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Five Lights, Three Scenes: Deconstructing A Light Setup

By August 13, 2013Lighting

[vimeo video_id=”41756494″ width=”640″ height=”360″ title=”Yes” byline=”Yes” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]

Let there be light!

Don’t let it look like crap.

Lighting can be really difficult and mysterious — most rooms you’ll walk into already have lights of their own, and its up to you to shape that light every which way until the picture looks just right in the frame of your camera.

But you can’t just shape the light to look good… it has to fit your scene.

And while you might know what you want the light to look like for your scene… the hard part is figuring out which setup is going to achieve that look you’re going for.

To help you visualize just how much a light setup can dramatically change the mood of a scene, we’re deconstructing a light setup for three different scenarios.

Each one has a different mood:

1. Happy.
2. Scary.
3. Sexy.

Our main character, who has just been called to his boss’s office for reasons unknown, goes through each scenario in his head.

In each scenario, we break down how and why we made our choices in order to achieve each look.

We used the same five lights (or less) in each scene:

The only way to dramatically change how each scene feels with these lights is to change where we put the lights, and how we modify them.

For modifiers, we used:

No matter what you have in your light kit, the placement of your lights and modifier setup you use is going to make our break the scene.

If you’re lighting on a budget, here are some options we recommend:

So regardless of the lights you’re using, the principles of lighting remain the same, and you’ll want to pay attention to the placement and modification we’re using with each setup.



Scenario #1: Happy & Natural

Here our main character is receiving good news about a promotion.

We want it to feel natural and happy, but we’re sure not to make it too soft — this isn’t a soap opera! So, a little bit of harshness is necessary… but not too much!

Key light: Profoto HMI with a 2×3 softbox, about 15ft. back, and 12ft. in the air. Our brightness is at about 60% to create a nice balance between this light and our fill.

Hair light: Profoto HMI coming in through the window, blasting through tree branches and mesh. This also works to light up some of the objects on the desk, again making the whole scene feel more pleasant.

Background light: Here we use the ProTungsten. We removed all the filters to get the most light out of it, and put on a gel to match the two HMIs. We also put a tree in front of it and shake it subtly during filming to give a “manual twinkle” on the back wall.


Scenario #2: Scary

Here we want some fear to set in, he’s about to get fired and we need to set the mood for the anxiety he’s feeling. We want the boss lady to be singled out from the background, so that we really feel that intensity coming from her.

Key light: We bring an HMI in close for a lot of intensity, and to overpower any existing light in the room. Then we put a fresnel lens in the HMI to focus the light even more, and barn doors to keep it from spilling onto the rest of the set. We put a diffusion in front of the light since it’s so close to the talent, and this keeps it from being too unbearably sharp, and it’s more flattering on her.

Background light: Again we used the ProTungsten, nice and dim at 35% for a creepy glow. We also put a CTO on top of the light to make it look super orange and warm behind her, this in contrast with the harsher Daylight is going to create that evil feel we’re going for.


Scenario #3: Soft & Sexy

Alright, for this third option our main character is imagining that his boss might be trying to pick up on him, so we want the scene to feel glamorous and sexy.

Key light: Here we use the HMI with the 4×6 Softbox, so that it’s both really bright and really soft on our talent. We place it so it hits her vertically on her side for a nice softness and shape on her. We bring the light in close and throw a 4×4 reflector on the other side for a nice balance.

Hair light: We’ve got another HMI with a soft reflector a.k.a. beauty dish, with the light turned all the way up giving her a nice glow.

Background light: We want to spot the center of the background and draw the focus in on her, so we’ve got a ProTungsten with a CTB gel over it. We also throw a third HMI outside to light up the trees and give the background a little more depth.

Lights are fun… play with them!

The best thing about a light kit is that you can do so many different things with what you have by playing around with different modifiers, brightness, and placement.

The Profoto lights we use in this tutorial are an investment, but a wise one. The principles of lighting remain the same regardless of what your setup is, but the range of options and quick setup time are such an advantage when you have HMIs and modifiers.

That being said… do you have any creative methods for lighting a scene a certain way?

What would your light setup be like for these scenarios?


About Stillmotion


  • Rick says:

    Hey guys, just thought I’d let you know that in the budget light links above, the work light link and the 5 in 1 reflector link both link to the reflector, so the work light link is missing. The two softbox links in the section above that also return errors.

    Thanks for the always helpful information! Especially the budget links, as I’m definitely not able to afford those fancy Profoto lights you guys are working with (I wish).

  • Mike C says:

    Is there any particular reason why the shotgun & blimp are being used on an indoor scene/set over a hypercardioid mic?

  • Jim says:

    He guys. What happened to your indie roots? Looks like you’ve got about 10k+ in lighting gear, a RED camera, and spendy mics. Are you being given this gear to promote it? What’s going on?

    You had a demo video about a year ago showing how to light a scene with about $50 worth of parts from the hardware store. I thought that lighting was a good or better than this one with all of the expense gear.

    • Margaret says:

      Hey Jim,

      From our roots we are growing into a tree with many branches! Our indie roots are most definitely still here, and we will always believe in the power of an inexpensive lighting kit from a hardware store, that’s why we listed those items here in this post.

      That being said, we’re always trying to take our storytelling to the next level, so investing in more expensive lights and gear over time has been a natural part of that. We shot this tutorial around the same time we shot the demo on hardware store lighting, because we want to be a resource for filmmakers on a tighter budget as well as those who have access to more advanced lights like the one in this tutorial. When someone does invest in lights like these, we want them to know how much they can really do with it — otherwise it’s just a waste of money!

      Thanks for speaking up about what you want to see more of, though. Part of running a blog is knowing what our readers are benefiting from the most, and working to deliver tutorials and posts that you can use to tell better stories 🙂

    • malia says:

      I’m a sucker for inexpensive/DIY gear and solutions, too, but instead of focusing on that stuff pay attention to the lessons behind the gear. Why are they placing lights where they are? Why are they setting the intensity they way they do? If you can get beyond the gear the information they’re sharing is priceless.

  • Alex777go says:

    hi , I’ll be shooting a short film in the woods, but I need a good light, working offline. how to make a good light, I need a budget option, waiting for your advice.