Cinematography Production

Tools for Controlling Soft Light

Manipulating soft light

Photo Courtesy of Sean Gardner

A DP often wants to control the foreground lighting and background lighting separately and light the actors without also flattening out the background. One can do this by cutting and containing the lighting with flags, black wrap, and the like. Soft light is more difficult than hard light to cut and control, and the softer the light (the larger the source and the heavier the diffusion), the more difficult it becomes. The larger the source, the larger the flags required to block the light. Boxing in a 4 × 4 frame of heavy diffusion typically requires 4×8 flags. Large cutters, 2 × 6 ft, are necessary as toppers, placed well out in front of the source. Flags and nets used close to a large source are ineffectual: The light engulfs the flag. To be useful, the flag must be far enough from the source that it blocks a direction the light is traveling, rather than merely blocking a portion of the face of the source. Grips often need to fabricate a teaser 12- or 14-ft long by stapling a length of duvetyn to a 1 × 3 batten.

The best way to easily contain soft light is using an egg crate or louver directly in front of the diffusion surface. Lighttools makes fabric egg crates (Soft Egg Crates®) for all types of chimera-type light banks as well as for larger diffusion frames, butterfly sets, and overhead frames from 4 × 4 ft up to 20 × 20 ft.

Control Soft light

Photo Courtesy of Brad Wilde

A Soft Crate is a collapsible fabric grid that controls the light by dividing the source into bite-size portions, or cells. The Soft Crate reduces neither the softness nor the brightness of the light source appreciably but does control how much the light spreads to the sides. This approach has the advantage of being extremely space efficient. It avoids cluttering the set with a forest of flags and C-stands, which can be a real problem especially in smaller sets. Soft Crates come in a variety of cell sizes, referred to by their maximum beam spread: 20°, 30°, 40°, 50°, and 60°. While the main purpose of an egg crate is to contain the light, on larger frames it also tends to even out the brightness of the light as you move toward the light source. This happens because, as you move closer to the light source, the fabric cells occlude progressively more of the diffusion surface. The egg crate effectively reduces the exposure range in the acting space by reducing the rapid increase of brightness, what DPs like to call sourcyness, showing the audience the light source. The egg crate effectively circumvents the inverse square law.

Excerpted from The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook by Harry Box © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved

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