5 Simple lighting solutions (when time is money)

We never seem to have enough of it..

We never seem to have enough of it..

Following on from my previous post 10 Reasons why good lighting can be more important than the camera itself I would like to focus on the point that in video and film production, as in any business, time is money. 9 out of 10 productions you'll work on will probably have some sort of budgetary restriction meaning that you will only have a set time to do the work in and/or limited resources to work with. This is a harsh reality that anyone entering this industry must come to terms with but depending on the type of project you're working on, the amount of time you will be given to light can vary greatly. I would always push for as much time to light as I can get (unless I'm filming at an event for example) because as we know, good lighting can vastly improve the production values of a shoot. However, you have to be prepared to get less time than you'd like, in which case it would be useful to know as many simple lighting solutions as possible.

When I say 'simple' I am referring to lighting setups or adjustments that involve minimal equipment, quick setup/break down time and a degree of portability. The following examples show small modifications I made on shoots when time was short, in both interior and exterior locations:

What you don't see: Our diffuser was quite large and had to be held up by 2 people. For longer takes attaching it to a couple of light stands would have also been quick to set up. 

What you don't see: Our diffuser was quite large and had to be held up by 2 people. For longer takes attaching it to a couple of light stands would have also been quick to set up. 

1. Softening harsh sunlight on location

On this music video shoot with Substantial Films we filmed entirely on location and would often be faced with bright, harsh sunlight that wasn't always flattering on our actress. In this shot we held up a large diffuser (part of a 5 in 1 reflector) that softened the sunlight hitting the left side of our actresses face which eliminated a hot spot and helped our exposure. This quick fix still allowed her to jump out from the shady background.

 

 

 

What you don't see: It took about 10 minutes for our redhead light to cool down before it could be put back in the bag.

What you don't see: It took about 10 minutes for our redhead light to cool down before it could be put back in the bag.

2. Flooding a room with bounced light

In this example with 325 Productions UK we were faced with an unfamiliar location, a gloomy winter's day and interior lights that were not giving out too much light, yet the scene we were filming was supposed to be a positive family setting. The solution was quite simple - we turned off the interior lights, closed the blinds and bounced a redhead off the ceiling back onto our three subjects. A small flag (the black side of our reflector) was placed between the redhead and the edge of frame so that only bounced (soft) light would reach them, avoiding any spill and minimizing any strong shadows. The strength of a redhead (800W) light in a medium sized kitchen meant that we didn't need any other light source, although we kept the counter lights on for aesthetics.

 

3. Adding (or utilizing an existing) back light to make your subject more 3 dimensional.

Back lighting stops your images from looking flat and creates a sense of depth. Whether you use a battery powered light or the power of the sun, a back light can give your image that extra sparkle. Your viewers may not always notice it but it can really add a touch of professionalism to your shot. Take a look at these examples of back lighting on various United Magic Studios shoots.

Look at the left side of the face. This was lit by a 150W hard light with a sheet of diffusion and helped us to key out the background.

Look at the left side of the face. This was lit by a 150W hard light with a sheet of diffusion and helped us to key out the background.

On location here and this time much more subtle. We didn't have time to plug anything in so this time I used a daylight balanced LED on a stand to illuminate the left side of the face. This setup took literally seconds to make and break down.

On location here and this time much more subtle. We didn't have time to plug anything in so this time I used a daylight balanced LED on a stand to illuminate the left side of the face. This setup took literally seconds to make and break down.

A much more obvious back light in this example from Shattered Illusion Films. The use of a hard light source to deliberately over expose a thin edge of our character's face has been used to not only create contrast but to help convey the tension and conflict within the scene. 

A much more obvious back light in this example from Shattered Illusion Films. The use of a hard light source to deliberately over expose a thin edge of our character's face has been used to not only create contrast but to help convey the tension and conflict within the scene. 

Harnessing the power of the sun, this time on the right side of the frame. Notice how the sunlight affects our subject's shoulders and left arm by creating a thin and subtle stripe of daylight.

Harnessing the power of the sun, this time on the right side of the frame. Notice how the sunlight affects our subject's shoulders and left arm by creating a thin and subtle stripe of daylight.

Finding the right place for your back light relies on a bit of trial and error and experimentation with whatever tools you have at hand. One way of concentrating a hard light into a thin 'stripe' is to use a flag (either the black side of a reflector or a piece of foam core) to cut the light just enough so it doesn't illuminate the whole side of the body.

4. Using a soft box for quick fill light.

Soft boxes are great for providing quick and flattering soft light which is especially useful in corporate videos and green screen work. However in this example with Substantial Films I used a soft box to fill in the shadows in a scene when using hard lights to back light my subjects. It helped me to make the shadow from the key light less harsh whilst still giving the impression of a bright sun shining in through the kitchen window. It also stopped any unwanted shadow landing on the wall behind her.

A soft box attached to a redhead (800W) light allowed us to quickly fill in the shadows as you can see on the left side of her face (frame right).

A soft box attached to a redhead (800W) light allowed us to quickly fill in the shadows as you can see on the left side of her face (frame right).

Once the soft box is attached it is easily maneuverable and in this case, filled a good section of the room with light. In a confined space it would be difficult to bounce or diffuse hard light sources (and keep control).

Once the soft box is attached it is easily maneuverable and in this case, filled a good section of the room with light. In a confined space it would be difficult to bounce or diffuse hard light sources (and keep control).

A single soft boxed light can in theory be used as your only source if you're on a very tight schedule although the overall output will be limited on most affordable fixtures.

An effective use of contrast with only 1 light and a reflector

An effective use of contrast with only 1 light and a reflector

5. Bouncing a hard back light back on the subject.

My little sister sometimes helps me out when I need to practice my lighting but it doesn't take long before she gets bored and fidgety so I have to work fast! In this example I managed to capture a nice portrait using just one light and a reflector. I placed a spotted 800W redhead behind her at an angle and diffused it slightly before placing a reflector opposite on the right side of camera. The resulting bounced light meant that the right side of her face was filled in but there was still some shadow wrapping around so the resulting contrast was nice. Now this may be a portrait but the technique (along with many other photography tricks) can be applied to the moving image too. The difficulty here on wider shots would be that your back light would need to be pretty powerful in order for the bounce to have a big effect and avoid massive under exposure on most of the face.

Another example of the above technique, this time with a much more powerful light (1.2K HMI) and a wall used to bounce. Nazi Vengeance promo, DOP Haydn West (Substantial Films)

Another example of the above technique, this time with a much more powerful light (1.2K HMI) and a wall used to bounce. Nazi Vengeance promo, DOP Haydn West (Substantial Films)

Of course there are many other lighting solutions that may be just as quick, but these are just to get you started. Whether you're shooting interiors or exteriors, you can probably see now how a little bit of lighting knowledge can make the world of difference.

Did you notice in the above examples that 4 out of the 5 techniques had an item in common? This would be the 5 in 1 reflector. It really is an essential accessory and can be inexpensive. In fact, in my next post (through my new techie blog at Fly Creative) I explain why I think you should take a reflector everywhere you go.

Other articles you may be interested in:

Forget the camera, here are 10 reasons why lighting should come first

How one DOP lit a feature film on a micro budget