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In Tests

By Colton Davie

Lighting Exercise: EXT. POOL – NIGHT

On 09, Sep 2013 | 2 Comments | In Tests | By Colton Davie

This post was originally written in April 2011.

I always thought that this pool looked pretty at night time, with the small landscape lights, pool lights, and little waterfalls, but the lighting around the pool is very dim. One night I decided, just for fun, to try and shoot a theoretical scene in a way that played off the location’s natural beauty. Mainly this exercise was a way for me to explore a couple of ideas that I had been kicking around in my head, and to further develop an approach to lighting of letting the location do as much work for you as possible, in terms of both inspiration and actual illumination.

I asked Jay and Alexandra to sit on the edge of the pool and chat while I knocked off a very small handful of shots. There was no script, and they just rambled about whatever they wanted, so I cut the shots together to visually represent one way of covering such a scene.

I shot with a Canon 7D at 2000ISO, f/2-2.8, using Nikon 28mm f/2.8 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lenses.

A 4×4′ frame of 216 is armed out over the water.

The faces were lit with a 750W Source 4 across the pool, punching through a 4’ frame of 250. I was planning to put the diffusion on a stand in the water, much closer to the talent to get a softer quality, but I had to move it a ways out to avoid getting in the frame of the initial wide shot. If I had more time, I might have moved the diffusion closer for the close-ups, but I’m actually rather happy with the way it turned out.

I used beadboard with tin foil taped to one side for fill on Jay’s close-ups. If I were to do this again, with more time or more crew, I would probably finesse the fill on both characters, ideally by blocking the hard light that is coming from an existing light, somewhere frame left, and replacing it with something subtle and soft to extend the wrap of the key. I definitely like how the far side of their bodies falls into almost complete shadow. I’d also like to get a little more light into their eyes, especially Alexandra’s.

The background is lit with existing fixtures, and a 650W fresnel bouncing off the water for the rippling effect. Initially I was planning to uplight a lot of the foliage with a handful of lights planted in the background. However, I quickly found that trying to run cable to all those lights through the bushes by myself, without someone at the camera to tell me what was in or out of frame was far too difficult and time consuming for what I was trying to do. In the end I surprised myself by using only those two lights.

The Source 4 for allowed for precise shaping of the light.

Other things I would do differently next time: I’d definitely go up a stop or two with my lights, so I could at least be at a f/2.8 at 640ISO. My initial plan for the key was to shoot a 2K fresnel into a big bounce, then let that go through a 4’ frame of Opal close to the talent. The shape of the pool made this impossible, without rigging up a bunch of stuff in the water, which wasn’t really worth it for this exercise. Because the light had to be placed all the way across the pool, I was concerned that the 2K would spill all around the sides of the diffusion. I knew I could precisely control the output of a Source 4, so I went with that. However, even though it has a long throw, its distance, combined with the dense diffusion made the light very dim. So, in the exact same scenario, next time I’d opt for bigger lights through bigger frames of diffusion. I’d also like to get more punch out of the light bouncing off the water. Lastly, with more crew, I’d probably do a little more with my initial plan of lighting the background with pools of light, highlighting the landscaping and little waterfalls.

Lessons learned:

  • A crew, of even a couple of people, to help you set up the lighting while you keep an eye on the frame is so important, and necessary. I’d gotten used to working with a crew, and to suddenly not have one was a shocker.
  • Same goes for camera department. Pushing the dolly, pulling focus, and operating is simply too much for one person to do at once.
  • Night exteriors can get real big, real quick, and it’s dark, so have a good plan going into them, and know where power outlets are beforehand (or be prepared to run some significant power distribution)!
  • But apparently, they don’t have to be huge. I was very surprised that, by making use of existing lighting, I was able to get such pleasing results with only two movie lights.

Feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, and questions in the comments!

In the pursuit of the craft,
Colton Davie

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  1. Well done, Colton. This reminds me of a scene I did with Brian Possy as one of our first lighting exercises/scenes. Keep up the practice shoots! Your lighting is looking great. Next time strong arm a few friends into helping out.

    • Thanks, Chad! Note taken on the strong arming.

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