QuickStart Guide to Lighting for Movies
Unless you plan to shoot with the lens cap on, you'll have to come to grips with lighting in your videos. Put simply, you want to have enough light to see what's being filmed, but not so much that it blows out the camcorder's sensors with pure white. You also don't want scenes that are so dark you can't see what's going on.
When a Hollywood film crew shoots a movie, the lighting you see is enhanced (or outright artificial—even the most natural-looking sunlight coming through a window is likely a big spotlight on the other side of the wall). You don't need to go to those extremes, of course. Most often your lighting rigs will entail the sun, some lamps, and maybe a spotlight or two.
What's important is that you know how basic lighting works, and how to take advantage of it to ensure that the objects you're shooting don't turn out to be dark, talking blobs when you're editing.
Hard and Soft Light
There are infinite possible combinations of light, which can seem daunting when you're shooting video. Fortunately, for our purposes we can break light into two broad categories: hard and soft.
Hard light. The term hard light refers to the light produced by a direct source, which creates shadows with clearly defined edges (Figure 4.1). Hard light tends to be bright, like the sun at midday.
Figure 4.1 Hard light creates sharp, clearly defined shadows. A bright halogen lamp is providing the light.
Soft light. In contrast, soft light isn't as direct, and produces shadows that are blurred at the edges or fade away (Figure 4.2). Soft light is typically light filtered by artificial means (such as hoods and filters attached to the light) or by natural means (such as clouds, fog, or shade).
Figure 4.2 Soft light diffuses the shadows, making them blurry or even fade out gradually. In this case, a white t-shirt was put in front of the halogen bulb to dampen its intensity. (Hey, we're real high-tech at the Carlson world headquarters.)
In general, soft light is better to film by, because it gives you more levels of brightness and accentuates natural textures. Hard light creates a lot of contrast, limiting the brightness levels because you see either high-intensity light or deep, dark shadows.