Lighting Tutorial: Learn How to Capture 9 Visual Styles Without Ever Moving Your Camera
Lighting your scenes can seem like a daunting task, especially if you're just starting out, and many times, despite your best laid plans, setting up your lights turns into a learn-as-you-go experience. That's why it's supremely helpful to see how other filmmakers created the looks in their own films. DP Nathan Blair shares the versatile lighting setup he used on a comedic short, in which he captures 9 different visual styles with just one shot composition.
First of all, check out the short, Juicefast, starring comedy duo Ariana Seigel and Emma Tattenbaum-Fine, to get an idea of the different visual styles.
As Blair mentions in his article for Script Mag, despite the fact that it only uses a single camera setup, this comedy sketch video wasn't as simple to capture as it might seem. There were 9 different lighting setups that Blair used to not only communicate different times of day, but the changing emotional state of the title character, Ari. He explains a few of his technical choices for the short below:
I mounted my Nikon D800 on top a sandbag, propped on Ari’s dining table to achieve a low angle, similar to what you would get from a laptop camera. I didn’t want it to look perfect, so I used the sandbag to create a very slight imbalance, as if the camera was sort of thrown in place. I chose a 35mm lens to keep my focus from becoming too shallow, yet maintain a close up on Ari. To create the illusion of light from a computer screen, I used my Litepanel 1×1 Daylight Flood.
Blair uses several different light combinations, throughout the entire short, but he uses a Litepanel to represent the computer screen (I've used a handheld fluorescent work light before, and that worked pretty well). He also uses different combinations of fresnels to illuminate the room Ari is sitting in. As you saw in the video, there are a few shots set in the daytime and Blair is careful of capturing the even light of daylight. He uses a couple of different diffusers to tone down the light from the 650w fresnel near the kitchen, including 2 double scrims and silk.
Blair breaks down all of the different setups with several lighting diagrams. He explains, as well, the emotional elements of the shot, and how he decided to capture cinematographically. Here are a few of the diagrams.
His thought with this lighting setup was to establish normalcy. Everything is evenly and softly lit without any harsh shadows. Blair mentions that he wanted to make her look healthy and vibrant before her plunge into juicy darkness, so he used a Coral 1/2 lens filter.
I remember my first attempts at lighting scenes included a lot of over-lighting. Sometimes, all you need is a single light to capture the tone you're looking for -- especially if that tone is insanity. Don't be afraid to go dark!
This is a great and subtle example of how lighting acts as a storyteller. Blair says that he was inspired by the feeling of being hungover -- "everything just feels -- Blah." He describes the light representing that from the windows as "obnoxiously bright", and desaturate the image a little to really capture the "lifelessness" after her descent into juicing addiction.
Blair clearly demonstrates how powerful lighting is as a storyteller sheerly from the fact that his camera never moved once. Capturing a tone can be done in virtually infinite ways in cinematography by using different diffusion tools, gels, or lighting combos. That's why cinematography is such a beautiful art -- because you're painting, sculpting -- communicating with light.
Be sure to check out Nathan Blair's full article in Script Mag for more explanations into his stylistic decisions, as well as a bunch of other helpful lighting diagrams.