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Video Production and Using Quality Lighting

Nov 7, 2007
Artistic lighting can be the perfect mood creator and emotion enhancer. Notice how even game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? feature dramatic lighting? That's not an accident. In fact, lighting that incredible takes a lot of work and costs a lot of money.

Aren't you on the edge of your seat every time Millionaire introduces a new contestant with the intense back lighting and reverberating BONG!? All that fanfare makes the audience think God Almighty is about to come strolling out. Nope, just another housewife from New Jersey who loves the show.

I was convinced one of the reasons for Millionaires massive success was because it was the first game show to add lighting techniques usually reserved for a horror flick.

The more stark and shadowy the light, the scarier your Halloween video will be. Dark shadows created by low-angled, intense, direct lighting is one of the first things you'll ever learn about lighting for film and video production if you go to film school.

If you're not real picky, dark, shadowy, spooky effects are easy to create. It helps to have professional lighting equipment but todays cameras are so adept in low light situations that a standard 25 watt light bulb stuck in a cheap lamp without the shade can be used to good effect.

One of the most basic things to learn about lighting for video is to realize the difference between two types of light.

Directional light is harsh. It creates deep shadows. Outside on a bright sunny day is a good example of directional light.

Diffused light is like being outside on an overcast day. If the sky is completely cloudy, the clouds act just like a diffusion gel used by a professional photographer. The sunlight bounces around in all the clouds and the result is diffused, shadow less light.

Diffused and directional light create completely different effects and therefore have totally different uses when lighting for video.

For a more technical explanation of diffused and direct lighting, think back to high school physics. Light always travels in a straight line. Turn on a flashlight and the beam goes straight, it doesn't curve around the building. In order to get the light on the side of the building, you'd have to move your flashlight or else bounce the light coming off the flashlight.

Diffused light happens when light is restricted by something which causes it to change directions, bounce, if you will. Clouds cause the rays of the sun to bounce around in every direction which makes the light look soft and diffused. Essentially, the clouds make the light seem like its coming from a million different sources and not just one, blinding source. A professional photographer uses many things to create diffused light from directional light.

Have you ever wondered why most light bulbs are painted white inside the glass? The white paint acts to diffuse the light, just like clouds. Diffused light is more pleasing to the eye. On top of light bulbs being painted, people further the diffusion process by adding lamp shades.

One blinding light source like the sun outside can not only be irritating, it makes you look ugly in pictures. Quality pictures of faces are always diffused light unless the face is Freddy Krueger.

On an overcast day, the light is diffused and soft. Almost no shadows are seen except perhaps some faint ones with fuzzy edges. This is why most video producers would prefer to shoot outdoors when its cloudy. Diffused light simply looks better is almost all situations.

If you're shooting inside, most professional photographers go to the effort of creating diffused light, not directional. Lighting manufactures have invented lots of simple gadgets to make professional photographic lights mimic this cloud effect. Silver and black umbrellas, diffusion cloths and gels, reflectors and bouncers. Professional lighting equipment is fun if you have the budget for it.

The act of diffusing your light does decrease your intensity however. Some people argue that painting the inside of light bulbs white just wastes money since your burning 50 watts but only getting the light intensity of a 40 watt bulb. However the majority of people are willing to waste a bit of energy in order to get a more eye-pleasing effect. When youre taking professional quality pictures, it becomes critical.

If you want diffused light but don't have an expensive soft box, simply point your light source toward the ceiling or wall and bounce it. Never point the light directly at your subjects. A white ceiling or wall is the most evenly reflective and so works best. If your walls and ceiling are black, you can tape white poster board to your wall and bounce it against that.

(Dont get it too close to the poster board with your lights though, because fire is truly an issue. Lights get hot! Be careful when you handle them. I always tried to turn my lights off for at least ten minutes before touching the fixtures.)

Bouncing your light against walls and ceilings does wonders to create a bright, diffused look that looks nice on video. Unless you purposely want a spooky, dramatic look with lots of shadows, no doubt diffused light is the look you need.
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