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3 point lighting - offside and onside key

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Ben Edwards
3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 12:37:18 am

Hi, I have read the very good John Jackman Lighting for Digital Video and TV and remembered him talking about onside and offside key lighting (onside where the camera was slightly towards key and offside when it was slightly towards fill. All sounded fine and dandy.

I then went on a lighting workshop at University and they put the camera dead square on subject. I queried this and they said this is how it should be. I have just looked on the net and almost all the 3 point lighting diagrams have camera square on contributor.

I realize its a matter of style and taste but I am curious, can anyone shed any light on this;).

Ben

--
Ben Edwards - Freelance Filmmaker
http://www.funkytwig.com


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Rick Wise
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 1:13:38 am

The issue is: where do you want the subject to look. Right at the camera? Or off to one side or the other.

For news videography, the subject almost always looks to one side of the camera or the other, usually to the reporter standing close to the camera.

For docs, both to-camera and to-the-side are common choices.

Now for the lighting: for the classic Rembrandt patch, if the subject is looking camera left, then the key is about 45º further left and about 45º above horizontal -- that is the starting point. You have to look at how the light falls on this person's face. All faces are different. Some have deep-set eyes and protruding noses, and the key will need to be less than 45º/45º. On the other hand, some faces are very flat, and you may end up moving the key to practically 90º beyond the angle of look.

If the subject is looking directly into the lens, then for the Rembrandt patch the key can be either on the right or left, 45º/45º.

There are no formulas. Only starting points. Over time your eye learns to see (or your brain) what you are actually shooting.

Rick Wise
Cinematographer
San Francisco Bay Area
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Ralph Chaney
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 5:04:14 am

I usually position the key so that the subject's nose-shadow either covers the opposite-side eye or is closer to the nose so key light hits the opposite eye. Depends on how it looks graphically - how their facial structure plays with this, and/or the content of what they're saying. There's a little more "ominous" when the eye is in shadow, however much it's filled.

-> Ralph


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Todd Terry
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 6:31:52 am

Hey Ben... all good advice here...

There are no exact hard and fast rules... it just takes a lot of experimentation to learn what works best in each individual situation.

I will say thought, that while I think it's important to learn how to do classic three-point lighting, I think it's less important to actually do it. Kinda like teaching a kid to ski... the first and most important thing you do is teach them how to fall down, not that that's the goal of course.

Personally I haven't done any perfect classic three-point lighting in just years, unless a client specifically insisted on the look. It just doesn't look appropriate to me in most cases. It's pretty, but can be both unnatural and uninteresting. Rarely do I have a shoot where I want the subject to look like they are in the Olan Mills Portrait Studio. So I usually vary the three-point setup quite a bit. Sometimes I'll move the backlight (which can be the most important instrument) over quite a bit to one side, maybe even enough to slightly spill onto the side of the subject's face a bit. Often I'll also move the key (usually a big soft source) a fair bit more fore or aft than the "normal" position to get a more interesting look. And although sometimes I do, I usually won't use another instrument as fill, usually I'll just fill with a 4x4 bounce card. It's not the "classic pretty" look, but to me it's a lot more interesting and natural, and better in real-life situations where your not wanting to look like someone is having their portrait snapped. Just my personal taste.

And, not that anyone asked... but over the past few years, I've often been lighting talent with a single instrument, especially in larger spaces with a lot of natural daylight (say, a big room that has a lot of windows... such as a church, or hotel lobby setting or such). I'll use a single medium size HMI instrument (say, a 1200w fresnel HMI), and put it in a high rear-and-to-the-side backlight position. I'll blast it into a 4x4 white bounce card in front of the talent which becomes the key, but positioned in such a way that the talent also receives a bit of direct back/side spill from the instrument itself, as well as the reflected light. The result can be a very pretty look that is both interesting and very natural looking... a slightly more sculpted and interesting three-point look, but done with just a single instrument.

Here's a diagram I made a while back about this technique when it was discussed on the COW...



For what it's worth....

T2

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



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Steve Kownacki
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 5:05:21 pm

Nice advice here and I agree it's all a starting point. One LD used the phrase "key the 3/4 side of face" - like in Todd's blue-shrirted guy, the full side showing to the camera is where the shadow falls. I tend to go for where the natural light would fall, and in that case, would have more light keying from the rear window.

I like the hot backlight on the guy in the tie suggesting light from the rear door, but I probably would have keyed from the left too - personal pref. And ya gotta love the speed you can gain with a single instrument!

Steve






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Ben Edwards
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 7:11:38 pm

Thanks, lots of very useful advice. love the single instrument setup but I don't tend to have the budget. I am looking at setups in peoples houses. I do have a set of 3*650W Lilliputs which are great. I have also been playing with some very low power setups. The lowest is a 105W florescent soft-box and a couple of Z96 LED units (don't laugh). I have been trying to find setups that don't freak out the over 80s. I tend to have to shoot with DSLRs which give great images at 800/1600 ISO.

I am curious why people are using card rather than (white) reflectors.

One thing I have found is if someone is in an armchair backlight placement is a little tricky, defining both shoulders is not easy. Maybe I need to push the chair forward and light from the centre of the subject.

Something I really like is when there is low winter hard sun shooting the subject outside using the sun as a backklight and using a reflector.

