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Learn about lighting ratios and impress the technicians on your next film shoot. It's a pretty easy concept to wrap your ...
Tags:Lighting Ratio Tips for Filming,cinematography,contrast ratio,filming,filmmaking,lighting ratio tips,lighting ratios,shooting film,The Substream
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Hi! I am Mike from the substream.com and thanks for watching this episode of the Film Lab and I am sorry, I sound like the guy from the guy from the Ultrrabin commercial and I am also sorry that you probably are too young to know what Ultrabin commercial I’m talking about because I just realized I haven’t seen that Ultrabin commercial in about 12 years.
Today, we’re going to talking about an absolutely fundamental concept that’s important to your development as a film maker. It’s a really simple piece of shorthand that cinematographers and gaffers use to keep track of lighting setups across different shooting days when they’re shooting a movie. It’s called a lighting ratio or a contrast ratio and it’s one of those things that’s kind of hard to understand when it’s explained on paper but it’s relatively easy to understand if someone demonstrates it for we, which we are going to do.
When you’re shooting people which you’re going to be doing more often than not, lighting ratio or the contrast ratio refers to the difference in the amount of light between the light coming from your key light and your fill light. The higher the ratio, the bigger the difference between key and fill, the more dramatic and noir it looks. So, the lower the difference, if you get the same amount of light from the key and fill, the flutter it’s going to look, even more it’s going to look like you should in a sitcom or shooting me under a bunch of Chinese lantern. So, for this demonstration, we’re going to use our best friend number one a substream model, Rio the handsome—Please sit down Rio Yes, I magically operated you. Now, sit down.
So, we theoretically going to be shooting him for an interview but we don’t know what our director wants the shot to look like. We don’t know if he wants to be high drama or relatively playing Jane looking, so what we’re going to do is experiment with a bunch of different lighting ratios so that we can see what those looks look like.
We’re going to keep our key light the same in every shot. That’s a 500W Lowel Onmi-light and we’re going to be messing with our fill light. The first thing that we do is kill the house lights. Then we strike our key light. Very dramatic as you can see, there is big difference between the lit side of his face and the unlit side of his face. There is no fill. Doesn’t he look like a universal studio’s monster?
Using our trustee light meter which we learned how to use last week in an episode of the Film Lab, we measure how much light the key is shining on our subjects face. After some fancy calculations, we come to f 8.0. Now, we’ll set the fill light on the other side of Rio’s face. Like our key light is a 500 W Lowel Omni-light except this light is diffused.
Now, we’ll measure how much light is being put out by our fill light. For accuracy’s sake, we’ll turn off the key light so that we can measure just the effect of the fill. And would you look at that? The fill light is giving us a reading of f 8.0 as well. Since we’re getting the same amount of light from both the key and the fill, we know that the resulting lighting ratio is 1:1.
As you can tell, it’s pretty flat looking. Not much drama in this kind of lighting setup. Let’s get some shadows. Let’s get some drama. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to move our fill light back because we got plenty of room in our studio. This takes away some of the light from the fill side of Rio’s face. The key light is the same f 8.0. Now, that’s a little bit better. We’re starting to get some modeling on Rio’s face, some shadows on the fill side. A little bit more drama.
Let’s measure the ratio. We kill the key light; take our measurement from the fill side and 5.6. That’s one-stop different from our previous reading f 8.0. When you’re dealing with f-stops, it’s important to remember that the amount of light from one stop to the next is either a doubling or a halving of the amount of light. So, a reading of 2.8 for example is half the amount of light if you had a reading of 4. In our case, our previous reading was f 8.0 from the fill. Now, it’s 5.6. That is one full stop lower. Meanwhile, our key is the same, f 8.0. That means we have doubled the amount of light on our key side compared to the fill side, which means that we have a lighting ratio of 2:1.
When you compare this ration to our previous ratio, 1:1, you can see that the 2:1 ratio gives you a little bit more shadow on the fill side of Rio’s face. Still not dramatic enough? Well, just diminish the amount light that’s following on the fill side by another stop and then you got a ratio of 4:1, a two stop difference or keep taking it down even further another stop, a three stop difference meaning an 8:1 ratio, super dramatic, super duper dramatic. And there you go. A variety of lighting ratios giving you varying amounts of drama that you can inject into your scene. It all depends on what your director is looking for.
So, other than a little bit of complicated math which wasn’t even really that complicated in practice. It’s a relatively simple concept but it’s absolutely invaluable and when you start using it as shorthand, lighting becomes a lot simpler to do. I’ll go up on the fly in terms of preplanning, just make sure to pay good notes and then keep track of what you’re doing when you’re lighting. That always helps. Thanks for watching and come again soon.