Sometimes I watch movies or TV shows, and I miss important plot points because I’m trying to figure out how they did the lighting. I just find cinemagraphic lighting incredibly inspiring, and it’s always something I’d like to strive for in my stills photography. But looking at lighting diagrams, it always seems so complicated.
I love to use just one light when I can, so you can imagine my delight when I spotted this excellent video tutorial from Armando Ferreira. He walks us through 4 different cinematic lighting effects that use just one light.
Now one thing to note here. One light does not mean one light source. Armando is actually making use of any ambient light in the scene and supplementing it with a single extra light. It does still require gear such as scrims and reflectors.
However, I do really like the concept of motivated light sources, whether it be in video or still photography. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s basically when the lighting matches a light source that you can see in the scene. This way, everything makes sense to our brains. It’s important in making a story believable because when the lighting doesn’t look natural, we can usually tell.
Armando also uses haze from a spray can to add a bit of atmosphere. This is a great trick and one that is easily overlooked. It creates a fabulous effect as long as you don’t overuse it, however.
The second scene is pretty simple as well and features the light positioned outside the window. This is something that still photographers often don’t think of doing. We think, “oh, I must only use the actual sun,” or “I must have all my lights inside the room”. Not so, as cinema lighting teams will often have to simulate sunlight coming through a window with artificial lighting. And it can be effective in stills as well, especially if the weather isn’t cooperating.
Armando uses fill cards and flags to great effect as well. He’s essentially treating it like a product or tabletop photographer might, although on a much larger scale. Again, when we photograph people, it’s all too easy to think strobes and forget about the subtler yet just as effective ways of manipulating light, such as reflectors and flags.
It doesn’t matter if your light is a strobe, continuous LED, or sunlight; you can treat it just the same. After all, light is light. It always does the same thing.
What do you prefer on your shoots? Multiple light sources or keeping it simple with one light source and reflectors and flags?