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Lighting 101 -- Part 4: The Background Light

Put your subject in an interesting surrounding By Stephen Schleicher
For the last several weeks, I have been discussing how to properly light a subject for an interview. Last time I wrapped up with the Back light, which completed the basic three point lighting setup. There really is another light that should be added to this setup - the Background light. Heres why.

If, when lighting a subject, all of your lights are properly placed, very little light should be falling on your background. With the subject nicely lit, and the area behind the subject dark, it provides a great deal of contrast and isolates the subject. However, most of the time, you are not doing an interview in a void. In an interview situation (for documentary, news, feature, etc.) the subject is usually in a natural environment. What better way for the audience to get to know the subject better than by showing the subject in his or her surroundings.


Look at the first image. Here the subject is lit in Cameo - no lights on the background. While she is lit well, the image lacks something.

The subject is properly lit, but she stands out too much from the background.


In the next image, a Background light has been used. Notice how the light only falls on the area behind the subject. When placing a Background light, keep it away from the subject. In the case of this shot, the light (an Lowel Omni) is placed behind the subject and is pointed at the wall. Barn doors are used to keep light from accidentally spilling on the foreground subject.

The Background lights are usually the last light to be focused and placed since this light depends on how much illumination is in the foreground.

The Background light should be placed last, as it is dependent on the illumination of the foreground subject.


The problem with the previous image is that the Background light by itself makes the back wall rather flat. I know walls are supposed to be flat, but in video, flat is boring. Just as our discussion of the Key light addressed the issue of shadow and texture, the Background light should also bring out the texture and modeling of the backdrop. You can think of the Background light as Key light for the wall.

To break up the light against the wall a C-Stand was set up with a cucalorus (or cookie) attached. The Cookie is simply a pattern that is projected on the wall to break up the light.

Placing a "cookie" in front of the Background light, creates a more compelling lighting situation.



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Related Keywords:lighting, schleicher, background, light, cookie, lowel

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