Lighting Under Challenging Circumstances

Whether you are new to the world of film, shooting your first scenes, or a seasoned veteran, there are untold combinations of lighting that you have to deal with on a regular and consistent basis, especially when dealing with television. Television lighting poses a great number of challenges for any filmmaker, director, cameraman, or even producers. The reason is that unless you are recording your scenes under a controlled environment, such as a closed studio set, then you will have no choice but to endure what’s thrown your way when you arrive on scene.

In today’s environment, location shooting is rife with challenges, such as natural sunlight and fluorescent tubes. Each of these illumination sources creates different shadows, tones, and color tints on film and video recording stock. Getting the right balance of light for every situation requires different plans, layouts, and equipment. And sometimes, when you are lighting for television, you will be dealing with more than one source at a time.

Think of a scene in an office building. Fluorescent fixtures overhead combine with the sun’s natural rays filtering in through the office windows. Now you have a recipe for some tricky and creative work. Technology will certainly help to some degree, with certain settings on modern cameras that help filter light, determine the white temperature settings and make adjustments accordingly, and even gauge the balance of light.

Determine what type of light you are dealing with

Most fluorescent tubes are considered soft light. In the world of television, or any lighting for film, for that matter, you are going to have two main sources of light: hard and soft light. Hard light is considered light that is produced by a direct source. A main spotlight in a studio setting is one example of hard light. The sun, in an outdoor scene, is another hard light source.

Temperatures of the light

When you are filming under different lighting conditions, you are dealing with different temperatures of light. The goal for any cameraman, then, is to make sure that the light sources that you are using are essentially the same temperature.

Daylight has a color temperature of 5,500 degrees Kelvin. Cool white fluorescents can have a color temperature of 4,000 degrees Kelvin and incandescent lights have an approximate color temperature of 3,000 degrees Kelvin. In order to balance these temperatures and make them have the same color temperature is important in getting the perfect lighting setup for film.

Using colored gels in front of the different light sources is how this balance is achieved. Depending on the light source, you will need to use different gels to achieve this goal.

Three-Point Lighting

Whatever light source you are dealing with when working with television lighting, your best approach will be to use three-point lighting. This is the same technique that is used for photo shoots in a professional studio, but the concepts transfer to any environment.

The effect of shadows to create strong contrast between light and dark surfaces will create a stronger impression of three dimensions for the television audience. While film is still, for the most part, two dimensional, when a three-point lighting technique is used properly, your audience will be given the impression of three dimensional scenes and characters (the emotional dimensions of your characters are a different issue altogether).

Television lighting will pose many challenges and rarely will two be exactly the same. While there are many solutions to lighting dilemmas, being armed with color correction gels and light diffusion materials will go a long way to solving problems. Your television lighting skills will also drastically improve when you use three-point lighting for these tough situations.