How should I light my video shoot? With Paul Mottram

How do I light my video shoot? What are the best lights to use?

Nowadays LED lighting is mostly used. Historically, it was always very heavy and very hot tungsten lighting, and I've got quite a few old fashioned lights because they still work, there's no need to get rid of them. If you’re going from scratch, LEDs are the way to go, however, cheap LEDs on Amazon are the wrong colour simple as that, if people are choosing and buying lights, they need to make sure something called their CRI index is very high. Also, anything above 95 is what they should be looking at. So if it looks too good to be true on Amazon, and they are £50 lights and they're huge panels and have massive output, there's probably something going to be wrong with them. So the short answer is LEDs, but you've got to be very careful about what you buy and do lots of research and lots of reviews and really make sure that the colour is good.

What are some different types of lighting and what effect do they have?

Well, I've been asked this before, what's good lighting and what's bad lighting?

Weirdly it's not the lighting, it’s the shadow. Shadows are more important than lighting because it's shadows that give you emotion. So if I was to put you against the window, your whole body would be in shadow, it would be a silhouette. Then all of a sudden, because you're in a total shadow, it now becomes mysterious, you become anonymous. If I put you in a studio, where there are no shadows and there are just lights everywhere, and it's completely flat lit, all of a sudden, you've got no emotion whatsoever. So, it's not the lighting that you should be looking at when you do lighting, it's where the shadows fall. If I put a light on the left side of my face and half of my face is in heavy shadow, that's much more mysterious and much more artistic, much more creative than just putting the light straight in front of you and blasting it to you like a flashgun on a camera. 

There's no emotion. So cinematic lighting is the placement of shadows, not the placement of lights, which is a weird sort of paradox. So you can have mysterious lighting if I put a light underneath me to make me look sinister. The reason I look sinister is that the shadows are going upwards, It’s because I’m casting shadows upwards and in nature, you never get shadows that go upwards. Once the sun's gone below the horizon there are no shadows to be had. So if you have shadows going upwards, your brain says, Oh, that's a bit weird, that's a bit odd, the laws of physics have been broken. The direction of the shadows is an emotional response straight away because they're going in the wrong direction, but weirdly, it's not the light, it's the shadows that are created. You know when you've got a torch under your face and it looks like a horror, the only reason it looks like horror is because the shadows are going in the wrong direction. So for better television and film lighting consider where your shadows are. 

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I’m filming outside - do I need any lighting stuff?

Yes, the best thing you can do outside for absolute cheapness is any kind of reflector. If I haven't got a reflector with me, I'll use a white van, I'll put the towel up next to a white wall or even a piece of paper is better than nothing. What I'm doing with a reflector is I'm controlling the number of shadows on the people's faces as a reflector would fill in the shadows. No one uses a reflector to get more light, you use a reflector to fill in the shadows to lower the contrast just so it's not so spooky. Cameras can't cope in heavy contrast often, meaning a reflector would be the good piece of equipment to use. It's nice to get some sort of reflection in the eye and if you can get their reflector close enough, you'll get it reflected in that little twinkle but equally, you need to control your shadows. So I do use lighting outside and if I have the opportunity to use actual lights, HMIs or powerful LEDs, then the answer's yes, I would use them because again, I'm controlling the shadows.

Tell us about the lighting on a shot you’re proud of, how did you manage that? 

I was filming once in where it was it was some Russian army base and it was a documentary and we needed to have these four soldiers looking at a map and they were all huddled around the table and we had hardly any equipment with us and when you’re doing a documentary you're up against time, you're up against budget and you're up against resources, you might not have all the gear you want. Sometimes the simplest thing works out to be the best so to light four people looking at a map, with all their faces turned down in a dark room where you can't get any light into their faces because as soon as you put a light on them, they will cast a shadow all over the map and the shadow would be terrible. Again, it's all come back to the shadows. The shadows are all over the map, and their faces are beautifully lit, so what we did is very simple, we chose a fairly dark map, it wasn't a white map and we put one single light above them pointing straight down onto the map and then that reflected light in sort of a green/ blue light into their faces, it was just really simple. The rest of the room was in darkness and there was just this pool of light on the dark map reflecting into their faces, there was enough light coming back to make out their four faces as they were huddled looking down at the map, it sort of glowed and it looked cinematic. 

So sometimes the simplest thing is just to think where you need to control the light, what actual bit you need to light up and in this case, it is the faces. How do we get light in the faces? Well, we bounce them off the map, of course, and that’s two jobs in one hit. 

The reason we didn’t want a bright map is it would have been overexposed. So we searched and found a map that was fairly dark so as the light bounced it matched the quality of light on their faces. So lots of things like that you do on the spur of the moment and next time I ever want to light four people looking at a map, I'll bounce it straight off the wall again. Simple as that, It worked last time!

How do I get the best lighting?

Let's say if it's lighting for an interview, you want the light in people's eyes. You want that little tiny twinkle of light that catches the light in people's eyes. If you are lighting an object, you're looking at the texture. If you're lighting food, that almost always looks good backlit almost all of the time. No question, If you are lighting a toy to sell on Amazon and if you were doing a shot of Lego, for instance then sidelight, no question it's a sidelight. If you're trying to sell makeup, then it's going to be flat lighting. So it all depends on the object or setting.

Cheers Paul!




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