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Balancing Natural Light

How do you light something so that it appears natural on camera?

I think the most important element is balance ⚖️

There’s a pretty simple fix to a common mistake a lot of people make when they’re learning how to light: and that’s just to turn down the intensity of the key light.

When your key light is brighter than the ambient light by more than a couple of stops, it instantly makes the image look “lit” because you can easily identify an artificial source.

If you’re setting up in a darker location, you may need to pump a little more light into the space to bring up the ambient for the sake of your camera’s sensor. Sometimes this is called a base exposure or room tone. Just enough light for the camera to get a clean image in the shadows. The key is to find the balance between each fixture and the existing light in a space. Every set up and location is different though, so maybe a sourcey light on the subject is a better way to tell the story in your situation. It’s up to you! 🌈

There’s an old saying that everyone on a film set is working hard to be unnoticed on screen. In my opinion, unless it’s for dramatic effect or part of the narrative, the lighting should be subtle. My signature move may be dumping the entire truck for a result that doesn’t really look like much at all. But that’s the beauty of it! It looks like natural light. Makes you want to do the Italian hand thing and call it a Spicy Meatball™️.

For this setup, we bounced lights to keep it soft and indirect, but still had enough level to balance the open shade with the window behind the subject. (Having a camera with a lot of dynamic range doesn’t hurt either 😉) 600D into 8x8 Ultrabounce for the key, 300x bounced into 4x4 bead board for an active fill, and the LiteMat 2L was just a little bit of eye light. Simple setup, balanced exposures!

Frame from the documentary Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99 on Netflix shot in May ‘21

Production: Raw Television

DP: Adam Stone

Producer: Roger Huston

Tyler Kaschke is a freelance gaffer with a grip truck based in Lafayette, Colorado serving Boulder, Denver, Golden, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountain region at large.


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