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Lighting for Performer Flexibility

Julia Swain
Artists against windows but keyed with tungsten light (Image credit: Julia Swain)

Some projects call for a lot of flexibility in a space so that subjects can move about how they wish. A large area will need to be lit and controlled without the danger of seeing units. Subjects will need the freedom to move about the space while always being exposed properly. 

A famous and brilliant example is the Amazon Original film “Honey Boy,” where Natasha Braier, ASC, had to light with bulbs and units that were all on DMX and could be dimmed and controlled remotely as actors moved about the sets during each scene. All of this allowed for a natural environment without having to stop so much and design more specific frames where actors are a bit more boxed-in within shorter moments.


On a recent project I worked on, two musicians gave a real-time live performance that had to be captured with three cameras in a large studio space. The performance was shot against windows that faced east and, having only a short period of time with the artists, the time of day that was best for the shoot was important to know. Balancing the ambience coming through those windows with the intensity of the units inside was crucial as once the artists were in front of the cameras, there would be no time to make adjustments. 

At one point in the song, one of the performers moves from a standing microphone to an organ. Though general placement and marks were indicated for each of them, it was a live performance and so called for giving them the ability to move around freely. With that in mind and then analyzing the space, units were placed in various areas to allow for this and the most powerful lights that could fit in the room were chosen.

 Artist at the organ now in different light  (Image credit: Julia Swain)

For starters, a Hudson Spider was placed as a soft toplight to provide ambience and key them from overhead in their main performance position. A LiteGear LiteMat 4 was rigged high and frontal to supplement the key and provide more of an eye-light. Hudson Spider practical lamps provided by the location were also placed as highlights in the frame and were effective in providing ambience among the background elements. 


A LiteMat 2L was placed above and behind the organ for the second half of the performance, so when the artist moved over, the Spider became a key on his profile and the 2L was now his backlight. Astera NYX bulbs were placed in the sconces on the walls so that they could be dimmed and their color quickly  changed. There was talk of potentially wanting them to pulse during the take so changing their frequency was also possible if desired. Everything was controllable via an app except for the LiteMats so keeping their ballasts close was important in case intensity or color temperature needed to change. 

Lastly, Creamsource Vortex 8s were outside a couple windows in case we happened to roll early with more daylight and wanted to give it direction. They ended up not being necessary, but were placed just in case. All cameras were set to a white balance in between tungsten and daylight, favoring daylight because of the windows they were facing. As a result, all the units were slightly cooler than true tungsten so the two temperatures were not competing too much.

Minimalism and large units tend to be a go-to for most jobs if space allows, but specificity is always important. There may not be specificity in the blocking of subjects, but being able to know how much space you can light and with what will be advantageous.

Ultimately, giving freedom to those in front of the camera can make for a better product overall and allow for more to be discovered on the day in terms of performance. Lighting technology has supported this idea of being flexible in the moment as we are able to control units remotely and have a large variety of different units at our fingertips. l

Julia Swain is a cinematographer whose work includes films such as “Lucky” and “Speed of Life” alongside dozens of commercials and music videos. She continues to shoot on a variety of formats, seeking to create compelling visuals for every story and brand. She can be reached through TV Technology.