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Lighting for HD Video
Video cameras and post production equipment have continued to evolve & improve over the years. As a result, there has also been the continual need to improve the art & craft of lighting, in order to take advantage of the additional abilities.

High Definition video cameras offer increased resolution and a greater range of contrast than those of the past. Simply put, your images will be sharper and have more subtlety in the shadings between light & dark.
Also, HD camera makers have changed the shape of the video image, from an aspect ratio of 4:3 to a widescreen 16:9 format. This can also affect the way you light, as we will see.

There is no fundamental difference in lighting concepts for HD, as compared to the earlier video formats. For example, the average well lit interview or portrait shot will still use a key light, a fill light, a hair light, and a background light.
As a result, "Components of Interview Lighting", in the Foundations section of this site, has many valuable details applicable to lighting for HD.

There is an important psychological component to this as well. When you move up to HD, your client will expect more from your image. Your ability to use lighting to take advantage of the greater degree of image resolution and shading can make the difference in the quality of the final product.



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Overview: Creating a Good Looking Image
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Lighting is a creative act with the purpose of helping to shape your image, to suit a desired mood or to fit the production that the image is a part of. Improvements in technology, such as with HD cameras, provide an opportunity to refine our lighting techniques.
A quick look at the contrast chart will show the differences in rendering abilities between our eyes and contemporary imaging formats, including HD digital video.

As you can see, analog video cameras had a limited range of about 5 stops, between the darkest and brightest elements in the same image. Pretty limited when compared to the later formats. But it is not only the increased resolution & contrast abilities of HD cameras that have brought greater creative freedom in lighting. It is also the advances in post production processing of the image that have made it possible.
As a result, HD video can be lit more like film, with greater use of subtlety in shadow areas. Also, the lower light capabilities of DV & HD allow more use of the actual ambient light in a location. Instead of overpowering it with added light, you can now add just what is needed to the existing illumination, to lead the viewers eye to the parts of the image you want to feature, in a much more realisitic way.

Technique often lags technology. Many shooters were still overlighting their videos unnecessarily for the first few years of DV, just because they had that analog style of working so ingrained into their habits. It has only been recently with the added abilities of HD that lighting styles are finally adusting to these new creative possibilities.


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Lighting for HD Video
Techniques & tips to help your lighting take better advantage of the todays cameras and their creative abilities.
Quick Links: Higher Resolution & Lower Light / Controlling Detail / Contrast Allows Subtlety / Adding Small Accent Lights


Higher Resolution & Lower Light Abilities
One way to disguise the lower resolution of early cameras was to shoot from a closer distance. The wider shots, with the subject further away, were the ones that revealed the cameras shortcomings.

After decades of extreme close-ups, the ability to reproduce greater detail is being taken advantage of by using HD's wider 16:9 aspect ratio to create looser shot framing. This gives the shot more of the environment around the subject, creating a greater sense of context for the image.

However, with a wider image frame comes the need to light from potentially a greater distance, to keep the lights out of the wider shot.

Luckily, HD can work in lower light levels than the old analog cameras, so we don't usually need to add more light to compensate for the added distance we are now lighting from. And a location like this old theater shows the benefits of being able to use more of the ambient light of the location.
We have altered this shot to illustrate the old 4x3 framing and less sensitive imaging abilities of earlier cameras. Notice the murkiness of black values & lack of subtlety in shading. In general, 4x3 shots were more tightly cropped, with interior backgrounds that were either artificially lit or allowed to fall darker. With this tighter shot, it was also possible to get the lights in much closer. Early camera's lack of light sensitivity, and post production noise buildup in shadows areas, caused most conventional video to be overlit by necessity.
HD cameras, with their widescreen 16x9 aspect ratio and improved low light capablities, allow you to see more of the background as well as more of the ambient lighting of an interior location, with greater shading values. Digital post production has virtually no noise buildup in shadow areas either, so both advantages combine to allow a more dramatic & natural look in lower light locations. It's important to remember that you are still creating the illusion of a 3D reality in a 2 dimensional plane. And you are also leading the viewers eye by way of what you feature in your image and what you don't. Lighting is the key in both of these areas.



Our lighting setup is shot from the same camera position as the final shot will be. You will notice the lights are placed at a distance that doesn't invade the wider 16x9 format shot. Lighting from a greater distance increases the fall-off in light output, which isnt much of an issue for low-light capable HD cameras. However, that extra distance can create other issues:

1) The light's beam spreads more. If this is undesirable, then additional controls like Barndoors, Flags, or Egg Crates may be needed to help contain the light spill.

2) It is less intense. A more powerful light may be needed to have a similar intensity as the light used closer in the original setup.

3) Soft lights may be noticeably less soft, since moving a light away from a subject makes it a relatively smaller source. It is less able to wrap around the subject and help fill in, or open up, the shadowed areas. A larger and more powerful light source may be needed for a similar effect.
The lighting setup for the 16x9 shot shown above illustrates the adjustments made for lighting a wider shot than the conventional 4x3 format. All fixtures are placed further away, causing a wider beam spread, that needs to be controlled if it creates stray light spill in the shot. We placed the back hair light (a 200W Pro-light, with diffusion) on a boom pole, to insure that its stand wouldn't be visible in the shot. On location, you can't always light from the most desired position or distance. Sometimes fixtures with stronger lamps, from a greater distance, are required.


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