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    Need lighting advice? Please read!
    #1
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    So, you have to light a scene and you aren’t sure how to go about it. You head to your favorite filmmaking board (like this one) and ask “hey guys, how do you light this”? You get a lot of different answers and most likely, pleas for more information. To smooth this process along, consider including as many of the points below as you can.

    On the technical side:

    1) Begin with location photos from multiple angles. If possible, add a simple diagram or floor plan. Note access to any and all windows from outside (is this a ground floor or higher, is there a balcony etc). This will help everyone to build a virtual version of the space in their mind. If daylight will be a factor, add a representation of the arc of the sun, or at least a notation of due north relative to the building.

    2) List your lighting package. Make sure everything listed can actually be powered for this shoot—having access to a 4K HMI doesn’t mean much if you don’t have a generator. Also, tell us how many crew you have. A big lighting package is great but only having one or two hands to work it suggests: best to keep it simple.

    3) Indicate a rough exposure level. What ISO will you be shooting at, what stop are you aiming for, will there be specific demands such as high speed, skinny shutter, Citizen Kane-esque deep depth of field; those instances may require extra firepower.

    4) Indicate any specialty lighting gags, like “at one point all the lights have to dim”. That will make it more complicated to recommend HMI’s, for instance.

    5) Include relevant restrictions from the location—"there’s a second floor balcony overlooking the main room, but we aren’t allowed up there", etc.

    6) Is this scene day or night? Meaning: when is the scene scripted to occur, and also what time of day you will be shooting it. Sometimes its better to embrace natural light, other times it’s safer to block it out and start from scratch to keep things consistent. A lot depends on how many hours you have scheduled to shoot your scene.

    Now on to the fun part—the creative side.

    1) Tell us about the scene. And the overall tone of the piece you are shooting. No-one can truly give useful advice on how to light a narrative without this information. Are you going for bright and cheery or dark and moody? Is it a comedy, a drama, horror? Do you want it to look stylized or naturalistic?

    2) Include references to existing material. Stills or Youtube links are incredibly helpful. If something isn’t exactly the same as what you want to achieve, note that, i.e. “I like this color palette and overall look but I need to see the faces more”. Don’t limit yourself to frame grabs—feel free to use fine art or photography references, whatever you find inspirational. These will not only help others give you advice, it will aid in communication within your crew and to your director. This is how it’s done in the industry!

    3) Describe your camerawork and overall approach to framing. What is the widest shot of the space you have planned? Is there a "fourth wall" that will never be seen on camera? Those factors will help establish the overall lighting scheme, where the lighting instruments need to be placed to keep out of the frame (you can always refine as you get closer, but if you work in reverse you will generally get into trouble). Big traveling Steadicam/gimbal/handheld shots that see every direction in the room are lovely but you will usually need to light from above, which is a whole other thing to consider, especially if you are also thinking of low angles that could see the ceiling.

    Now, this seems like a lot of information, but the point is—the more details you can deliver, the more specific the advice you can receive in return.

    Finally, to address a typical scenario that occurs on message boards—if you do ask for lighting help for a specific shoot, it’s good karma to follow up after the fact and let everyone know how it went, good and bad. Post frame grabs. Encourage a post-mortem amongst the people who offered their help. The idea here is that everyone can benefit from learning what worked and what didn’t, and it inspires others to keep offering their advice.
    Last edited by CharlesPapert; 07-01-2015 at 06:52 PM.
    Charles Papert
    charlespapert.com


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    #2
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    More globally, another question that gets asked a lot is “how does one go about learning to light?”

    This again is a “no single correct answer” query. What worked for me as a formula and what I recommend to others is as follows:

    READ articles in magazines like American Cinematographer and ICG, blogs of DP’s you admire, books on lighting etc.
    WATCH films, TV shows, commercials etc. and try to dissect the lighting design.
    OBSERVE a talented DP at work if you possibly can; soak it all up, ask questions when appropriate. If you can work for a while as a grip or electric on a good crew, even better.
    CREATE your own lighting, using everything you’ve learned from the above. Experiment. Shoot tests. Be critical. Take risks.

    If you cycle through all of these steps on a regular basis, you’ll find that they each complement the others. The mysteries will become revealed!
    Last edited by CharlesPapert; 12-04-2014 at 04:44 PM.
    Charles Papert
    charlespapert.com


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    #3
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    I'll add...

    FOLLOW any dvxuser thread involving Charles Papert.



    That is a thank you to Charles for the insight and experience he offers here. Another DP who is most generous to us mere mortals is David Mullen, ASC. He answers a wide range of questions in a lengthy thread found here:

    http://www.reduser.net/forum/showthr...ullen-ANYTHING

    Not often that you get to pick the brain of a working DP of that caliber.
    Big sources matter.


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    #4
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    Thank you! Happy to help however I can.

    Would a similar AMA thread be helpful here...?
    Charles Papert
    charlespapert.com


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    #5
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    A thousand times yes!!

    This is strange, I was honestly thinking about a ACPA (ask Charles Papert anything) thread the other day...

    Mods please make this happen.


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    #6
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    Absolutely +1
    I always read anything that Charles has to say.
    Many thanks Charles


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    #7
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    One thing I would say CP has taught me is (in 2016) the need to build a clear mental separation between 'owner op' lights and 'genny/truck/rental/gaffa lights'.

    To understand the capability difference between the two set ups and when to know to demand the second.

    He regularly suggests/uses multiple $10k fixtures as a 'minimum' for lighting dramatic scenes that must fight full daylight. These $10k fixtures may only be $150 a day to rent - crazy value for anyone but the most deep pocketed owner op.

    Edit. To clarify the context of the 'rent big' lesson was the discussion of lighting to match full daylight, especially for drama where the talent may move around a wide frame, exterior windows need to be matched, or continuity may need to be held for hours irrelevant of the state of the natural light. Clearly corporate interviews and the like do not generally require such a package.

    I guess the difference between 'building light' and 'supplementing existing light'?
    Last edited by morgan_moore; 12-21-2016 at 05:49 AM.


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    #8
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    Charles the David Mullen thread is over 5600 posts, are you sure you're up for it?


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    #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by rob norton View Post
    Charles the David Mullen thread is over 5600 posts, are you sure you're up for it?
    *gulp*
    Charles Papert
    charlespapert.com


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    #10
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    Would definitely appreciate a Charles Papert AMA!


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