Light and shadow

So today I took a fundamentals in lighting course, hoping to build on what I already learned a couple of weeks ago in the Raindance Cinematography Foundation , and to a large part, be told it again so some of the masses of information that I have been acquiring sinks in.  As it was, the tutor, the lovely Jeff Winch, had a very different style to Dale previously and therefore I feel that I took different things from each class and that they complimented each other nicely.

I’ll admit that lighting kind of scares me.  I didn’t think I had similar expertise that I could draw on, there is lots of technical considerations, things are hot and heavy and could burn or explode. Things that kind of seem relatively easy when there is an expert there telling you what to do, seem really complicated when your alone.

However, I took some pearls of wisdom with me today that making it seem a little less daunting.

First, why do we use light.  So it is not dark yes, but actually to tell the viewer where to look.  The aim is not necessarily to make something bright but to create shadows  thus directing our eyes where to look.  Aside from light other things can command our attention within a frame including movement, focus, and hot colours.

Several different factors of light should be considered when setting up the shoot.  What intensity should the light be (i.e. how bright)?  What should the quality of the light be i.e. should it be hard or soft?  Soft light is non-threatening, friendly and innocent and is more attractive.  Hard light can portray a threatening character and is less forgiving revealing texture such as skin imperfections.  What colour should the light be (tungsten, daylight or coloured with gels)?  Should the light be trimmed or shaped to affect how it falls on the subject?

In setting up the shoot you should consider:

  • Placement
  • Quality
  • Colour
  • Trimming

The placement of the key light strongly effects what the viewer feels when they look at the subject on screen:

  • Lighting from below – serial killer
  • Lighting from above – The Godfather
  • Lighting from front on – mugshot
  • Lighting from behind – Hollywood

The key light is the main source of light.  It defines where shadows will be and how much texture of the object is seen

The fill light, as the name suggests fills in the shadows created by the key light.  It controls the contrast of the image.  So as not to reduce the contrast between light and dark too much, it should be a soft light with heavy diffusion or bounce.

The backlight separates the subject from the background and creates depth in the image.

Ok, so there is a lot of the technical stuff above but one of the big things I took from today was a quick comment by Jeff to one of my classmates when he said that you know more about light than you think because you are always experiencing it.  It is true, my photography often features strong shadows, I am a sucker for a bicycle shadow in particular.  After four and half years of my photo a day, I know what looks good from a light and shadow perspective.  Sometimes something I see is captivating but not quite how I would like it in mind’s eye and so post-process to change the final image. Yesterday, I knew that I wanted to soften the darkness of the shadow a little and increase the light on the pavement  to give it a more vintage feel.  I knew what I wanted to achieve with light and shadow.

So they we are then.  I do know things.  I just need to learn to use the different lights, gels, diffusers, and flags to control where I want it to go and visualize in advance what I am trying to achieve rather than happening on interesting light and shadow while I go about my day.  As my focus will be on short documentary film I know I will only need to keep it simple.  It feels a little less daunting now…


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