August, 2008

Gritty Details

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

If you’re new to all this lighting for film/video, you may wonder why I have the products divided up into “hard light” and “soft light.” A great kit is comprised of both types and they both have their place and strong points as well as weak points.

We talk a lot about soft light today with HD being more and more prevalent. The reason being that most of the time we want to flatter our subjects and after all, how many really have that perfect “Hollywood” complexion? It’s all about shadows and highlights and whether the light source is capable of producing them well or not. After all, we’re working in a 2D medium, but trying our best to make it look 3D. Just as with painting, the only way we can do that is with the proper use of light and shadow–and the correct lighting chosen to suit the mood and look of the production.

Our first products–fluorescent lights, are inherently diffused or soft sources like tungsten behind silk or other methods of diffusion. They are this way because they are such large or broad sources. We choose fluorescent and like diffused sources for those times we don’t want shadows re-produced correctly. A subject with visible skin pores or wrinkles may need some more flattering light to NOT reproduce that. Other shadows behind the person may be reduced as well thanks to soft light. However, because fluorescent and other diffused sources don’t reproduce shadows well they would never be good for throw or projection as in when you want to put up a cucaloris (“cookie”) pattern on the wall behind someone. You need a good, hard light like a fresnel or other spotlight type fixture for that. A small point light source produces a hard light–like a tungsten or metal halide bulb which has a single, concentrated tiny light source inside.

Sometimes you want all the details for those “artistic shots.” You want to see every pore or wrinkle for that drama and character development. That’s when hard light comes in. With pure, hard light, you get great definition and detail. Every pore or wrinkle becomes more well-defined because you are using a light source which produces more defined shadows. A “cookie” cutout pattern put in front of such a light produces a relatively good reproduction of that pattern on the wall. Diffused sources like fluorescent just can’t do that as well and produce far less shadows and detail is “abstracted”–thus soft lights are considered more flattering for those “beauty shots.”

A good illustration was recently sent to me by our friend and customer Chris Witzke. I’ve posted some of the shots below he did from a photo shoot using only our CL-MF0150 (CDM 150) fresnels (5400K bulb).

As I often say, a fresnel is part of the “spotlight” class of fixtures and as such should produce a nice round (and adjustable) spot of hard light. To do this, the lens should have no diffusion in it at all (even though some fresnel producers are doing just that today) and thus should give you this type of definition when you want it. I suppose they’re doing it to make up for any imperfections in bulb/mirror alignment but that’s the wrong fix! They’ve forgotten what a fresnel should be or what we want from it. After all, you can always add diffusion to a source, but you can’t take it away if its built into the lens.

Here’s a link to Chris’ site so you can see more of his great work.

CW Example 1

CW Example 2

CW Example 3