• Wondering which camera, gear, computer, or software to buy? Ask in our Gear Guide.

lighting Getting soft light & shaping light

Hey all!

I am trying to learn lighting, just trying to be super basic here to start out and crawl before I try to take any real steps. I'd love advice/help on achieving soft flattering light for lighting people as well as tools and methods I can use to help shape the light overall. I don't have any delusions I will ever be a cinematographer, in the future I plan to work with whatever great DPs I can find but with COVID and the fact that I'm just starting out that isn't happening right now and I figure the more I know the better. I'm very interested in it and feel I know what I want to see but as far as actually trying to do that job of being the technician type who can make it happen well I feel that's less my forte. I just think it's an entire skillset for some talented individuals who aren't me and who am I to think I can serve as my own DP anyway, I don't think that. Thanks all!

Here's some details:

So I have a few light bulbs I bought with some clamps from home depot just so I can experiment and try to learn without spending a fortune right away. They are Cree brand LED Bulbs Daylight balanced (5000K) and then the most legit light I have (and it probably isn't even that great) is the Godox SL60W (5600K) which I just acquired more recently. I also have a 5 in 1 reflector disc. In case there is any confusion I've tried to link the items I mentioned below.

Soft Light
So in dealing with the Godox light, I thought finally I would be able to have a softer light because before when messing around prior to getting this light I was using the clamp lights with the daylight bulbs and then shinning those through the diffusion part of the reflector, it was fine but nothing great. I figured with an actual softbox and more professional light (although I know it is still lower end overall) I would be able to achieve something decent enough for say a basic interview set up at the very least. However even with the softbox and adjusting the angles and increasing/decreasing the output of the light it makes the subjects skin/face look awful. It's like all their imperfections really stand out very clearly and it is just completely unflattering where as if I turn the light off and use houselights the subject looks way way better. This is just me experimenting with myself and willing volunteers so it's okay for now that it looks like crap. I tried working with the Godox as a key and while I could do fine with fill light and back/hair light in trying to replicate a three point lighting type set up the key just looked terrible. I later tried shinning the light directly away from the subject and bouncing it off the wall, this seemed to help but I can't help but feel like I'm doing something wrong when all these various videos online have their set up with the light as a key and shinning directly on the subject (softobox on) and quite close. Is the softbox not enough for some reason? Should I forget trying to follow the set ups I've seen in the videos and just mess around more? I just know that the light is super unflattering right now and I'm setting it up like the others using the exact same light.....if I had to guess it looks bad because it isn't very soft and is just way too harsh but why would this be even when I set the output down very low (or high, whatever) and with the softbox diffusion? It's frustrating.

Shaping Light
My next question is dealing with learning to shape light. I'd love suggestions on this as far as what type of diffusion material is effective, what works well to shape/cut lights, etc.

Anywayyyyyyyy. Overall I'm just trying to keep things relatively simple now and learn any way I can even if behind the scenes doesn't look pretty, as long as it functions for what's in front of the camera I'm cool with it at this point. Another note is I don't yet have any warmer (or RGB) lights but I will look toward doing that in the future to open up my options more.

Thanks all and I look forward to discussion with you!

Godox Light
Daylight Bulbs
Clamp Light
Reflector/Diffusion
 
What I'm getting:
OK - in that, it's pretty clear what the problem is: way too much strong light, too close to your subject, and your subject in the wrong place relative to the background. Even though you're using off-camera lighting, you've got the classic "on camera flash" effect that you get with snapshots - a really strong shadow cast onto the background; and f it's that strong behind your subject, then you can understand how harsh it is on the subject.

