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Cinematic Lighting for Portraiture

Lesson 17 of 49

Theater Shoot: Concept


Cinematic Lighting for Portraiture

Lesson 17 of 49

Theater Shoot: Concept


Lesson Info

Theater Shoot: Concept

We're gonna dive in now that we've talked a little bit about the different kinds of tools and kind of the general stuff that we need to keep in mind, we're actually going to see it implemented. I'm gonna take you through the pre-production process, kind of what that looks like, how involved it was to a degree, and you can kinda see what this whole concept kinda was born from. Now, the original idea that I had pitched for this particular production was I really wanted to shoot at one of those old grand theaters. I really love what you get when you can find some of those that have been built around 70, 80, 90 or so years ago, and they have the really elaborate finishings on the inside and I've always thought that was really, really beautiful, and so I wanted to do a fashion-y sort of a shoot, kind of in that Vanity Fair sort of a theme-ish. Fashion stories, fashion shot in this theater. And so we did a lot of scouting for this. We looked at several, several theaters. We are fortunate tha...

t here in Seattle there's a handful of old theaters like this. We looked at old movie theaters, old regular theaters, and it was a matter of, a lot of these have productions right now and so it was very difficult and challenging for us to get them to say, "Okay." Fortunately, we were really lucky with the Fifth Avenue Theater, and they were very gracious and very hospitable with getting us to come in, but you'll see that there were certain considerations we had to kinda work with to make this whole thing work. Now, with this particular shoot, I'm gonna get into this a little bit later, you will find that this is, of the two shoots, way more complicated than the other one, and I don't want this to scare you, just, this is the availability we had, we had this day, and so we shot the airfield the second day, and so that's the reason why the order is appearing what it is but this is two very different spectrums of how to approach this kind of a shoot. This is gonna be lots of moving parts and lots of lights, but all of the concepts that we're gonna be covering and discussing and building from are all rooted in very much the same ideas. It's just generally, the difference between using one light and using three lights is a whole lot more of a spectrum to learn than using three and using 10. Like once you understand three really well, you could do 10. It just, it's that leap to get from one to three which is the challenging one. And so in the other shoot we're gonna use one light, in this one we're gonna use a lot more. You're gonna see what that looks like in a little bit. So, again, we called it the Starlet, she's on stage and we wanted to look for some really beautiful gowns to go along with it and so this is kinda where the shot began. Once we figured out what the concept was going to be we had a couple of people go over and do a scout day. And so make sure the location looks good, make sure everything fits the overall concept as you can kind of make it the best of your ability. And this is important because one of the early locations we went to that I thought was gonna be a really good option once we actually got into the space and saw it, it had a lot of really challenging elements to it that were actually going to prove to be more difficult than it was probably worth. So, we ended up not going with the first location we had originally anticipated using. And so that's why scout days are so important for these kinds of productions, and when you are doing this kind of a thing on a really huge scale for a big commercial client, you get to charge for these kinds of days. You get to charge for scouting days, pre-production days, and stuff like that. You're not just hired to shoot on the day, there are multiple days you get to bill for. And so this was one of the early scout images and I used the quick little snap pictures that were taken by the people that went as kind of the base for what I wanted these shots to look like, so it would give me a little bit of an idea going into it. And I find that on this kind of stuff, it's especially helpful if I can create sketches that help me illustrate what my shots need to look like going forward. And so this one in particular, I don't know if anyone happened to see, I posted the end result of this this morning, it's very similar in terms of frame. Very, very similar. There are a few things in this shot that I was expecting to be able to get away with, that I couldn't. In particular I thought that I could actually use a strobe on this left light in the top left hand corner, nope, couldn't access, it was way too out of it, 'Cause I wanted to turn that into one of my spotlights. I didn't get to do that, so I had to come up with a different solution. But the frame, you know, shooting kinda backstage, out at the theater a little bit was very much what I intended to do with this shot, and so this is kinda the first one where it began. And again, it's just sketched out. Another way that I like to do it sometimes is I'll find my base shot and then maybe I will cut out something from another shot it's just so I don't have to free-hand someone drawing, free-hand someone standing there. Like, if you're not a good artist, you just kinda bring in a picture from somewhere else and you trace over it and you can at least just get a pose or a body in there, and it doesn't feel like it's copy and pasted from another image. So, that's something that I'll do. This was another one, This was kind of the directly out shot. I ended up doing a slight variation on this to the front stage shot, by the time I actually got into the space. So basically what happened was when the scouts were at the location, they said, "How do you want us to photograph?" I said, "Basically give me a 360 of the stage. "I want to see you photographing from the sides, "the back corner, the back straight on, "from the audience facing in, "like, I wanna see what the space looks like "best as you can make it." And so that's what they did and it gave me a lot of different options for how I was going to base what these lights ultimately look like. And so even though the shots themselves didn't come out exactly like these, you'll definitely see a lot of similarities in the final shots compared to how these look. This was the third shot, and it was just reclining in the chair. This one's probably the most simple of the three, because there's no environment to light. And this is the last one that we did of the day. And so these are the three shots that I was aiming to get. We got to location, I believe ... Around nine is my guess? And we had a wrap of four. So, that's a normal day for the space but it requires you coming in, setting up, building the lights, getting the shots, three different shots, between shot one and two, we didn't have to move the environment all that much, this one was totally different but it required very minimal lighting compared to the first one which required tons. But I knew going into this that my first shot is always the most challenging to set up, to get going, it's always the longest shot of the day. I think by the time it was all said and done, by the time we got into the theater, it was about three hours before the first shot came off. And that's, a lot of times I anticipate two hours hair and make-up going into it, so I know if the call time for the models is 8:00 a.m., I'm not getting my first shot off until about 10, 10:30 realistically. That's super common. So in this particular case I think it was 11, 11:30, by the time we got the first shot off. Just something to keep in mind. It is time consuming, and this is with multiple people helping out and setting stuff up. So those are my three sketches that I went into the project with. This helps me kind of illustrate what the lighting is gonna look and feel like, what the frames are gonna look and feel like, the general idea about what the images kind of are going to end up.

