonly used to achieve that perfect balance of highlights and shadows.
So, you know what tools you have at your disposal, and the most important decision you'll have to make is what type of lighting you want in your project. It's crucial to determine this before you roll camera. So what makes lighting in film so unique? Lighting Contrast plays a key role.
Lighting Contrast is the relationship between the dark and light areas of a scene.
There are two main types of lighting styles that fall on the opposite end of a spectrum. Low-Key Lighting, and High-Key Lighting. Low-key lighting attempts to increase the lighting contrast in a scene by maximizing shadows, and is commonly used in film noir and horror movies. High-Key lighting attempts to reduce the lighting contrast in a scene by minimizing harsh shadows , and is commonly used in television sitcoms.
The following scene from the television program Scrubs is a great example of two different lighting styles.
The opening scene uses shadows and highlights effectively to enhance the dramatic feel of the scene,
while the latter is a perfect example of high-key lighting, which gives the scene a more positive feel to it.
While your project may not need the extreme contrast found in film noir, most films do fall closer to the low-key end of the spectrum. Scenes are lit using combinations of hard and soft light, which create and mold shadows.
Hard light usually comes from a small source, and creates harsh, well-defined shadows, and is used extensively to create low-key lighting. Soft light is usually from a larger source, and casts soft poorly-defined shadows, and is used extensively when creating high-key lighting.
Creating the right balance of hard and soft light to get the scene right takes lots adjustment and practice.
To achieve the film look, no matter what style you choose, each light in your scene should be motivated. Motivated lights appear to have an actual light source, even though that source is not visible on camera. This helps to maintain the realism in your scene. Also, you can use Practical Lights. Practicals are lights that actually appear in the scene, and give off some light.
And always use a monitor.. Because cameras have different contrast ratios, you may need to adjust your lighting to be sure that your not losing desired detail in the shadows and highlights.
Remember that capturing great video is really capturing great light. And taking the time to get the lighting on your project right can raise your production value significantly. In our next segment, we'll discuss color correction. Good color correction can help maintain the consistency of your project, and help correct issues you didn't catch in the field. It's one more step in the effort to make your video look like film.