Lighting for HD Video

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Adding Small Accent Lights (to Lead the Eye & Create a Sense of Depth)

Many locations have enough ambient light to get a usable image from an HD video camera. But having enough light to get an image, and having the light needed to create an image that suits your production can be 2 different things.

Its been said before but it bears repeating. If you are selling your client on the higher quality of HD video, they are going to expect a higher quality image. This can mean more than the technical abilities of the HD camera. Your creative use of light can help bring out the best in that camera.

Often a good lighting setup can be improved by the careful placement of a few accent lights. These are usually small low wattage fixtures that can be hidden easily to light small areas in background or foreground. We've already seen a few examples in the last section, with the Pro-lights lighting the plants in the background of the "Contrast" shots.

Accent lights can help to lead the viewers eye to things you want them to see in your frame. They can also help you create a sense of increased depth in your image.

Accents can be created to look like subtle enhancements to the reality of the shot, or gelled with colors to add a vibrancy that isn't necessarily "real".

Here's our shot in a recording studio control room, lit with just the overhead ambient light. Technically enough to get a usable image, but who would want to use it?

Overhead lighting makes our subjects eyes hard to see, causes nose shadows over the mouth, and puts more light than you would want on the top of the head.
Our lighting setup is minimal. We are using the ambient overhead lights as a starting point, and pointing a few of the ceiling track lights onto the mixing console. We added some soft frontal fill on the subject which helps greatly, when compared to the unlit shot. Since it is a little brighter, this causes us to close down the camera lens & lose some of the location ambience. However, this slight darkening of the background helps us to focus the viewers eye on our subject, giving a real but flattering result.
Our soft frontal fill is a 200w Pro-light reflected off a white nylon umbrella. A silver umbrella may be a little brighter but not as soft. Because our subject is a little older, we want to cosmetically minimize wrinkes. For ENG or documentary use, this is a quick & effective setup. If we want something more visually appealing, we need to add accents.
We had placed a microphone on a boom-stand in the studio as a prop, but it was barely visible from the control room window. We decided to light it from one side with a 500w Omni-light, gelled with dark blue. Our shot will see this mostly as a back lit edge on the microphone, so going with a brighter lamp helps the minimal accent stand out. On the more visible side of the mic & boom, we are using a Pro-light with 100w lamp & yellow gel. It is flooded to cover the mic & stand, and positioned so that its light spill will fall out of view from the control room window.
Another Omni-light, this time with 300w lamp, is placed on the floor using a Big-foot & Scissor-mount floor pedestel (see Clamps & Mounts Demystified for more info). It is used to light the far wall of the studio, giving it a warm glow. Closing in two barn doors helps break the beam up & create shadows for added texture.
Back in the control room, we placed a Pro-light with 200w lamp and Big Foot pedestel on the floor, between the console & and the studio window wall. Even tho' we added some dark purple gel, it proved to be too bright. While we could have swapped to a 100w lamp, it was quicker to just add a full scrim in front of the light to cut it down. (See Light Controls Demystified for more info.). We closed the barndoors to create a slash of light that revealed texture in the foam soundproofing.
Adding a series of colored accent lights, in both control room & studio, creates a moodier shot. Accents work best when isolated by areas of relative darkness, so we switched off the overhead room lights. The control room had separate switches for the track lights, so we kept a couple of them on the console & equipment rack. Notice how the absence of ambient room light reduced the fill on the subjects face and helped bring out some character in his expression.
Even without the subject, the accented lighting has created a sense of depth and texture for the shot. It functions equally well as a promo shot of the control room & studio. The difference in color between the cool accents in the control room and the warmer accents in the studio not only creates depth but also presents the 2 as separate environments.

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