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Build a Beautiful Book Light with Shane Hurlbut, ASC

11.20.12 @ 6:00PM Tags : , , ,

It’s been said time and time again, and it’s worth saying again — Shane Hurlbut (and his blog at Hurlbut Visuals) is a strong resource and great friend to the DIY and independent filmmaking communities. This really can’t be overstated, because Shane provides everything from custom lighting-kit tutorials to explanations of various shot-types and composition styles — all important functional knowledge for those of us tasked with the creation of motion imagery. Now, once again, Shane provides us with a walkthrough of great magnitude, this time in implementing a book light to accentuate a “beauty shot.” Read on for the run-down.

It’s interesting and worth noting that Shane, as he says in his post, ascended to the role of cinematographer coming from the grip & electric side of things, as opposed to the camera department. All these sub-departments are equally important to the creation of the final image, but I’ve often wondered (and asked people who know more than me, of which there are many) whether it’s the gaffers or the camera ops who eventually become the DPs. Of course, the answer is both, depending on the case, but as Shane points out, the latter is more common.

I had actually wondered this of Shane in particular, because some of his posts got really into the nitty-gritty in terms of G&E — explaining which types of rigging and grip gear used to achieve certain lighting setups, something DPs normally leave to the gaffer. Depending on the size of the movie, roles can start to become a bit consolidated — I’ve worked on at least one set in which the gaffer was essentially dual-duty filling the role of key grip. On even smaller productions, it’s certainly possible for the DP to get his hands really dirty, gaffer-style. All that said and keeping this stuff in mind, let’s get to Shane’s post.

It was on that same set I mentioned earlier that I learned what a book light was (and since I was working G&E swing, the sooner I knew this, the better). Essentially it is when some form of bounce is used as the source, and then diffused again, creating a beautiful, ultra-soft light. Shane provides a simple and easy-to-see and understand clip illustrating the effect of moving the diffusion layer even further from the bounce-source, and closer to the subject:

Shane’s post exhaustively lists the type of bounce materials available, plus DIY-style varieties. This is key (no pun intended) information, because the type and size of bounce material — plus that of the diffusion material (which Shane also breaks down, in detail) — all affects the spread, size, and overall quality of your book light. The other consideration to make, of course (assuming you have options from which to choose here, which you hopefully do), is what light to use at the core of the book light. The DIY varieties Shane lists for key are 150-400W Sodium Vapor, 150-400W Metal Halide, and 150W Halogen clamp lights. Here is the photo breakdown Shane provides for creating a standard sort of booklight (be sure to check out his full post for overhead diagrams as well):

Below is the type of effect achievable with the book light — keep in mind, rotating the whole lighting setup on-axis around the subject, flagging off the spill to other areas of the scene, tweaking the configuration of the book light, and choosing different materials for each layer of it are all options (among even more) for scene-fitting customization.

To explain any more would be doing an injustice to Shane’s post, so be sure to check it out for the extensive details he’s provided us (and while stopping by, consider thanking Shane for sharing such a great amount of information! :)

When have you guys used book lights, and to what effect? How often do you find yourself on a set, pulling multiple duties — and which ones? When have you found yourself creating soft lighting with things like old silk curtains you borrowed from your grandmother, or maybe some foam-core poster-board for bounce (hey, if it works, it works)?

Link: Creating a Beauty Light with a Book Light — Hurlbut Visuals


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  • Great post Dave. I’ve been on sets where the Key Grip/Gaffer role is dual duty as well. I’ve yet to make a book light for myself, but this seems like a worthy venture.

    • Dave Kendricken on 11.20.12 @ 10:08PM

      Thanks Ben! Hopefully one day we ourselves will be double-Second-ing :) I think there’s definitely a huge charm to the shows that are small enough for the G&E department to be basically consolidated.

  • Good to learn this lighting.
    Keep an eye on this possible camera. Note the sensor…

    Under $10K
    Global Shutter

  • Wow that’s some gorgeous lighting!

  • How many of you guys have 2K’s laying around? This look can be achieved with so much less it’s almost laughable.

    • I do. A couple 5k’s too.

    • …thought the same… :D

    • I was referring to Erik`s comment

      • Dave Kendricken on 11.21.12 @ 5:02AM

        Thought I listed the DIY options Shane provides? Otherwise, yes, something like a 2K can realistically be obtained for just about any production over no-budget level.

      • Dave Kendricken on 11.21.12 @ 5:08AM

        Also, if by “achieved with so much less it’s almost laughable” you mean the whole idea of a book light is unnecessary, I have to say I disagree — a smaller light/bounce/diffusion set-up can also produce soft light, true, and I’m all for low-budget work-arounds — but a much larger diffused source is irreplaceable!

        • Not unnecessary and maybe not so laughable. I did get a chuckle out of the setup. I just think this look can be achieved with much less. I use KinoFlow Divas and Arri’s. 650′s, 300′s, Chimera Box’s and bounce boards and 1K’s.
          I just wouldn’t use this much gear for a head shot. The space needed and the heat coming off a 2K would require a studio space. I guess it’s just not a practical setup for me. It does look nice.

          • You are not the only one – Director David Fincher (Seven, Game, Fight Club, Social Network, Dragon Tat) avoids book lighting on set with his DP’s as well.

            Don’t get me wrong, this looks nice, but it requires a large space and then breaks to mold to create light that we virtually never see in real life – hence the reason most good directors avoid it.

            • Dave Kendricken on 11.21.12 @ 1:33PM

              I’m not sure I totally believe that “most good directors avoid it,” but at least everyone gets to have their own sense of style, taste, and quality-of-light / lighting-set-up pet-peeves :)

          • Dave Kendricken on 11.21.12 @ 1:30PM

            I understand what you mean about using this for an MCU type of shot, Erik, but I think the choice of focal length / FOV / angle on the subject here is more to demonstrate the quality of light this set-up casts on a subject just as an example. I know what you mean in terms of that it may perhaps be more worth the work in setting up for it to fill a larger area.

  • Not that it’s exactly the same look, of course, but this is why I love my Mole-Richardson baby-zip 2k lights. The cowl has a white lining that the bulbs are aimed at, effectively creating a compact, powerful bounce. Then, you can diffuse it to your liking like Shane does here, or you can even turn off a bulb to make it a 1k. It’s truly a great bang for the buck light!