Any advice gratefully appreciated.

Ben

--
Ben Edwards - Freelance Filmmaker
http://www.funkytwig.com


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Todd Terry
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 27, 2011 at 8:41:33 pm

[Ben Edwards] "Something I really like is when there is low winter hard sun shooting the subject outside using the sun as a backklight and using a reflector."

Oh yeah, I LOVE doing that. I did that on a big shoot last week, where we had perfect low/hard sun to the rear. The sun (through a silk) was our backlight, and key was a white 4x4 bounce. It was really pretty and super easy. We had HMIs with us and had arranged for power, but I didn't even unpack a single instrument. Didn't need to.



[Ben Edwards] "I am curious why people are using card rather than (white) reflectors."

I think because they are just easy/handy/cheap, and I really like the quality of the light that a white 4x4 card reflects... moreso than a "popup" reflector (which we have plenty of that rarely get used), and they are much easier/faster to rig than the third option of a white 4x4 reflector in a Hollywood frame as well. Easy to put anywhere, or just prop up against something, or pop them in a Quaker clamp (duckbill clamp) on a C-stand and you have a bounce that's perfectly rigid, unlike a popup. Plus, they're cheap... once they get bent or beat-up (which they do), toss it and grab another one from the photo or art supplies store for literally a couple bucks. The most handy ones are 4x4 foamcore that is white on one side and black on the other... so you have a negative side if you need one. We usually buy it in 4x8 foot sheets that they cut into 4x4s at the store for us... then back home I usually cut them in half again and hinge the pieces together with a strip of gaffer tape... so you have a 4x4 that folds in half... for easier traveling, and because sometimes you don't need a full 4x4. Plus, if you are traveling to a distant location, it's easy just to buy a couple white cards when you get there, use em, and toss them when you are done rather than traveling across the country with a boatload of reflectors. If you ever rent loaded grip trucks, they will usually come with a few black/white cards which are considered "expendables" since they do get "used up" eventually. So... if you ever rent a truck and use their cards, make sure they leave them with you since you're gonna get charged for them as expendables either way once they are pulled out and used... ha.

T2

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



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Mark Suszko
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Nov 28, 2011 at 3:46:58 pm

One of my rules of thumb for the key is to watch the "nose karet", and keep that nose shadow inside the curving cheek lines on either side of the mouth, that area where a moustache would be.


The office was pretty dead last week so I hung a new limbo set for a new documentary series we're doing, oral history interviews of elderly Illinois Bluesmen - a mix of interview and maybe some short jams to demonstrate technique, I'm excited at the propect. We want to capture their stories before they've all passed to gig with St. Pete.

Anyway, we have a black limbo curtain accented by three very old, retired Strand Century fresnels that had rotten/corroded guts inside. I turned those into prop lights, re-wiring them with 40-watt incadescent party bulbs aand gels, and these hang low into the shot using home-made, bent-EMT-conduit shepherd's crooks from the lighting grid as a point of interest in the background, between the interview chairs. The hooks let me instantly hang, move, or remove the lights when the set is struck. The fresnels now put out just enough to throw a faint colored accent tint on the host and talent's shoulders, while I actually light them with conventional 3-point technique, using Videssence flos and whatever other instruments I can scrounge up.


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Ben Edwards
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Dec 3, 2011 at 5:35:23 pm

[Mark Suszko] "Anyway, we have a black limbo curtain accented by three very old, retired Strand Century fresnels that had rotten/corroded guts inside. I turned those into prop lights, re-wiring them with 40-watt incadescent party bulbs aand gels, and these hang low into the shot using home-made, bent-EMT-conduit shepherd's crooks from the lighting grid as a point of interest in the background, between the interview chairs. The hooks let me instantly hang, move, or remove the lights when the set is struck. The fresnels now put out just enough to throw a faint colored accent tint on the host and talent's shoulders, while I actually light them with conventional 3-point technique, using Videssence flos and whatever other instruments I can scrounge up."

Like it, the other day I was doing some sound tests with DSLR to see how well the Beatchtek and Jucedlink pre-amps work when recording audio straight to the camera. I was also playing with a 250w florescent photo-flood (E40, a bit of a monster). The main light in the kitchen is a domestic florescent balanced to roughly tungsten. I was shooting a sound mixer mate of mine. The result was that the practicable cast a lovely warm light on his face and the background was neutral. This reminded me that years ago we shot some interviews in a sports hall using natural light and a readhead with a CTO filter and a bounce card to warm up the face. This looked nice but possibly a bit too orange. Was wondering if you lot do simelar stuff to warm up contributors. I guess maybe a 1/4 or 1/4 CTO would do the trick.

Ben

--
Ben Edwards - Freelance Filmmaker
http://www.funkytwig.com


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Mark Suszko
Re: 3 point lighting - offside and onside key
on Dec 3, 2011 at 5:47:12 pm

Personally, no, not often. However, I don't always insist that all the color temps MUST match perfectly. To get certain effects appropriate for the shot, I'll sometimes leave tungsten uncorrected in a daylight situation, for example, and I get the faces slightly warmer that way, without losing the power of the light thru gelling it. And sometimes you want the uncorrected blue daylight in a shot. The point is that you thought about it first and it is intentional, not just being sloppy or ignorant.


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