5 Cinematography Techniques for Lighting for Darkness

Cinematographers work hard to achieve effortless lighting. Are you familiar with these lighting tricks?

Setting up the lighting for a night shoot is a skill every cinematographer must develop. From finding a way to not show reflections while shooting in a place that has a lot of windows, to keeping a consistent ambient light, it’s a challenge. 

When watching films, most people don’t give a second thought to how light interacts within a concentrated area—if the DP did their job right. Through assorted types of fixtures, the artists on set create the illusion of light sources in and out of frame.

Ever wanted an up-close and personal look at how these camera whizzes achieve excellent lighting techniques? Cinematographer Valentina Vee gives us an in-depth demonstration of how she set up the lighting for her shoot in an office building in this video from Aputure. Watch, then enjoy the major takeaways!

Production Design and Location

Production design is the first thing cinematographers should pay attention to. Some sets find props that are already at the location. For example, the set designers used items around the office they were shooting in to create a desk that resembled a space that a boss might sit at.

A big no-no for any shot is having a completely blank white wall, since it looks dull. A good cinematographer will pay close attention to the set design along with what the frame looks like.

When doing a night shoot, it’s best to start setting up around sunset. Optimizing your shooting schedule around your location and lighting is a great way to stay ahead.

Practical Lighting

Even if you utilize practical lights at your location, it's important to use film bulbs.

For the set being documented in this video, they are using an Aputure B7c-2000k. When using common lightbulbs, they may show a strobe effect on camera, and it’s harder to control the intensity of the light as well as the color.

When creating an artificial source of light (for this video they are creating moonlight), Vee chose to use an Aputure Nova P300c. The lights used to set the scene are all controlled by remote so the DP can seamlessly intensify or lighten the exposure.

Camera Settings

Getting the perfect shot is no easy feat. Arranging the lighting in a frame can be tedious, but it’s what can make or break the aesthetic. Don’t be afraid to redesign a shot to achieve the lighting you need!

Another piece of the camera puzzle is adjusting the white balance. The way to determine how to set your white balance is by looking at the LUT on your monitor and observing what the image would look like if it were to be color-corrected.

Credit: Aputure

Overhead Lighting

The shot being captured in this video is the POV of someone hiding under a desk in an office. As previously mentioned, using lighting that isn’t meant for filming usually doesn’t work in the DP’s favor. The overhead lighting installed in the office casts harsh shadows downward, making the subject’s face look dark. Instead of using these unfavorable lights, Vee chose to use an LS 300d. This light source brightens the overhead light and creates a more flattering view of someone’s face.

Another use of the LS 300d is to create ambient lighting in a scene. In this office scene, there still needs to be a light source on-screen when the boss character turns off the overhead light in the office space. The light source leftover is the moonlight and the lamp in his office. Something to remember about emulating moonlight is that it shouldn’t be casting any shadows.

Credit: Aputure

Computer Light

Computers are obviously essential within an office space. However, much like an overhead light, the light they give off isn’t reliable for filming. Using MC lights can eliminate the flicker effect often given off by a monitor and they are easily controllable.

An issue that may come up when using these lights is the reflection they give off if there’s a window nearby. But if your production design allows for it, covering up those pesky reflections can be easy. In this video, the computers from the office setup cover those reflections.

Continuous Lighting

When setting up your ambient lighting, pay attention to how harshly it’s hitting the subjects. For example, the light cast from a lamp in an office should lightly reflect on the computers in the common area. Consistency is always key!

Credit: Aputure

Lighting Effects

When compressing the background of a shot, it allows the bokeh to add a flare to the frame. In this case, the city lights twinkle in the background as a hacker works at an office computer. To keep the overall exposure of the room consistent, Vee uses the MC lighting mixed with the Nova P300c to continue the emulation of both moonlight and the ambient light in the room.

If you are a DP, what is your best tip for lighting? Let us know in the comments.     

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