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Motivated Sources

When you think about lighting a scene, which do you focus on first: lighting the actors or lighting the space?

Oftentimes the first consideration is how to light the faces. An actor’s key light can also light the space, but that light generally needs to be modified (cut off the walls, etc) so the layers of the image can be controlled separately.

Sometimes the DP will take a different approach and light the space first, just making sure there is adequate exposure on the actor’s face. This may result in less flattering light on the face but can be the right move when realism is the priority.

Tbh, I usually find myself somewhere in between these two most of the time. I am often striving for that look of naturalism, where a scene doesn’t necessarily look “lit” but I’m also on a commercial set, so special attention needs to be paid to the actor’s face.

For a scene to feel natural, the light sources need to be motivated. Like, you can imagine where they’re coming from, whether they’re on screen or not. The key and back lights also need to be balanced with the ambient light or “room tone”. This can be a tricky thing to get right at first, but with some practice it gets easier to know what to do.

When we started setting up this shot, we knew there would be some Baja Blast™️ action through the window because everyday is bright and sunny when you’re selling healthcare products. M40 with 1/4 straw it is. This window was also facing west, and the sun would be messing with our shot, so we blocked out the direct light with a 12x12 griff. So now we have a motivated back light, but it’s a commercial so we needed to put some flattering light on the talent’s face. Nova 300 did the trick. Used some 2x3 solids to keep spill off the back wall and keep those layers separated. The key light was looking good, but the overall image didn’t feel balanced. Needed to lift the room tone. Our solution was to tape (always paper tape, btw) a 6x6 bleached muslin to the slanted ceiling just behind the talent and use the Leko bounce. Not only did this raise the value of the shadows, but it was also motivated by the direction of the “sun” coming through the window. 🌞

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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