Class Description

Most photographers get comfortable with the lighting setups they use, and tend to shy away from trying new or different ones. Pushing yourself to incorporate new lighting techniques can help to expand your photographic style. You don’t need to buy more lighting equipment to start thinking about how the light is appropriate for what you’re shooting. Learning to see and light a location or scene and bring it to life in your images takes an in-depth understanding of lighting, direction, and creative vision. Join Chris Knight, well-known photographer, instructor, and author, to learn how to create cinematic lighting that allows you to be more innovative for your clients and yourself.

Chris will explain:

  • How to think like a filmmaker but apply those ideas to a single image
  • Motivated lighting and how to incorporate the techniques into your creative vision
  • Framing and layering for your images
  • How to use direction and guidance to achieve a cinematic look
  • How to enhance the cinematic lighting you achieved in-camera through post production processes

In this class, Chris takes you through his creative process during two cinematic style shoots at two different locations to share with you his behind-the-scenes thoughts, motivations, and scenarios. Chris also takes you through an in-studio shoot to explain the importance of prop placement, intentional set design, and light. You’ll learn the confidence to develop and incorporate new thought processes and get out of your everyday routines when lighting your subjects.


  1. Class Introduction
  2. What is Cinematic Lighting?
  3. Motivated & Practical Lighting
  4. 5 Cinematic Lighting Tips
  5. Low-Key & Upstage Lighting
  6. Control Your Fill Lighting
  7. Show Depth In Your Image
  8. Pre-Production for Cinematic Lighting
  9. Grip Tools: Clamps
  10. Grip Tools: Apple Boxes, C-Stands & Grip Heads
  11. Grip Tools: Pins & Portable Gear
  12. Grip Tools: Scrims, Silks, Flags & Tape
  13. Grip Tools: Wind and Haze Machines
  14. Grip Tools: Unusual Tools
  15. Grip Tools: Filters
  16. Grip Tools: Q&A
  17. Theater Shoot: Concept
  18. Theater Shoot: Pre-Production Considerations
  19. Theater Shoot: Lighting Gear
  20. Theater Shoot: Motivated Lighting Considerations
  21. Theater Shoot: Lighting Walkthrough
  22. Theater Shoot: Capturing The 1st Shot
  23. Theater Shoot: Hero Shot
  24. Theater Shoot: Capturing In The Seats
  25. Airstrip Shoot: Concept
  26. Airstrip Shoot: Pre-Production Considerations
  27. The Haircut: Location Specifics and Motivated Lighting
  28. Working With Scrims On Location
  29. The Haircut: Getting the Shot
  30. The Haircut: Shooting Plates
  31. Staggered Planes: Location Specifics and Motivated Lighting
  32. Staggered Planes: Getting The Shot
  33. Capturing Plates With Talent In Background
  34. Airstrip: Environmental Portraits
  35. Airstrip: Location Shooting Q&A
  36. Using Plates to Create a Pano in Lightroom®
  37. Transform Tool
  38. Post-Processing 1st Theater Shot
  39. Retouching Details in Photoshop®
  40. Color Grading in Alien Skin Exposure X3
  41. Post-Processing Theater Hero Shot in Photoshop®
  42. Creating a Spotlight in Photoshop®
  43. Adjusting Color for Cinematic Lighting
  44. Post-Processing: The Haircut
  45. Coloring the Sky and Removing Modern Building
  46. Creating a Pano Using Plates in Photoshop®
  47. Developing Cinematic Portraits in Lightroom®
  48. Retouching Cinematic Portraits in Photoshop®
  49. Color Grading Cinematic Portraits in Alien Skin


Bruce Walker

This course is simply terrific, and I highly recommend it. Firstly it arrived at the perfect time for me as I am soon to do a studio shoot very much in keeping with a cinematic or theatrical aesthetic. Secondly it's taught by Chris Knight who I swear is like a long-lost twin brother. :-) There are so many parallels in the way he thinks and works to my own style. So I avidly watched this as soon as it was available for anytime streaming. This is the first time I have made extensive use of the CL iPhone app, btw, and I love how it pretty much enabled me to seamlessly switch back and forth from desktop viewing to my iPad that I carry around the house during the day. I was able to make coffee and still carry on taking in the course, uninterrupted. The content is fantastic, delivered succinctly yet entertainingly. Some material and ideas are already in my repertoire and were reinforced and validated by Chris' demonstrations. But he also introduced a lot of ideas and methods new to me and very welcome. I was particularly glad to see how practical it is to stitch a series of tripod shots into a wide pano. I have been afraid to try that but I will now be using that in my next shoot, for sure. As alway, his post production practices revealed all kinds of tips about Lightroom and Photoshop I didn't know. Negatives. The volume level mastering is iffy. It started out at a decent level then midway through one of the early lessons dropped so much I had to turn up my sound system to compensate. And as I write this one lesson (34) is missing and in its place was a duplicate of the next lesson (35). I expect CL will have that fixed shortly though (I sent support a note).

Jeph DeLorme

One of the best classes I have viewed at Creative Live. Definitely worth the investment of time and money. The pace of the class allows you to learn extra tips and tricks throughout the process. Great instructor, highly recommend this class to anyone looking to step up their creative game.

a Creativelive Student

excellent class in all regards. outstanding instructor with experience in complicated cinematic shoots but who also is willing to thoroughly cover the basic nuts and bolts. i wish all creative live classes were of this quality.