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How much of the job is the lighting

Dear CML Readers,

A quick straw poll. In my contact with cinematography students I feel I need to consider the balance of a particular course that I'm involved in tutoring. So, I'd be very grateful if the professional cinematographers amongst you would give me a very rough estimate of what percentage lighting (and planning of lighting) represents to you as a part of the whole job of the cinematographer. This is not meant to be 'scientific' and I won't hold any of you to your answers.

Thank you in advance.

Nic Lawson
Director of Photography/UK


Perhaps 70% or more of my time is to lighting before the first take. Here in Thailand, I am blessed with having good crew. The ACs and dolly grips are great so I don't have to worry about the camera much after the first rough blocking.

Also, in this wonderful age of digital, the shooting of rehearsals is the norm. So my first practice at any camera movements got done in the first take or two anyway. I'd get time to tweak the camera moves, but usually not enough to do a lot with lighting once it's set.

My usual gaffers (I have three regulars) are now in the habit of watching the monitors during takes and are usually ready with the tweaks they think I would like after the director yelled cut.

Outside the country, even more time is devoted to lighting.

I'm blessed when I shoot here in Thailand with my crew.

Picha Srisansanee
DP
Bangkok, Thailand


>> what percentage lighting (and planning of lighting) represents to you as a part of the whole job of the

>> cinematographer. This is not meant to be 'scientific' and I won't hold any of you to your answers.

At least 70% of my attention on the set is to lighting as it relates to story, art direction and blocking, about 15% of the attention is the blocking. By blocking I mean getting the camera movement and actors working together so everyone is hitting their marks. Most of that detail is handled by the director. The remaining 15% of my attention is paid to camera setup, lens choice, and other technical details.

When it comes to amount of time on the set, that's a loaded question. Some scenes are full of complex dialogue and so there are many takes. Some setups must be designed for multiple camera setups and the set and the setup is worked for several hours or even several days. Some days, it's 100% lighting and blocking. Other days it's 5% lighting and blocking and 95% of the time we're running cameras and lines.

Frankly, just about anybody can shoot today and make amazing pictures with easy to use high definition cameras. Only a few can actually improve the telling of the story with camera technique, and an even smaller group of professionals can actually contribute to the story with lighting. For me, it's always been about the light. If you can't light the scene you can't influence the performance or the story.

When I first started in the movie business, October 10, 1969 (yes I'm an old guy) the guy breaking me in said to me "Keep the damn camera steady, follow the action, put enough light on the subject to see their eyes, if you don't like someone get the camera above their eyes and shoot down on them, if you like them get down low and look up at them, and don't let the background upstage the story."

Everything except 'put enough light on the subject to see their eyes' is easy.

Rick Gerard
DP VFX
Sacramento, CA


Well, lighting is involved in 100% of the job. You light a shot, you compose a shot, but composition is entirely controlled by lighting. Blocking?

You can't block actors out until you know where the shadows are going to fall. In the end, it's all lighting.

Scott Dorsey
Kludge Audio
Williamsburg, VA.


Hi Nick

I always say to my students between 70 to 85%

Depends a lot on the director and obviously the type of shoot. The longest time will be on commercials, which as I only shoot those in the USA are made easier by the better system of Trucking & Crewing the US has.

Back in the UK, TV shoots are usually the quickest because these days, the director always wants "the reality look" which means he has no money for lighting ! ! ! and you only have to suggest one and he goes very grey. so I keep a lot of reflector boards !!!!!!

I do wish they would remember that reality takes longer to achieve than anything else......hohum

John Rossetti - London


>> "...a very rough estimate of what percentage lighting (and planning of lighting) represents to you as a part >> of the whole job of the cinematographer."

Hi Nic,

Getting past the fact that one needs some light (visible or IR) to see an image...

In terms of block, light, shoot for the DP, the ratio for each is dependent on the complexity for each. I have shot interviews that took 1-minute of blocking and 10-minutes of lighting. Other shots (complex movement of actor(s) and camera) can take 30-minutes of blocking and two hours of lighting...there's no set ratio.

If you are training students/interns, they should be instructed that there is no set ratio but there is a workflow as mentioned above - block, light, shoot!

Hope this helps...

Regards,

Chuck Johnson
Producer/Editor
Fort Worth, Texas


I never had thought about it but now that you mention it I must say that I'm on top of the lighting all the time or 100%, from blocking thru each take.

Donald Bryant, AMC
Director de Fotografa
Director of Photography
Tel. 5532-7124
Cel. 04455 1359-9749
Web: laamc.com


Scott Dorsey wrote:

>> In the end, it's all lighting.

True in part, but as you usually light for a specific camera, not your eyes, it's perhaps equally important to know how that particular camera responds to light.

Cheers.

Noel Sterrett
Admit One Pictures
(310) 591-8744
(404) 879-0707


To me its 100% if not anyone nowadays any one call themselves a DP by just producing a image at 800iso , including my 91 year old Mother!

John Holland DoP . London.


I'm not sure I entirely agree with this view.

How about: You compose a shot, you block a shot, and then you light the shot so that it complements and enhances the composition and blocking. Lighting supports the shot.

Or this: You block a shot, you compose the shot, and then you light the shot to complement and enhance the blocking and composition. Lighting supports the shot.

With all due respect, to say that "it's all lighting" is a bit rigid. Unless one is both director and DP, I'm not sure that I see it as "all lighting." Even then.

Hope this doesn't set off a firestorm.

