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01/25/17 Lighting Considerations for Indoor and Outdoor Sets

Article - January 25, 2016 By LarsonElectronics.com

180 Watt Portable LED Work Area Light - Waterproof - Stackable Aluminum Frame

Lighting Considerations for Indoor and Outdoor Sets

Movie sets have meticulous lighting requirements. Optimal lighting conditions can enhance filming by contributing to the mood of the scene and illuminating dark spots in the shot. Bright lighting systems may also help promote safety for crew members setting up electrical wirings and installing fixtures on the set. Read on to learn about unique lighting considerations for indoor and outdoor sets.


Outdoor Sets

Despite being more unpredictable than indoor environments, lighting configurations for outdoor sets can be easier to manage due to the presence of sunlight. If you’re shooting in the afternoon, there should be more than enough light from the sun for you to use (unless it’s cloudy). For such cases, the crew would need to use diffusers and reflectors to direct natural light to specific parts of the set. One should carefully consider that sunlight can provide up to 10 times more light than conventional indoor sets. This often results in high contrast ratios (sometimes known as contrast range). Humans don’t have problems with high contrasts during the day. However, cameras do and require low contrast ranges for clear, detailed shots. That's why producers must deploy lighting accessories to decrease contrast ranges on outdoor sets.

Outdoor sets start to get complicated when filming at different parts of the day or night. Morning and early evening light (from the sun) are known for casting long shadows on subjects. Furthermore, the color temperature during these times tend to be on the lower end of the rating scale, appearing yellowish (1,500K-3,000K); compared to mid-afternoon conditions, which can appear almost bluish (6,000K or higher). When utilizing sunlight, it is common practice to make sure that the sun is behind the subjects. The opposite can cause too much light to enter the shot and create undesirable shadows.

In most cases, outdoor sets are prone to unforeseen circumstances due to shifts in weather patterns. During cloudy, foggy or rainy conditions, the crew must deploy artificial lighting on the set. With mobile power distribution systems, one could utilize the same type of lights typically found in studios and indoor sets, such as HMI and tungsten lamps. Alternatively, producers could use battery-powered, energy efficient fixtures, such as LEDs.


Blue Hour and Magic Hour

In filming and photography, there are two periods during the day that offers optimal shooting conditions: Blue Hour and Magic Hour. Blue Hour refers to the time immediately after sunset or before sunrise. During this window, the sky is lit up but the sun isn’t visible. Making use of this period can help minimize the effects of persistent sunlight. Blue Hour is recommended for short nighttime scenes without the use of lights. This is because the position of the sun allows small amounts of light to illuminate the set, while leaving the background dark.

Magic Hour (sometimes call the Golden Hour) refers to the hour approaching sunset or immediately after sunrise. During this period, the sun is positioned very low in the sky, which creates soft, diffused lighting conditions with low contrast levels. Due to low color temperature ratings during this time, light can appear yellowish with a slight glow. This technique was applied during the filming of the following movies- Days of Heaven, The New World and The Tree of Life.


Indoor Sets

Setting up lighting systems for indoor sets can be a daunting experience. Lighting configurations must be established shot by shot, forcing film crews to adjust the lights every time the camera is moved or relocated to shoot at a different angle. Shadows of subjects and objects in the scene should also be taken into consideration. The reason why indoor sets are lit up extensively is due to contrast ranges. Like outdoor sets, varying contrast levels in indoor sets lead to poor shooting conditions for cameras. Lack of lighting creates dark spots and shadows, which may cause the camera to capture such elements as black or overly dark.

Below are major lighting factors to take into consideration for indoor sets:

• Mood: Lighting conditions inside the set should match the mood of the shot. This can be achieved by using lights with low color temperature ratings for nighttime or intimate scenes. Lamps with high color temperature ratings that emit bright white, bluish tones are suitable for public indoor sets, such as offices and coffee shops.

• Overhead Lighting: Some producers avoid or minimize overhead lighting on set, because it creates thick shadows around the eyes of the subject. When utilizing overhead lights, it might be worth ensuring that the subject isn’t directly under the fixture. Flat lighting can also be used to discourage the creation of shadows on the subject’s face.

• Hard Lighting: Hard lighting produces shadows on the set, while illuminating specific parts of the shot. This type of lighting configuration is effective for dramatic scenes.

• Creating Soft Light: Soft lighting conditions are highly favored in indoor sets. A general rule in the industry is- the larger the light source, the softer the light. For such conditions, it might be worth using fluorescent bulbs over LEDs.

Lastly, one should never use lights that shine from below, pointing upwards. This type of configuration is generally inconsistent and tends to highlight the most undesirable components of the set. Out of all the types of lights used on set, backlighting is the most crucial. It can provide smooth contrast levels, improve sharpness and reduce muddy features during filming.





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