The Mysteries and Intracacies of Lighting–NOT

I just received the following comment from Claudia Oliveira on the tutorial I posted today, “Lighting For Video That Doesn’t Suck, Part 2; 3 Point Lighting”  

“I’ve been doing 3-point lighting but end up spending too much time tweaking the set up and wasting time. As a lone operator myself, time and agility is essential to most of my jobs. Having rules of thumb such as the ones you shared will definitely improve my ‘thinking on my feet’.”

I told her that made the whole thing worthwhile for me.

It also reminded me of a story.

I used to work with both film crews, and later video crews. The video crews were 2-3 man teams of which I was the director/cameraman.  In both cases, there were gaffers (the lighting people). In the video teams, one of the two or three on the team was the gaffer.

Now I don’t say this critically, because if I was a gaffer, I’d treat my job the same way. But as a director, one has the responsibility of getting things done quick. Yet gaffers had the ability to spend the ENTIRE time of the shoot setting up and fiddling with lights, no matter how much time was available.  Naturally framing the camera comes first. But it would get to the point where there should have been plenty of time to get the thing lit so I could get the show on the road, so invariably my attention would turn to lighting which would often be holding up the show for very mysterious and technical reasons.

Eventually, in self defense, I learned how to light.

Now here I am doing tutorials on lighting. And while I haven’t covered all the bases yet on the subject of lighting fundamentals (which I have referred to briefly in the first two videos so far), one of those fundamentals is something I  haven’t even touched on yet–and plan to in greater detail.

But I’ll mention an important fundamental datum right now. And that’s on the even more basic subject of ART itself.

There is a purpose to art, and that purpose is COMMUNICATION.  I touched on this in the first video.

The reason one composes or lights, or creates sets, costumes, makeup, etc., or records sound, music or edits or any other part of videography or cinematography (not to mention any other formal art) is TO FORWARD A MESSAGE, i.e., to COMMUNICATE something. When all the parts contribute to that communication, you’ve got a screaming communication with emotional impact. You know it when you see or experience it.

Ok, that’s one thing.

But here’s a qualifying datum that is often overlooked:

There can be a wrong target or wrong emphasis in any art–and that would be the seeking of technical perfection.

Technical perfection is NOT the target. Communication is.

So how far do you take your technical application? You take it as far and as high as you can until you achieve the communication. Once you’ve achieved the communication, there’s no point in driving technical any higher (short of self-satisfaction).

In  a practical and business sense, yes, you certainly want to achieve a high technical standard,

Just remember, it’s more important to (the purpose of your activity) to achieve a high level of communication.

Once you’ve achieved that, you’re DONE.

On the other hand, if your technical rendition is inadequate or poor, it will DETRACT FROM THE COMMUNICATION.

So you have to achieve that balance where you have a high communication value.

The question becomes, “how good does the technical rendition have to be?”.

The answer (in any field of art) is: Good enough to achieve an emotional impact with the intended communication.

So back to the gaffer story:

I could, as director and cameraman, light the scene faster than the gaffer. Why? Not because the gaffer was incompetent, but because I knew when to stop. After all, I was responsible for the overall communication of the scene.

Which brings me to the point of what I eventually hope to achieve once the whole Lighting Tutorial series is complete.

By covering the fundamentals of each topic as well as the underlying fundamentals of art itself, I want to help people achieve the understanding and judgment involved with being able to perform their craft rapidly and competently with a minimum of kit (equipment) and to a truly professional result.

In the lighting series (and future camera series, etc.) I’ll eventually get to practical examples of “lighting in the real world”, including a real time set up of an actual live lighting situation. But I want to get the fundamentals in place first. Then we can get into tricks and shortcuts. But, as the saying goes, “you’ve got to know the rules first. Only then can you break them.”

And when you do break them, it’s all toward forwarding the communication. NOT just calling attention to yourself (which detracts from the communication, doesn’t it?).

Here are a couple of earlier articles on “Message: and “The Rules”:

“Message”  https://thevideowhisperer.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/message/

“The Rules”  https://thevideowhisperer.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/the-rules/

I’ll take these up and expand on them in a later video.

Thanks Claudia! You’ve got me going.

2 responses

  1. Totally agree, I am a predictor/shooter – doing my smallest shoots with just a PA. I have learned from a DP who travels the world with his Scarlet RED camera and a small kino and
    Does amazing things. If there is enough ambient light on location (to fill) – great things can be accomplished with one or two lights-
    Sometimes, less is more, and it also can loof less “produced” (more natural). In these situations, try a soft key light (very frontal) and a diffuse back ‘wraparound’ light that acts like a hair light/back light, but is more broad and hence can wraparound the face (into the darker, non-key area, which has no light).

    Like

    • David, Thanks. I’m really looking forward to playing with LED lights. Our gaffers had some kinos which were pretty pricey at the time, but these days portable LED lights are becoming pretty available for hit and run video work and the price is coming down. I even saw one advertised that hat half 34K bulbs and half 55K (you could switch all one or either set). Now we’re talkin’!

      Like

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