Wide shots establish the mood of a scene and are important to set correctly. This segment defines the goals of good lighting, gives you some tips on how to hide light fixtures, and offers some ideas for good lighting design so that your scenes can look artistic and professional.
One of the most difficult, yet most important shots to light is the wide shot. It establishes the mood of a scene but can be notoriously difficult to light without breaking the illusion that the scenes consist of natural lighting. This segment defines the goals of good lighting, gives you some tips to hide light fixtures, and gives you some ideas for good-lighting-design for artistic and professional looking scenes.
Before you finalize any lighting setup, it's a good idea to know the goal of good lighting. A well-lit wide shot should first and foremost match the mood of the story. If you find yourself lighting a scene for an upbeat storyline, the background should usually be well lit without too many shadows. On the other hand, a more dramatic moment in the story looks best when lit with pools of light and darkness. No matter what the emotion of the storyline, it's always good practice to keep your subject at least a half-stop brighter than the background elements. This way you'll be able to direct the audience's eye to the area that is most important. Also, if you plan to shoot multiple shot lengths in a single scene, you'll want to make sure that your lights always stay in the same position and at roughly the same intensity from one shot to the next. This is why it is good to check how the lighting looks close up on your subject while placing your wide shot fixtures. It's possible to cheat the lighting if you have a big change in camera angle and screen size, but you should do so with caution. Adding small lights to illuminate dark areas of the eyes may be okay, but adding a strong back light on a subject where there previously wasn't one can break a scene's continuity.
By far, the trickiest part of wide shot lighting is finding ways to hide your fixtures. However, there are a few standard tricks that can help you in almost any scene. First, if you are shooting inside of an office building with a suspended ceiling, you can always remove a tile and place a large fixture between panels, or hang a light from a cross-bar using a butterfly or scissor clamp. Due to their weight, these clamps won't be able to hold large fixtures, but should suffice for most lighting. Also, if the office has fluorescent or incandescent lamps it may be possible to replace them with brighter ones that can light your scene for you. Many companies sell both color-balanced fluorescent tubes and incandescent lamps for this very purpose. If those options aren't available at your location, you may want to think about using objects to hid the source of your lighting. Shelves, couches, plants, cabinets, and desks are all great places to hide a light in a scene. If you plan on doing so, having clamps with baby pins for mounting lights would be a good way to keep the heat from damaging these objects. Of course, if your scene is set in a wide enough setting, you may still be able to use very strong lights from above and to the side of your frame. Keep in mind that the wider the scene, the more intense the light will be, which can get quite expensive. There is, however, one other option that can eliminate all of the problems with a wide scene. That solution is studio lighting. If you have the ability to rent a theater, concert stage, or studio in your community, you can simply mount lights to the lighting grid above your set and keep your camera angle flat or pointed downwards to hide the lack of a ceiling. The lighting grid should help you to place lights right where your subjects will be in the scene without spilling over to the background as well.
Light design is the key to any great wide shot lighting setup. If your lights aren't placed correctly from the start, the rest of your scene will suffer, so it's important to know some tricks to light placement for any scene. The first thing you should always do is to determine where your subjects' starting and ending points will be in the scene. For example, if your subject will be moving down an entire hallway, you may want to think about having your subject start next to a doorway and end next to a doorway. This way you can create pools of light that your subject can pass through, while ending the shot with your subject standing in an area with good lighting. You'll want to avoid lighting a scene like this with one strong light, even if it's a soft light because it will wash the scene out and make it appear very flat. If you are lighting a living or family room scene, start by finding areas to highlight and to dim in the room. Practical lights like lamps will need to be either off or dimmed in order to be exposed properly in the scene. Other objects like pictures on walls may need more light in order to see their detail. Either way, using plenty of finely controlled lights will add both dimensionality and emotion to any scene.
Setting up lights for wide shots is a necessary challenge but one that can be overcome easily. With the right equipment, the right planning, and the right attitude, you can design a lighting scheme that is not only invisible but impressive as well.