Cinematic Lighting with Just ONE Light

Cinematic Lighting with Just ONE Light

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Filming with one light source is an incredible challenge for any cinematographer. To succeed in this challenge, one might have to consider the limitations of the budget and set space for the production. All the while, one must consider what style and genre the project entails. Today, director of photography Hunter Gulan walks us through how to light a talking head shot and one narrative setup, with just one light — on ANY budget — using high end and low budget lighting gear.

In this video, Hunter shows us how he approaches lighting using just one fixture.
First, he places our talent in a controlled environment with a standard grey screen behind them. This ensures light isn’t bouncing towards undesired directions. The first light hovers above (and in front of) the talent to create depth in their faces while wrapping around their faces. This will be our only source of light. Next, he sets up a few bounce boards and reflective cards to help fill and define the talent. One bounce helps fill the shadows, while a single reflective card adds an edge light! Lastly, he adds an extra reflector – this provides vibrance to the talent’s hair; breathing life and color to a fairly neutral image.

The main techniques we will be discussing today are utilizing a single light and shaping light.
Using a single light is when, simply put, you use only one light. This could be a fresnel spot fixture, a lamp, light bulb, computer or TV screen, or even the sun. Knowing how to utilize one light can be incredibly helpful for shoots where you are limited in space, or a budget where you can only afford one light. Shaping a light is when you control the way the light hits the subject; this is a gaffer’s paint brush. This can be accomplished by diffusing and softening the light, cutting the light, bouncing and reflecting the light. In this example, boards and reflectors were utilized to shape one light to look like a three point light setup.

As a skilled cinematographer, it can be a fun challenge to light with only one source. But on set, sometimes that’s your only option and it’s up to you to figure out how to craft that one fixture into the next visual masterpiece. Don’t forget, lighting with one light can be achieved through diffusion, cutting, bouncing and reflecting. You can achieve an intense and dramatic setup with one light, or a 3 point light setup through clever uses of gaffing gear. At the end of the day, it depends on your vision and how to best tell the film’s story.

As this is the 2nd episode featuring cinematography with only one light, don’t forget to check out our first single source light episode a few video’s ago:

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