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how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video

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David Liu
how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video
on Jan 14, 2011 at 7:13:00 pm

I've posted a still image taken from a video we shot here:

http://learntodancetango.com/Test_Page/testimage.jpg

We can't figure out how to take out the shadow on the floor, the shadow on the back curtain or the extra light from the backlight

We have 600 or 1200 watt halogen lights available for each of key light, fill light and back light and have been placing the key light at 45 degrees from the subjects to the left of the camera and the fill light at about 45 degrees to the right.

We have 2 sets of barn doors and one light box.

We'd really appreciate any advice you can give us about how to eliminate, or minimize the shadows and how to make the backlight less obtrusive. Also, any other suggestions you may have.

Thank you very much.

David Liu


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Rick Wise
Re: how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video
on Jan 14, 2011 at 8:36:29 pm

You are using a hard side light, which will cast hard shadows. Try diffusing the key from image right. That will soften the shadows.

There is a bright area screen right of your subjects, as if they are out of their "spotlight."

Note that a hard shadow is not necessarily a bad thing.

Rick Wise
director of photography
San Francisco Bay Area
part-time instructor lighting/camera
Academy of Art University/Film and Video (grad school)
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Todd Terry
Re: how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video
on Jan 14, 2011 at 8:48:40 pm

Well, I'm with Rick... shadows aren't such a bad thing. They often add interest.

BUT... I do realize you didn't ask for an aesthetic opinion, but rather a technical one on how to do things.

Again, Rick is right, if you use soft lights instead of hard ones you will have fewer sharp shadows. You can put your instruments in softboxes, or hang diffusion material in front of them (something like Lee 250 would probably work well). As for the backlight, you can flag it off so that it is just hitting the upper half of the talent where it is probably needed most. I'd really suggest that rather than having too much backlight, that instead you don't have enough (again, just an aesthetic opinion). Look at the couple's heads... you'll notice that with each of them their hair really pretty much just blends in to the dark areas on the curtain, rather than being highlighted and "cut out" from the curtain which a backlight should do. To be perfectly honest, I really can't tell there is a backlight in that scene.

One of my favorite uses of good backlighting is to watch the stand-up master wide shot on a talk show...say, such as The Late Show. Take a good look at the floor surrounding the talent. On a wide shot of Letterman you'll notice that the hardest floor shadow is actually in front of him... not behind him... which is a good demonstration of just how powerful a backlight they use to cut him out of the very busy background.

Another thing you can do is simply block the scene a bit differently before you light it. The farther you place the talent from the curtain, the more you will be able to light the talent and the background independently and eliminate talent shadows on the curtain.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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David Liu
Re: how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video
on Jan 14, 2011 at 9:41:33 pm

Rick, Todd, Thank you both so much. I really appreciate it - this is the kind of thing that is really hard to figure out on your own (even after reading a lot!).

As suggested:
* We'll try using a softbox on the fill light (I assume that is what you meant, Rick, when you said "Try diffusing the key from image right").
* We'll move further away from the curtain
* We'll amp up the backlight

This will eventually become a series of instructional dance videos. I was thinking that shadows were bad for an instructional video (vs. a dramatic one, where I'd think they were good).

Is this incorrect? Should I be okay with the lights casting shadows on the floor?

Thanks Again!
David

P.S. Other thoughts (technical, aesthetic or otherwise) very welcome!


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Todd Terry
Re: how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video
on Jan 14, 2011 at 10:26:22 pm

[David Liu] "Should I be okay with the lights casting shadows on the floor?"

I'd be absolutely perfectly fine with it... as long as they are not ugly or unattractive. Shadows occur normally in each and every setting you'll encounter throughout your day. I personally often find it looks quite unnatural (and sometimes just a touch creepy) when a scene is all perfect and shadowless.

That's sort of the same theory I go by when lighting people in most situations. I almost never do the "classic" three-point lighting. Someone told me "Yes, but it makes them look so even and perfect." Exactly. My own philosophy is that the world is not even and perfectly lit like a portrait... so that's not what I'd choose to use in most scenes either.

I think for the most part, your shadows will be fine. But yes, I would goose up the backlighting quite a bit.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Dennis Size
Re: how to eliminate unwanted shadows in video
on Jan 17, 2011 at 3:07:58 am

I hate when people say to me, "there's a shadow on the side of his face!" (usually in a derogatory manner as if I just started in this business and don't see the shadow myself).
I know that they're trying to say that they think it's wrong, but they don't know why -- or even if that's really the case. It's merely that they've heard some idiot with the artistic sensibility and lighting knowledge of a rock repeat the sentence over and over.
Usually I say, "I'm glad you noticed; I can't tell you how long it took me to achieve that precise shadow placement.!"
Then there's that uncomfortable moment when they're not sure if I'm pulling their leg or if I really did mean what I said ... or if I'm just calling them a stupid idiot (usually the case).

That being said, in your particular case I would try to avoid extraneous shadows.
Since you're doing an instructional video, in which there will be close-ups of people's feet, it will be very distracting for the viewer to follow the four feet in the demo when there might also be a dozen other confusing feet shadows. Remember one undiffused hard light source will make a shadow of every element. If you have 2 dancers one hard light source will create 4 feet shadows. Two lights will cause 8 feet shadows. Three lights will create 12 feet shadows.You would be wise to only have one defined set of shadows to create 3 dimensionality -- but no other conflicting/confusing unecessary shadows.
The trick when lighting dance is to light for shape and form -- 3 dimensionality ...but without creating confusion for the viewer. They need to see the exact pattern the feet are moving in. If there are a variety of confusing shadows you have defeated your instructional purpose.
If you choose the have your backlight as the main "hard" key, then so be it. Don't let your other fixtures create shadows.
Dance is lit with low sidelight parallel to the dancers, not from above them (which causes the shadows on the floor. As much as possible you need to barndoor your lights to the feet. If you had lekos you could position your fixtures on the floor (called "shinbusters" in dance) shooting across the dance floor at your subjects, with the beam of light shuttered to their feet at the bottom of the beam, and their heads at the top. If you're stuck with softlights then position them on low stands -- crosslighting the talent -- minimizing any obtrusive floor shadows.
Frankly, unless your talent is also talking to camera in close-up I would keep the "look" of your video a bit more dramatic. you don't necessary need 3 point lighting -- 2 point will suffice.

make sense?
DS



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