Low-Key & Upstage Lighting
This is where it begins. This is a hallway. It's a nondescript hallway. It's nothing particularly cinematic about it. It's a relatively narrow hallway. I mean, I would probably say the walking space in the middle is between the tables, is like this. I mean, I think the hallway itself is probably six feet. It's not big. And what I did like about it was it had three overhead lights. That was probably what drew me to it, the three overhead, hanging industrial lights. I was like, that looks cool. I bet we could do something with that. And so if you look at this, I've got the tripod down. I've got my laptop out so I can look at the frame. And I've got a big umbrella with diffusion to the front. I use the umbrella with diffusion all the time. I use it in a lot of my lighting. And you might think, photographically, maybe the way we start with an image is we just throw up a light right in the middle. Light it down, light your subject. That's probably a pretty common way for a lot of people to ...
photograph a person or a scene. And so that's where I begin. And I wanted to start with that, okay? And so this becomes just generic, flat light. And I thought about this idea of motivating the scene, right? And so if they were overhead lights, it would make sense to have the umbrella high and ahead, because it's kind of duplicating what this light's doing, right? That was kind of my though behind it. That makes sense, but because it's a better version of it, I used a big, soft umbrella, so it was really flattering on our subject's face. And I understand he's wearing a hat, but it's nice, soft light on the face. And so I bring him in, and I take the first picture. And in the first picture, my exposure is closer to the middle when I look at the histogram. It's closer to what, if I were putting the auto exposure on, more or less, obviously it's with a strobe. But this is what auto exposure would get me on that background, a little bit. It would sort of put that histogram a little bit more to the middle. And it makes the environment a lot brighter. But tip one, make it darker. Make it more low-key. So I purposefully made that whole environment darker, and I brought it down a couple of stops. Now obviously, this messes up the light on the face a little bit. But then I change that, I affect it. The environment is the thing that I cannot control as easily. And so I have to figure out what the environment is gonna look like before I can start changing the light on my subject. And this is fundamentally a very different way than how I light in the studio. Usually, I start the key first. I start with the main light on the subject, because it's the one that decides the overall look and feel of the scene. When I'm doing cinematic lighting and I'm working in an environment, it's actually the opposite. When I don't have full control over every single light in the frame or every single element in the frame, I have to start with what I can not control. And over the two shoots, we're doing one in a theater and we're doing one outside. There are two main environmental elements that I cannot control. I can't really control the brightness of the house lights, and I can't really control the brightness of the sun. And so once I have that in place and I know what I can make that look like, then I start modifying everything else around it. And so you have to think big picture about how you're controlling the other lights and how they work with the things that you cannot control. And so the hallway was that, for me. So I needed to make the hallway lights look how I wanted. Once I had that in place, then I could come through, and I start shaping the main lights. And so like I said, this is just an XL umbrella. It's an XL umbrella with diffusion, overhead, very soft. I could obviously make it brighter, but more or less, you get the idea. But doesn't really look cinematic. Well, why? I mean, he's in a trenchcoat, he's in a hat. This is my friend, Dave Geffen. And he's a lovely, lovely filmmaker and shoots a lot of motion. You should definitely, you know. He was very kind to stand in and be my model for a day. So I gave him a trenchcoat, and he had the hat. Trying to make it look like a film noire, kind of a gangster movie a little bit. And that's the mood I'm going for. And if that's the mood I'm going for, the lighting needs to reflect the mood. And so we darken it down. But with all that light on the face, it's not really giving me that narration of light to the face that I want. And so what I did was I turned off that big, overhead light, and I changed directions a little bit. And what I did, we took his hat off, so you can see it a little bit more clearly. But what I did was instead of having the light to the front, where it's broad, I used short light. And I moved the light a little bit, and I'll show you a picture of it in a minute. But I took the light and I put it more to the left side and further back. And instead of it being a large, XL umbrella, it's actually just a small, white umbrella. And it's the modeling light on the umbrella. It's not even a strobe. That's also something that I'm going to talk about a little bit later. But because ambient lot is oftentimes not very powerful and if you cannot control a lot of the lights, you generally have to come down to that level. And so in this particular case, I'm shooting a tripod to make sure my image is as sharp as I can make it. But Dave is lit by a small light. And it's held out on a Shur-Line pole, which is a painter's pole, because the room, I couldn't put a tripod, or I couldn't put a light stand over on the left side of it, because there was no room. So I just have my assistant holding the light up. We also call this upstage lighting, or it's called reverse key lighting. And it's the idea of putting that key light really off access with the camera and using lots of short light. And you can see, it puts a lot more of his face in shadow. With film noire lighting, they would regularly use split light. Split light has that narrative storytelling idea. But it usually means there's two sides of personality to the character. There's a good side and a bad side, a light and a dark. So I used split light here. And then I just took the hat off so it was a little bit easier to see what was happening. Once I had the light in place, then I put that hat back on. And I have to come through and figure out what I want the shadows overall to look like.