Multi-lamp Set-ups when Light Effect is Needed In Filmmaking

Welcome to 2018 people! I know I haven’t spoken much but that’s because I’m become a busy body at the local film school. Doing projects here and there. And perhaps a local indie feature – 2018 should be big for this frizzled (and cold at the moment grizzly bear. I was working on a set this past week and young-un asked me about lighting setups. So I decided to write this up for you young folks looking to break into the biz. Good luck out there! (and stay warm!)

Here’s the cliff notes version:

One problem with the type of multi-lamp set-up is that it works only with a sta­tionary subject – if the subject moves position, the carefully arranged lighting will be rendered use­less. Another drawback is that many subjects find the glare from the floodlights unpleasant and dif­ficult to work under. Also, unless the lights are positioned with great care, the results on screen can sometimes appear rather hard and unnatural.

An answer to these problems may be found in bounced lighting. As the name implies, the illu­mination comes not from a lamp aimed directly at the subject, but from light bounced on to the subject, thus softening the effect and eliminating glare.

Bouncing the light also has the effect of distrib­uting it over a wider area, thereby allowing the subject to move around without affecting the lighting balance too much. In practice, the usual technique is to aim the light upwards and to bounce it either off white ceilings and walls or, if this is not possible, off reflectors made of sheers of expanded polystyrene.

A third lamp can be used to separate the subject from the background. This lamp is usually a spot, and should be aimed from behind the subject’s head, to illuminate the hair and give a halo effect. The subject should now be well illuminated, but there may be distracting shad­ows in the background. A fourth lamp can be brought in to light the background and eliminate any unwanted shadows. Alternatively, if only three lights are available or time is short, the key-light and fill-light can be supplemented by a third light aimed at the background, from which some illumination may reflect back towards the subjects: head in any case.

Reflectors can be one of the most useful acces­sories to have with you when shooting. They pro­vide a cheap and easy way of balancing lighting without the need to bring in extra lamps.

A particularly useful application is found with a subject lit from the daylight coming through a window. The shadow side of the subject will be too dark, and using artificial lighting will be diffi­cult unless you use a lamp that is colour-corrected to match daylight. This is possible by covering the lamp with a special blue filter gel – so the white balance is the same for both light sources.

In order to avoid these problems with mixed lighting, a much easier solution to reflect some daylight back from the window on to the subject’s shadow side. Again, a piece of white card, a sheet of expanded polystyrene, or even an unfolded newspaper will do the trick. Outdoors, reflectors are often used to balance strong sunlight by bouncing light into the shadow areas, or to enhance diffused daylight on a cloudy day.