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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 23 – Are there any general “lighting rules” that you have or follow?

I go through phases where I focus on different aspects of lighting

28daysredux425 In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@www.provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


Are there any general “lighting rules” that you have or follow?

I go through phases where I’ll light more one way than the other. I went through a phase where I used a hard key light combined with a very soft fill light near the lens to smooth out faces and create strong eye lights. I went through another phase where I perfected backlights, and an additional phase where I stopped backlighting entirely. Some technique or style catches my eye and I’ll explore it for a while before moving on to something else.

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At one time I’d empty the lighting truck to light a scene, but now I’m a bit more economical and use broader strokes than before. Historically I’ve been very easy on my camera assistants, often lighting to T4 or deeper, but I’m starting to ease up on that in order to do more creative things faster with smaller lights. (I’m trying not to shoot wider than T2.8 but I make no promises. I recently shot a spot entirely at T2 as that was the best I could get out of certain LED effects lights.)

Currently I’m working with large soft sources, often several that I blend together to appear as an even larger source. I may have a big source from the side and a largish bounce on the ground in front of the camera to wrap that side source around and create a sense of ambient light filling the space from below. I find myself doing a lot of very naturalistic lighting that’s beautiful but feels as if I’ve not lit the set at all.
At the same time I’m watching TV shows from the 1990s and early 2000s that lit with harder sources and trying to remember what I saw on set when I worked on such shows. Big sources are beautiful but it would be fun to try working with smaller, harder sources just to shake things up a bit.

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No pain? NO GAIN!

So, to answer the question… no, I don’t have many rules. Rather, I have trends or techniques: I go through phases where I focus on different aspects of lighting, and when I feel like I have a handle on a certain technique or style then I typically move on to something else. And, when I’m stuck, I think back on times when I’ve learned how to deal with similar issues. I have a problem solving library in my head, based on experience.

The fun part is looking back at work I did years ago. Some of it is “meh,” but some of it is surprisingly good. I know I didn’t shoot back then the way I do now, so I find myself wracking my brain to remember what I did so I can do it again!

 

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

See all 28 Days of Cinematography Insights


Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing ask@www.provideocoalition.com

 


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Art Adams is a cinema lens specialist at ARRI, Inc. Before that, he was a freelance cinematographer for 26 years. You can see his work at http://www.artadamsdp.com. Art has been published in HD Video Pro,…
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