Travel in time with these three cinematic lighting setups to simulate different times of day
The natural light entering our room changes quite dramatically throughout the day. The colour, contrast, overall tone and mood changes as our little planet spins about its axis. Creating artificial lighting setups to simulate those different times of day isn’t always that easy. But if you learn to recognise the characteristics of light, you can reverse engineer and rebuild it.
This video from Matt Workman at the Cinematography Database illustrates three cinematic lighting techniques. The bright daytime, the golden sunset, and the blue glow of night. Each different setup uses the same set, illustrating just how much of a different the light makes. The principles shown will work equally as well for stills or video.
Although this is aimed at shooting video, there’s no reason at all why you can’t apply these same principles to stills photography. Shooting one frame at a time instead of 24 frames every second doesn’t really change anything. And while they were working on a set in the studio for the video, Matt firmly believes one can apply the techniques on location, too.
The key points to look out for in the video are the qualities of the light. Is it a small hard light source or is it large and soft? What colour is it? How rapidly does it fall off?
The most obvious difference between the three images is the colour temperature. With many continuous lights, you can adjust this on the light itself. But these methods will work just fine for photography, too. You just need to shift your colour a little differently. For speedlights and strobes, you’re going to want to become familiar with gels.
Each set was lit using Aputure lighting gear, which allows quick and simple changes using a remote control. Of course, a remote control can only change your power and colour temperature. It isn’t going to move your lights for you. You’ll still need to do that the old fashioned way.
While there are many different ways to approach cinematic lighting setups, the ones shown are fairly straightforward and simple. And hopefully it’ll get you thinking a little more about the light around you in your daily life. Learning to deconstruct what’s going on around you will allow you to recreate it more easily.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.