March 6, 2015

The Key is Control: Learn How to Sculpt Hard Light to Add More Dimension & Contrast

Light is a great storyteller, but if we don't know how to utilize it to its full potential, the opportunity to tell more robust, dimensional stories can be missed.

Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut shares some advanced lighting techniques for adding dimension to a scene by shaping hard light. In the tutorial below, Hurlbut shows us how to mold and manipulate light from a 1K fresnel to create a window pattern against a wall, creating a lot of contrast, a lot of dimension, and a lot more character. Check it out below:

And here's the lighting schematic:

Credit: Hurlbut Visuals
Surely those of you who are professional cinematographers or grips will get a lot out of a tutorial that shows you how to shape light with gear you're most likely familiar with. However, for those of you who don't work (or have never worked) in a professional studio with expensive gear, there's still plenty to learn.

The important thing to remember here, for beginners especially, is the concept of not only producing light, but controlling it. Hurlbut explains this when he talks about how the window pattern alone won't create depth, but with the help of carefully placed black floppies:

Shaping light can add a 3D quality to your image -- This cannot be done with just firing a light through some pieces of tape. It has to be controlled and manicured so that the contrast and shadow are obtained in a way that gives you that wonderful three dimensional quality.

Do you know any techniques that help sculpt light to give it a more dimensional look? Let us know down in the comments!     

Your Comment

32 Comments

overdone

March 6, 2015 at 5:50PM

15
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Examples?

March 7, 2015 at 12:38PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

Barndoors............

March 6, 2015 at 6:37PM

7
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Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1477

Barndoors will still leave you with soft edges and spill...although a leeko will take care of that.

March 6, 2015 at 8:05PM

9
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Steve-O
Director of Photography
184

And the actress can barely move anywhere ... not a very flexible setup.

March 6, 2015 at 6:58PM, Edited March 6, 6:58PM

4
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Informative in the sense of understanding how to control light... but seriously? I feel like you could get something similar using barndoors- or maybe making the crazy choice of shooting beside a window. Yes, it's not as controllable, but you could probably get in way more shots in the same time it takes for a guy like this to diddle around with his unwieldy collection of floppies.

March 6, 2015 at 7:34PM

8
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Well I'm sure you know better.

June 8, 2015 at 1:43AM

0
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Yeah and possibly has less to sell? This videos definitely half advert.

December 1, 2015 at 7:17AM, Edited December 1, 7:17AM

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J.Eiffel
Director/DOP/Editor @ Eiffel
111

jeeze guys, its just an example folks. And a good one at that.

The overhead is sweet and a boost over watching the video alone.
Thanks for sharing V.

March 6, 2015 at 8:52PM, Edited March 6, 8:52PM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
1308

But he had sandbags and a chart in the shot! God, who would listen to this guy that DP'd several Hollywood films anyways?!

March 7, 2015 at 3:45AM

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Chuck McDowell
1st AC
579

Maybe if he'd started with the finished setup, then worked backwards, it might have been just as effective and half the length...

March 7, 2015 at 1:09AM

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Nigel Traill
Director, Camera, Editor
85

Where are the sandbags on the C-stands?

March 7, 2015 at 1:14AM

4
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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

You don't have to bag every stand if the weight that its bearing isn't off the center axis. Toppers and bottomers- definitely and they were in the tutorial. It's a good idea to do it in case it gets bumped, but many stage floors are painted and the stand will still move if it's kicked. Always make sure the big leg is pointed in the direction that the weight is above it.

April 30, 2015 at 11:12AM

7
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Christopher Holt
Producer/Director
106

I agree with the concept and it is well executed. What I do not understand, why the 'window light' is not used in some way to light the talent.
The main light comes from the 'window' left. The talent takes the light from an off screen lightsource on the right.
It makes you wonder what is going on, it makes the scene as a whole unconvincing.

March 7, 2015 at 3:18AM

6
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[Quick note]: this is a technical tutorial, not a scene. [End note]

March 7, 2015 at 6:03PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

Ok if so, why bother to put a talent in the technical tutorial? Is it for the show?
Is she a pleasing or a disturbing element ; ) from a technical viewpoint?

March 8, 2015 at 5:43PM

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I imagine it's because a shot of an empty wall would be dull.

March 11, 2015 at 9:18PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

Not very enlighting... The first 6 minutes of this tutorial were totally obsolete. Luckily our professor had an assistant that was dressed-up seriously. That made it a bit credible.

March 7, 2015 at 8:31AM

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Klaas-Thijs Postma
Producer / Editor / Mediamanager
106

Bunch of experts in here, I guess.

