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Lighting 101 - Part 5: Bounce Cards

An alternative to using a fill light By Stephen Schleicher
Over the last four installments of the Lighting 101 series, I spent a great deal of time talking about how to light using the typical three-point lighting set up found in video. Having a key light, fill light, rim light, and back light produces a great deal of light, and can also produce an unwanted high contrast ratio. This will create a very hard look to the video and may be something you (or your client) do not desire.

With an understanding of three-point lighting, you can break away from the "standard way" of lighting and reduce the number of lights in your scene for very dramatic looks. One way to reduce the number of lights in the scene is to get rid of one of the lights. One of the lights you can do away with is the fill light. However, just because you are removing the fill light from your scene, doesnt mean your image will look good. You still need to soften and fill the shadows. The easiest way to do this is with a bounce card.

A bounce card can be anything that reflects light. Most bounce cards are simple white foam core sheets that range from ten inches across to several feet. Because the foam core is white, it reflects and softens light. The placement of the bounce card is slightly different than the placement of an actual fill light as it needs to reflect the light of the key.
A typical bounce card made out of foam core that can be purchased at any local art supply store.

A bounce card can either be held by a member of the production crew, or clamped or tapped to a c-stand. While the crew member might seem like the best way to go, unless they are perfectly still, you could end up with some wavering of your fill light that will end up being a distraction in your shot.

Mount your bounce cards, or make sure your crew members have very steady hands.

The before shot using the three-point lighting setup discussed in other Lighting 101 installments.

The image on the left, uses no bounce card to fill the shadows, while the image on the right uses a gold reflector.

One of the problems with foam core that you purchase at an art supply shop is that generally both sides of the foam core are smooth white surfaces. This is a problem because sometimes you dont want the light to bounce back as evenly as the light that is hitting it. One way to get more mileage out of your foam core is to take a hammer or other pounding device and put a bunch of dings on one side of the foam core. This causes the light to reflect off at various angles diffusing the light.

If you find that a smooth white card is not bouncing all the light you need, you can cover one side of the foam core with aluminum foil. Again, to keep the bounce card from being a perfect mirror, first crinkle up the foil before adhering it to the board.

An aluminum reflector can come in very handy in those cases where not lights are present. A year ago, I directed a shoot, which called for two actors to run down a dead end ally. The end of the ally was very dark and there were not electrical outlets to be found. By using the Sun and foiled reflectors, I was able to get a nice light effect for the quick shot.

Production crew holding bounce cards to illuminate a dark area.

The reflected light provides adequate lighting to capture the shot.

Total cost for three large pieces of foam core and some aluminum foil to cover one side? Less than $12.00. Increased production cost? Priceless. (You knew that one was coming.)

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