You've Got to See How a Professional Cinematographer Lights a Simple Scene

Most simple scenes in films are lit in a very elaborate way. In this workshop, cinematographer Eric Kress shows how he lights a casual over-the-shoulder composition, making it look natural while everything is shot on an artificial set.

Whether you are a stills photographer or a cinematographer, learning from professional directors of photography is one of the best sources to hone your lighting skills. In this workshop, they show a simple scene of a man and a woman hugging and giving a toast. The set is built for the purpose of the workshop. The scene has to look as if it was lit by the sun coming through a nearby window.

Cinematographer Eric Kress shows how to mimic natural sun light that illuminates the composition. For many, it may sound like a simple solution: well, just put a light outside the window and you're all set. That's what Kress first did. You will see why it wasn't enough. He shows his process of building the shot one light at a time and shaping it with various modifiers so the end result looks natural as if it had been shot in an actual room lit by the sun.

By the end of the workshop, you will understand this diagram, although it may look complex and "over-the-top" to some of you:

Lighting diagram for shooting a close-up by the window (by Erik Kress)

In the other videos from the workshop Eric Kress shows how he did the reverse shot and what kinds of lights he placed around the actors to make it look believable. Here are the following parts to the series:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Here, there's a summary of the lighting setups they did throughout the show.

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8 Comments

Jonathan Krier's picture

Wow this is pure gold! I appreciate you posting this immensely.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I've watched this a few years ago, I decided to watch it again recently and found that it hadn't been posted here yet. I'm glad you've appreciated it.

Good fine Tihomir, much appreciated.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

It's great indeed.

Excellent links Tihomir ! I wonder how such quality content videos don't get more views than the average youtuber on the same topic. I know there are more like that on youtube but they're sometimes quite hard to find. Any tips for that Tihomir ?

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

I decided to post that, because I found it a few years ago when I was making my first steps into filmmaking. Recently I decided to watch it again and I thought it would be nice to share it. I think I found it after I was searching intentionally for films BTS and for workshops by cinematographers.

And yes, it's a pity many high quality information videos on the internet have a very small number of views.

On a technical side, one should note a few very important things he doesn't say explicitly in the video.

1. To get a natural key light that really look like sunshine daylight you need 2 lights (not only 1): a very large/soft source to act as the sky and a small/hard source to act as the sun.

2. To get a great natural looking fill, you need to place the fill on the same side (in relation to the camera) as the key light. This makes the face shape wrapping into darkness in a more rounded and dramatic way. If you place the fill on the other side of the camera than the key (like it is often taught in youtube photography tutorials), the fill side of the face will be lit evenly in regard to the key and the shadow won't roll out to darkness anymore which feels less natural. That's also why the fill light from the top is looking weird: because it lights the actors's head from the top, not from the (nearly) same direction as the key light.

3. Usually in cinema, you light people using "short lighting". That means placing the key light "behind" the actors to light the short side of the face (i.e. the side you see less from the camera). That makes the shadow falls toward the camera and creates a more dramatic lighting than if you were lighting from the "broad side" of the face.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Yes, those things are true. After all, this workshop is intended to be for the advanced cinematographers and it's normal to take these for granted.