Are you using a light meter? Because I'd wonder if you're also overexposing the shot. Assuming it's the same background in both pictures, it shows up as grey in the "what I'm getting" picture when you want black. That's a problem with your camera settings, not the light (at least not the light alone)

The other thing that stands out immediately is the position of the lights. You've acknowledged that the light in the first is almost straight on, although you say it's not set up like this. How is it set up, then? Judging by fall of the shadows, it looks like it's a little off to the left, maybe at a 30° angle to the subject, and just a little higher than the camera? In the second picture, the main light is well above the subject's head - see how the shadows are directly below her nose/chin, which is much more flattering. Even though you're main light is "above" the subject, you seem to be getting so much reflection that it's effectively lighting the face from below, which is a well-recognised technique for creating a "menacing" feel (we humans are used to seeing each other softly lit from above; turn that upside down and faces look wrong, so it unnerves us)

All-in-all, it definitely looks to me like you've got (a) too much light in the room (a lighting set-up problem); and (b) too much light in the camera (an exposure/camera settings problem). On that basis, I think you really should set up a "still life" arrangement in the studio and play around with lighting it for still photography before you come back to video. It should be easy enough to find a variety of cheap, smaller lights and reflectors to play around with so that you can make better decisions about what you'll need for your next "live action" video.
 
As far as makeup I will definitely consider that, although I referenced above that I had professional photos taken of myself earlier this year and I wore no makeup and they looked fine. I feel like it is me screwing up the lighting somehow rather than anything else. The idea of cold light (daylight yes?) being less flattering could be a key to my issue as well. I knew I would eventually need some warmer lights but thought I could start using all daylight stuff to learn a bit and build from there.

Are you certain the pro photographer didn't edit your photographs with a filter or with some other photo editing magic? In any case, don't use it as an excuse to not use makeup. Listen to Sfoster. You could hook up with a makeup artist to collaborate with, or even hire one. Or, if I were you, I'd learn how to apply makeup myself. I believe there are many how-to makeup tutorials on YouTube. Makeup is standard practice in filmmaking for a reason, so you might as well get used to it. And as things move to 4K and 8K, ever higher resolutions, I gotta think tricks like makeup will become even more necessary.

Why 5000k light? I know nothing, but I'm strongly prejudiced against this. Maybe a pro like jax rox can explain why using 5000k is a good idea when going for soft, flattering light. Short of that, I'm shaking my head 'why why why?' 😎 I suppose if you're shooting outdoors in the sun and want to match the daylight conditions? Or if you want a very well lit scene with clinical lighting like in an office or in a medical space? But then I would think FL would be the poison appropriate for that. If you want a nice, pleasing, flattering look for an interview like for a documentary, warm light seems like what you should go with—in my opinion .

5K is cold, hard light.

I am one of the (I'm sure) countless people who do find incandescent lighting significantly more pleasant than LED or FL. But as mentioned, they require more power and may burst. Also, there's more danger of overloading a circuit. A workaround for that is to get yourself some long extension cords and plug them into different rooms. And they get hot to work with and to be around.

I'm not clear from your description what your lighting set-up is. You may not be comfortable sharing your videos, but perhaps you could share a photo of your lighting set-up. Do you have a light box? I think I understand your lights are quite rudimentary. How much control do you have over their outputs? Such control is key, I think. If you can dial this light up and that light down that would be awesome. I would try to think of lighting as akin to sculpting. Depending on the dramatic, aesthetic, or visual effect you're going for, if you want pleasing images then you want to achieve lighting that gives the brain a sense of the subject's three-dimensionality. The reason we generally find flattened, over-lit, Xeroxed, or Nuclear-option lighting displeasing is precisely because our brains are built to, and want to, see in three dimensions. We want to see the shape of things. Photography that flattens those three dimensions is unhelpful, unnatural, and generally unwanted. (Not that there can't be a use for it.)

Have fun! :)
 
Last edited:
5K is cold, hard light.

Just to clear things up a bit, the colour temperature of the light only tells you exactly that: what colour it is.
5600k lights are generally used to approximate daylight, but if you set your camera's white balance to 5600k it will actually be white. 3200K (tungsten/incandescent filaments) lights will then look warm/'orange'.

If you set your white balance to 3200K, incandescent lights will look white, and 5600k lights will look blue.

Commonly, a DP will mix colour temperatures (and may not set their camera's colour temp to either end of the spectrum) for creative effect. You will often see practicals in a scene that look warm (they may be 3200K or even lower at 2800K). You also will often see an in-between colour temp wherein daylight lights look a tad cold, whilst incandescent lights look warm.

Whether a light is hard or soft is a function of its size, not its colour. You can have soft daylight light, and hard tungsten/incandescent light.
 
Top