Lights, camera, action! This overused phrase is known to one and all—even those not belonging to the film and TV industry. The prerequisite, though, for the camera and sound to roll—is lighting. It is basically safe to say that any aesthetically pleasing visual needs to be shot in perfect lighting, so as to make sure it conveys the exact emotion intended. Cinematography,
in particular, is a fundamental element to
the process—it can ensure the finished product has a lasting impact. There is no one right way to employ lighting design. A scene could be lit several different ways by
different cinematographers, each altering the mood and overall impact of the image. However, there is a basic list of lighting placement. Lighting, without a doubt, is one of the key factors affecting cinematography, and understanding the key principles of studio lighting can help assist in ensuring high-quality results from whatever content is being created.
While having a good storyline, an accountable film crew, well-cast actors, and an amazing set design may all be essential components needed to make a blockbuster—it also has to look visually compelling to make the audience take a piece of the movie home with them, or perhaps make the TV commercial carry a thought-provoking message. This requires technical expertise and skill, to make sure the lighting is in tandem with the vibe of the scene at hand.
Cameras do not respond to lights in the same way that the human eye does. The finite detail and lighting contrasts that can be perceived by bare human eye, is very intricate and is unable to be picked by a pair of camera lenses. Additional lighting is necessary to make the definition of a video or film’s definition of a comparable quality to what the human eye sees naturally.
GETTING THE BASICS RIGHT
When choosing the lighting for a mood setting, it is important to consider subjective requirements—namely ambient light, natural light, location (indoor or outdoor), shadows, changing light—to make sure the scene pops out with a cinematic look and feel. All of these aspects add value to a scene and each has to be determined beforehand. It is also imperative to understand the environment one is working in. Different projects require different lighting; be that an interview, or a close-up shot, a shot outdoors, or with multiple subjects involved, for example. The natural light available is important to consider if one is working directly outdoors, or in an enclosed space, or space with limited light from windows. These considerations are the building blocks in adjusting the space to create fitting and appropriate light to work with. The lighting requirement for an interview would vary largely from that required for an outdoor day shot, for instance.
Few production tools have a more profound an effect on a television/film than the set lighting. If one needs to enhance the mood, focus attention, and enable the audience to clearly see what you want them to see—effective lighting is the answer.
Three point lighting
The key light, fill light and backlight make up the three point setup. The key light is the primary light of any given scene. It is the most intense light which usually is used to illuminate the main subject. It is kept at a distance from the camera to ensure the lighting doesn’t fall flat and featureless. The fill light illuminates the shadows that are created by the key light, and is placed on the opposite side of the key light. It is often less bright as compared to key light. It is important that the fill light does not create shadows of its own—is placed closer to the camera. The backlight hits the subject (for example, the actor) from behind is more often than not, used to demarcate the subject from its background. It is placed higher than the subject—this gives the subject more shape and depth. As an example, when sunlight is used as backlight, one can use a reflector to bounce the light at lesser intensity back on the actor. To create a silhouette, one can expose for the backlight whilst removing the key and fill lights. This three point setup is basic for anyone who wants to start right.
The sidelight is used to create a dramatic scene, wherein the light comes from the side parallel to the actor. The fill ratio should ideally be very small, to create a high-low contrast. This technique was extensively used during the film noir era of cinema.
Practical lighting is the use of regular, working light sources like lamps, candles, or even the TV in a given scene. These are usually intentionally added to create a cinematic night-time scene. It is used predominantly in Hollywood movies, for example the image from Goodfellas.
Any reflected light is called bounce, and the light in question can be reflected from anything like a ceiling, wall or a plain board.
When talking about how a scene should feel emotionally, one thing that is referenced frequently is how hard or soft the lighting should be. The hardness or softness of light concerns how large a light source is, and how it affects shadows on your subject. Soft light essentially comes from a large source—with little or no shadows at all. High key lighting involves scenes have no shadows and is brighter than usual. It is obtained by heightening the effect of key light and fill light. Diffused Lighting: Light diffusion is another aspect. It is a simple and cost-effective way of eliminating harsh shadows, outlines and diminishing light that otherwise may be too bright and overpowering on the set. Diffusion often is done by either shading the light with gels, or an opaque fabric. The materials used to make the diffusers are heat-resistant and are thus, safe for long exposure and close proximity to powerful studio lighting. This technique is especially useful when one wants to film a close-up of a conversation.
Conversely, smaller light sources, including bright sunlight, casts harsh and sharp shadows on the subject. Hard light is often not preferred—it needs to be diffused. Low key lighting technique involves minimising or totally wiping away fill light, so that the shot is intentionally shadowy. It is often used to evoke drama in a scary shot, in thrillers and horror movies. The image is dark and filled with shadows, and has a high lighting ratio. It works better when using a hard light source. In the kicker lighting technique, the back light hits the side of the subject’s face. It can create an angelic rim of light, while a very soft fill light keeps the face gently illuminated.
To use the practical lights that are already in a location and elevating and enhancing its effect to replicate practical lighting—is motivated lighting. For example, if the motivated source is a window, and the shoot runs into the evening while the story time remains in the day, motivated lighting helps increase and change lighting gels to match the earlier time.
This technique is to use the actual available light present on location—say, in a garden or the city lights on the streets of Mumbai.
Once one has all his lighting in place, we’d still need light meters and filters to ensure the lighting doesn’t overwhelm the camera equipment. Light meters assess the light intensity in a particular area on-camera and helps the camera operators to adjust their cameras accordingly. For example, if the shot requires the subject to be the point of focus, the foreground lighting should have to be brighter than the background lights. If one wants the subject cast in a darker light or shadow, a brighter background is needed. Light metering enables tweaking of these parameters to get that scene right.
One needs to ensure that the lighting is right first time around—it will mean less time in the editing room. On a set, lighting can be the most time consuming, but it is worth giving it the suitable consideration—making changes during filming will always be easier than in post-production, with limited changes possible. Technology has developed and adapted fittingly over the years, to the pace and demand of the film and TV industry. Lighting equipment, today, is more compact, cost-effective, accessible, specific to requirement, user-friendly, and customisable to encompass varied setups and moods.
There can be an incredible amount of equipment employed in any production, and this equipment is often heavy, fragile, and immobile. However, over time, products have evolved to become lighter and compact, ensuring a no-fuss movable lighting setup.