June 30, 2017

Are You Missing This One Tiny (But Important) Detail When Lighting Your Subject?

Look at the image above you. Which one of the portraits do you like the most? Do you know why?

In the chaos of shooting a scene, small details, like smoothing your subject's hair and checking for continuity, are bound to be overlooked, but there is one detail that I haven't heard many filmmakers address out loud: the size of the subject's pupils. It's such a small part of the overall composition, but pupil size can affect your audience in undesirable ways, from mere aesthetics to psychological uneasiness. In this video, the Koldunov Brothers demonstrate how a subject's pupils respond to different kinds of light.

The fact is, really tiny pupils and really large pupils make most people feel uneasy; the Koldunov Brothers prove this by citing several scientific studies on pupil dilation. So as a filmmaker, it's important to take note and adjust your lighting according to what you want your end result to be. If you're going for a look that doesn't call attention to the size of your subject's pupil, you'll want to light your subject with less intense light. But if you do want to call attention to them, cranking up the light intensity will give you smaller pupils and shooting in near darkness will give you bigger ones.

It's not the most immediate issue you have to address when shooting a scene, but it's definitely one you might want to think about the next time you're on set. Who knows, maybe next time you'll experiment with different sized pupils to find out how it affects the look of your shot.      

Your Comment

10 Comments

This is incredibly interesting. Great article.

June 30, 2017 at 7:26PM

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Greg Green
Producer/Director
56

Thanks, great read!

July 1, 2017 at 2:25AM

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Christopher Seto
Photographer
76

Holy crap, seriously never thought of that.

July 1, 2017 at 10:28AM

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Jordan Mederich
Documentarian / Filmmaker
1238

"What's that?! Point the 10k in his eyes! Got it!" - a grip somewhere

July 1, 2017 at 10:49AM

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Zachary Will
Cinematographer
758

This is an interesting topic and one that I only ever considered after trying to figure out how some TV shows get there actors' eyes to pop so well. It seems to be a mix of lighting and CC. I would be interested to know how pupil size relates to the f stop related light level of the object that the subject is looking at. This would seem to be relevant for interviews, especially when the interviewer does not have any extra light on them. It also seems important for the comfort level of the interviewee, when their pupils are trying to adjust for seeing in the dark and they have a couple of bright undiffused lights pointed at them in their periphery.

July 1, 2017 at 11:37AM

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Casey Preston
Videographer
185

Speaking of making eyes pop, a trick that's sometimea used in grading is to sharpen just the eyes a little bit.

July 1, 2017 at 1:59PM, Edited July 1, 1:59PM

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David Sandberg
Director
140

A more important factor than the pupil size is actually seeing the eyes and getting a nice glint in there - which sometimes means a light pointed right at them!

July 2, 2017 at 4:43AM

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Karel Bata
Director / DP / Stereographer
424

This only applies to flash stills photography! And it's an easy fix in photoshop.

So... you liight someone in dim light to open up their pupils, then 'flash' it looks good, but they're going to be reacting to that bright flash for a few seconds and you may have to wait till they relax again. Not optimal.

July 2, 2017 at 4:38AM, Edited July 2, 4:44AM

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Karel Bata
Director / DP / Stereographer
424

Exactly. This has nothing to do with filmmaking. Probably the only way to get this to work is to shoot with an A7s and a bunch of denoiser.

July 2, 2017 at 12:56PM

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Nick Brown
Filmmaker/Putz
184

Short and but very interesting aspect I honestly totally forgot to thing about. Love it! Need to analyse this on my work :)

July 3, 2017 at 2:23PM

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Benjamin K.
Director/ DOP/ VFX Sup
168