Lose the arrogance, listen to someone with more experience, stop using one method for shooting every damn thing and try new shit. Y'all sound scared. Real light shaping happens outside of barn doors, and not everything needs to be soft.

March 7, 2015 at 12:38PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

Agreed. I'm not always a fan of Shane's lighting, but he is trying to show people a "way" of doing things. This is exactly what this tutorial is. It may seem like overkill to many of the run and gun one man show experts on here, but on anything with a decent budget, this is how it's done and there's a reason for it- it works.

April 30, 2015 at 11:03AM

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Christopher Holt
Producer/Director
106

I hope you didn't miss an important detail at 3:40 when the grip sets up the c-stand wrong and Shane corrects his mistake and rigs to the right. Always rig to the right. Always. If you aren't using sandbags, the very least you should do is make sure to rig to the right. Great video!

March 7, 2015 at 2:44PM

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Tim O
74

Good catch! And he does so quite tactfully.

March 7, 2015 at 3:35PM, Edited March 7, 3:35PM

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Taylor Russ
Director of Photography
661

I saw that! I was otherwise very impressed with the grip. Great utility belt, he's even got a bottle of water on there. Man's prepared for everything.

March 8, 2015 at 4:04PM

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matthew david wilder
Director/Cameraman/Editor/Colorist
332

I can't understand this lighting plot

March 7, 2015 at 4:06PM

4
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You have to be kidding. A 'bottomer'?

March 8, 2015 at 3:40AM

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The amount of arrogance in these comments is baffling. This is a seasoned and professional DP with almost 20 features and countless commercials and music videos under his belt. Yet, people are complaining about the clothes he is wearing and the fact that he is using a technique besides barn doors? How about you all consider that given the amount of success he has that he probably knows a lot more than all of you. I thought this community was better than this..

March 9, 2015 at 3:40AM

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Jesse Cornaglia
Freelance Videographer
147

I agree 100%. These reactions are not fully justified. But there is something that is bothering people. I will try and put my finger on that something. Starting with the video signature. It's from the 'inner circle'. Shane lets you pay for a membership to find out all about the goodies of his professional carreer. Nothing wrong with that. It makes him a smart guy to cash on his experience.
(On the other hand, why is he doing that? Can't he be at work as a director?) The technical part of this video is good, I like the lighting concept.
May be it's the way he acts, kind of slow (taking his time?) What is the talent doing in the video? She is standing there, taking light from an offscreen source. Technically there is no use for her ; ) She is more like the girls at a car show. Not my taste for a serious technical video, where people have to pay money for.
Look this man is famous, this technical video should be perfect and inspiring! I feel it comes a little short in both ways. It would have been perfectly acceptable if a less seasoned and less professional DP had made it.

March 10, 2015 at 4:31AM

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I get what you're saying and I kind of feel the same way. What I think he should've done is make this a stand alone video instead of just a snippet from a larger video. That way he can introduce the girl, explain what he is doing ahead of time, and not have it be awkward. And for goodness sake, get the girl a chair.

March 12, 2015 at 10:13AM

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Facundo Rodrigo Campos
Wearer of Multiple Hats
307

All i could think was how ridiculously gorgeous the girl was the entire time.

March 14, 2015 at 12:41AM

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No, it's not very practical. But it's Shane Hurlbut guys. He thinks using a 7D with huge cages, matte boxes, and cine lenses is the same as going around with your nifty fifty.

Take his advice with a grain of salt. Use what works for you. Don't get stuck in one way of thinking, that's the worst thing you could possibly do.

March 12, 2015 at 10:07AM

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Facundo Rodrigo Campos
Wearer of Multiple Hats
307

...yawn

March 13, 2015 at 6:37PM

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David Patterson
videographer/editor
407

Some of the comments have left me scratching my head a little.

Shane, is one of the few DP's working on high end feature films that shares in such detail. Shane has never said anywhere this is how YOU must do it. He explains his techniques or ways of achieving things. The point of Shane sharing is so you may come away with something you MAY incorporate into your work.

Every shot, every scene, every location presents a different challenge. The more techniques you have in your belt to overcome these / tell the story you want, the faster, better and smoother the whole process is going to be.

From a beginner who has never had to do something like this before, or a seasoned pro who does it a different way, there's something to take away from this.

I can tell you first hand - the first thing you need to let go of is ego. I'll admit that was a slow process for me at the start, thankfully thats a number of years ago now. But, I am seeing that in some comments.

June 8, 2015 at 7:04PM

7
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Noel Evans
Director / Director of Photography / Cinematographer
234