3-Point Lighting - I Just Can't Get it Right

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GrahamC
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Joined: Feb 8 2008

Hi All,

I'm trying to set up a piece to camera shot against a grey background. I have a 3200k Tungsten in a soft box as the key and a 3200k Tungesten reflecting off an umbrella as the fill. I also have a tungsten backlight to complete the classic three light set-up.

The trouble is, despite trying a variety of angles, the lighting still looks cold, clinical and harsh. Using softboxes and umbrellas certainly isn't giving me the soft look my female talent needs.

I'm wondering if perhaps I'm overlighting the subject (both key and fill are 500 watts), or if the colour temp of 3200k is too cold. Or maybe I should be putting a gold reflector in there somewhere!

Can anyone shed some light on this thorny problem. How is it possible to achieve a well kit subject and still keep her looking soft and natural?

Many thanks in anticipation,

Graham

Z Cheema
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Joined: Nov 17 2003

Try this tutorial, Interview Lighting page 18

(good tutorial in plain English and plenty of pictures)

http://www.cheema.co.uk/vegas/Files/lighting-interviews-podcamp-philly1164.pdf

foxvideo
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Joined: Sep 9 1999

At a guess without seeing your setup, I'd say that probably the 'space' is too small for the power of your lighting setup. Try lower wattage bulbs, lose the fill light and use just the brolly or a reflector to bounce the main light back in as a fill, try ND gels over the backlight, use your barn doors to 'tighten' the main light to avoid spill.

Dave Farrants Fox Video Editing

GrahamC
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Joined: Feb 8 2008

Thanks Z and Dave. The room is 20' x 20' but, looking at the link Z sent, I think I've been placing the lights much too close to the talent. I've been putting them about 3-4 ft away. Looking at the interview setup in Z's link the key light looks to be at least 6-8ft away from the talent. Perhaps this is what I'm doing wrong.

Peter Stedman
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Joined: Oct 30 2000

Graham. It’s a total rarity for me to offer suggestions on this board but having had a studio for about 20 years doing portraits in the studio and on location, I do have a small amount of knowledge. (In my early days I used what was known as the ‘Hollywood’ style of lighting. 5 lights. Main/fill/2 rim/one B-ground. Those were the days.) However, I see and understand your problem. I don’t think you mentioned clearly whether you background light is just for the BG or as a hair light for the subject. Cheema’s link to a tutorial is certainly fine with lots of good info but I found some of it quite complex for a beginner.

Sometimes the simplest ideas do work the best. For instance, try bouncing your main light from a suspended sheet. Total soft diffusion. Alternatively, shine the main light through the sheet. The further back the light from the sheet will give a much bigger area of diffusion than your softbox. You most likely wont need any fill light.

When I went on location doing portraits in homes then I would bounce the light from my camera flashgun. This would be pointed back and to the side. You can see modern press photographers doing this all the time if you watch the telly at all. So try this, bounce your mainlight to the side and rear in your location or studio. It’s also possible to use a little of the ambient light from any window to act as a rim or hair light. Remember the modern video camera needs far less lights than my studio of years ago. Also remember that if your room/studio has some mildly coloured walls then by using your white balance correctly, all this can be adjusted. Again any final adjustments can be made at the editing stage. The above are just the basic ideas for you to work on and there are hundreds of variations on this theme.

Softening the image. For femail portraiture we used a wide variety of gizmos to slightly soften the film image. However in your editing package there will almost certainly have some softening control. Don’t over do it (unless for special effect). Just a tweak and it will take years off your subject and she will love you forever. Hope this will give you something to work on and make life easier. Pete.

GrahamC
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Joined: Feb 8 2008

More good advice - thanks Peter. For the talent's backlight I'm using a tungsten positioned immediately behind her at 45 degrees up. The background itself (grey colorama roll) is lit by two 60 x 60 softboxes which do a great job.

Currently my key light is 500w tungsten in a 60 x 60 softbox. Are you saying that bouncing a tungesten will produce a softer effect than using the softbox?

Peter Stedman
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Joined: Oct 30 2000

Graham. Yes of course bouncing from a BIG surface will give you a softer result than your Softbox for quite obvious reasons. The easy way, is for you to conduct a few trials to prove it for yourself. Just set a person or prop in your studio and experiment with what I have suggested. Watch the shadows as you bounce the light from various parts of the room (or other surface).

What are you trying to create with your grey Colorama background? Why two light boxes? Your background can be made any degree of brightness (or even colour) depending on what light you place on it. However . . . Generally folk will put some light on a background with the light being behind the talent low down. With experimenting you can create a variable BG from pure white just behind the talent’s shoulders going to total black at the top. A Softbox would not be my choice for this, but something more directional even a spot light, but I’m not saying go and buy a spotlight, just experiment with what you have.

There are no ‘Golden Rules’ or ‘you must do this or that’ in all this. Again I say experiment and record what you see and learn from it. If you have your video camera set with a tv as a monitor you can see the effects you create in real time. Colour filters or a colour diffuser can give interesting colour variations to your BG.

If your bulbs are not to powerful, you can use domestic dimmers to give more control but very powerful lights will need a ‘pro’ dimmer and that can be rather costly. I haven’t properly read the link that Cheema gave you but more than likely all the above will be within that site. It’s said that the basic 3 light set-up is very simple and so it is, but even that can have many variations. Only by experimenting can you learn about it. Visit your library and take out books on portrait lighting. Won’t cost you a penny. (or a Euro!). Always remember the KISS logic. KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID! Let's hear how you progress. Pete

GrahamC
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Joined: Feb 8 2008

Thanks Pete - I'm going to do a three hour technical rehearsal next week so there should be plenty of time to experiment with various combinations of lights, sheets and cardboard!

Maxwell
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Joined: Jan 13 2007

A very powerful input from Peter. How true that simplicity is the best art of achieving one's goal in the art of film making or video.
Since computer have come into our lives and open the door for all those want to be video-makers, many still dont understand the basic. But are more concerned with the software. Time after time i get asked how to edit.
There is no rules. Practice makes perfect so they say.

infocus
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Joined: Jul 18 2003
GrahamC wrote:
I'm trying to set up a piece to camera shot against a grey background. I have a 3200k Tungsten in a soft box as the key and a 3200k Tungesten reflecting off an umbrella as the fill. I also have a tungsten backlight to complete the classic three light set-up.

The trouble is, despite trying a variety of angles, the lighting still looks cold, clinical and harsh. Using softboxes and umbrellas certainly isn't giving me the soft look my female talent needs.

There has been quite a sea change in lighting techniques, and one of the things that's led it is the improved sensitivity of cameras - there's no longer a battle to simply get exposure. One of the results has been the increased use of soft keys, and that's turned things on their head. The soft key should now be much further round off axis to get modelling - put it in the "classical" position for a key and all you get is a flat effect.

On to the fill, and the best tip I ever got was to try using a HARD fill, and putting it pretty close to the lens. The knack is then getting the level right, and here I'd say a dimmer is pretty well nigh essential, and I don't think it's possible to overrecommend Dedo lights.

Another useful feature is to be able to control the spill from all the lights, and the trouble with a lot of soft lights is that their light goes everywhere. Dedos again are very useful, and for soft lighting a Diva with eggcrate also keeps the spill a bit more manageable.

GrahamC
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Joined: Feb 8 2008

Hi Infocus, thank you very much for a most informative post. I had indeed been placing the key in the classical position just off camera axis because this is what the books had said! (Old books I guess). I'll try your tip with a hard fill as well.

Many thanks, Graham.