November 6, 2016

Watch: DP Geoff Boyle Explains How You Can Simplify Your Lighting

"Good lighting, for me, is really simple lighting."

If one walks onto a professional sound stage and sees an army of lighting units set up all over the place they might think, "Whoa! Look at all those lights! The lighting is going to look so good!" However, when it comes to lighting, more doesn't necessarily mean better. In this video by Cooke Optics TV, DP Geoff Boyle talks about how some cinematographers overcomplicate their lighting, and gives some advice on how we can simplify our own without sacrificing image quality.

Some scenes are more complicated than others and require a shit-ton of lighting equipment, from lighting units to modifiers. However, the message Boyle is trying to communicate is that DPs can and should try to find simpler, more efficient ways of lighting a scene. 

One mistake I made in my first year of filmmaking was using all of the lights I had in my kit. Maybe it was because I had my professor's voice in my head talking about 3-point lighting, or maybe it was because it was fun to set up lights, or maybe definitely it was because I didn't know what I was doing—either way, just because you have lights doesn't mean you need to use them.

Modifiers, like diffusers, flags, and reflectors, can often give you all the spread, control, and illumination you need without having to rely on a whole lot of space or energy. So, if you've got a few lights on hand, see if you can replace at least one or two of them with a light modifier. As you saw in the video, Boyle was able to recreate some pretty amazing images that used a lot of lighting with only one light, two sheets of poly, a trace frame, and two black flags. In other words, he used one light and five modifiers—that's pretty awesome.

How do you simplify your lighting setups? Let us know in the comments below.      

Your Comment


This is one of the best articles I've seen here for a long time! Practical honest advice from a respected professional and no bullshit. More like this please!

November 7, 2016 at 3:05AM, Edited November 7, 3:05AM

Clive Rose

For corporate stuff, I've simplified big time over the last 5 years and I now get away with mostly using a minimalist kit that consists of two 1x1 LED lights, an overhead drumlight, two 5-1 reflectors, one of those small 4"x6" AA battery powered LEDs when I can't get an eye light from my 1x1s, and a 650w tungsten (not used often but when it is, it's usually for background lighting). If I need punch, I'll rent a k5600 joker bug 800. I started breaking down all my setups on IG if anyone wants to see how I get away with it. Really interested in hearing what other minimalists are getting away with. Grant it, I wouldn't show on a narrative set with just this kit, hahaha.

November 7, 2016 at 7:26AM, Edited November 7, 7:49AM

Ryan Sauve

Could someone give me a U.S translation of the terms: Red, Poly, & Trace Frame?

November 7, 2016 at 10:12AM


Not 100% sure, but I'd guess one frenel or open face light, foam core, and a large diffusion.

November 7, 2016 at 11:25AM


Red Head is an open face reflectors, no fresnel lens.

Poly is different of a foam core. The Poly is a little more reflective and a little harder, and also a little translucent. So you can pass the light through it, not only bouncing.

November 8, 2016 at 9:33AM


You can create your own poly by getting a big sheet of polystyrene insulation (1" - 3" thick) at a hardware store and wrapping the edges with gaffer tape.

November 10, 2016 at 7:58AM, Edited November 10, 7:58AM


Absolutely frakking brilliant. Thanks so much!

November 11, 2016 at 1:33PM, Edited November 11, 1:33PM