Lawrence Standifer Stevens
PentaGRAFX
Dallas


>> block, light, shoot!

Please! No one does this anymore. It drives me nuts. I spend more time lighting locations so I can look any possible direction than if I knew what the actual shots were going to be by watching a rehearsal.

I'd say that lighting is 80% of the job if we're only speaking artistically/technically. Whether the lighting takes 80% of my time or not is a different question. I tell people that half of operating is knowing when not to move the camera; similarly, half of lighting is knowing when what's there is perfect or only needs minor tweaking vs. a complete relight.

It's a huge part of the job, but not always a huge part of the production day.

>> With all due respect, to say that "it's all lighting" is a bit rigid.

I agree. Composition is crucial as well. It's also the easiest thing to accomplish, but the one thing that never quite seems to happen properly.

-----------------------

Art Adams | Director of Photography
San Francisco Bay Area
showreel -> www.artadamsdp.com
trade writing -> art.provideocoalition.com


Funny but I think of my day very differently. Firstly, many jobs require a significant amount of time to manage relationships with a director, producers, or crew. As DPs, we are managers. And bigger jobs mean bigger crews, bigger stakes, and, usually, more management. While I may be judged on the quality of the images I produce, I usually have to think about something OTHER than the image in order to realize the image.

For example: How to nudge a director toward a certain camera move or composition. How to stay on good terms with production so I stay within budget and get the necessary tools or crew. How to manage crew to extract maximum performance and deal with conflict.

The list, some days, feels endless. Often my ability to be a good manager directly influences the quality of my images.

That said, the amount of time devoted to lighting really varies wildly depending on the job. On commercials with lots of lighting, it can be 80 percent of creative decision making. On doc-style shoots, it can drop to 15 percent -- then I just strive to make sure the camera is in the right place. Features are usually right in the middle.

Rick Lopez
NYC DP


Rick Lopez asserts :

>>"That said, the amount of time devoted to lighting really varies wildly..."

To me...the degree of difficulty is the better comparison.

I think one of the hardest things to do is make lighting look organic or natural. Widen out on any show and see how many units, flags, bounce cards, etc., are used to create the organic or natural look.

On the other hand, when doing a doc or the like, you go WFO on the lens and capture what reality has dealt.

IMHO, lighting is everything, even if you didn't actually light it. Knowing how to position talent or subjects to best take advantage of available light is just as challenging and artful as knowing how to pop a 2k through a window to create a natural feel; but whether you create it or capture it...lighting, in my mind, is what it's all about.

Just my 1.5 cents worth here.

Allen S. Facemire-DP/Director
IATSE 600
Norcross/Atlanta-USA


Allen Facemire wrote:

>> Knowing how to position talent or subjects to best take advantage of available light

Good point. working the light is a lot faster than changing it.

On a similar line, I lit an actress in a doorway yesterday flooded with daylight from the door and I filled her with a dedo from a few steps away (close up shot). It was an easy set made easier by her being hip to the reasons for her blocking. she felt the
light and hit every shot every time- the light was her mark.

Other times you can ask an actor "just walk into this blinding hot spot here"

Nope - right through it.

I love actors who are hip to what we are building for them. They always want and try to help, but a few really get it and they make the day go gently down the stream.

Caleb Crosby, soc
DP
Boston
calebcrosby.com


In the spirit of the recent concerns over lurking I through in my meagre input,

Lighting is 100% of the picture and controlling light is what we do as photographers/cinematographers/DP's. However the technical decisions about lights and lighting vary wildly based on budget, equipment availability, Time, location, the amount of support personnel (Gaffers, grips, AC's) and last, style of the production. If I have no gaffer and no assistant, I could spend 45 minutes lighting a 10 minute interview, if there is no budget or time for lights, "news style" it’s on camera light, bounce cards, composition for the current lighting, and ambient light availability. Light and shadow is always on my mind when budgeting, moving my camera, blocking actors, and composing shots. Sometimes I am distracted by content though, but that’s when I am directing, another reason to work in a team not as a one man show.

TRINITY A GREER
(210) 834-3616
www.triintygreer.com


>> " True in part, but as you usually light for a specific camera, not your eyes, it's perhaps equally important >> to know how that particular camera responds to light."

With all due respect, you are discussing contrast not light. Light is ethereal untouchable, artistic. We do tweak it to suit specific needs but this does not mean we think differently.

>> "How about: You compose a shot, you block a shot, and then you light the shot so that it complements >> and enhances the composition and blocking. Lighting supports the shot."

I disagree, it is an interaction. You block and compose and on the same time you pre-visualize the light. You adjust your composition according to the light you WILL create. Then you go on and execute the stuff

Best

Argyris Theos
DoP
Athens Greece
+306944725315


Great thread.

I think it varies hugely depending on the type of job and the size of crew.

Commercials, almost all my time is lighting.

Features, more time is spent on politics and management than I'd like to the detriment of lighting, it varies from job to job but...

Actress " you've lit my zit! " it's a bloody wide shot I can barely see YOU never mind your 'king zit! This particular lady loved me one day "the best cameraman I've ever worked with" and hated me the next "the worst cameraman I've ever worked with" every day for 10 weeks she changed her mind, often several times a day.

Line producer " I didn't think you'd need the 120' Condors so I got 60' " when everyone is asking me why all the lamps are in shot and that was just the start...

Visually illiterate director, visually very aware director, they're both hell to work with!

And on and on...

Cheers

Geoff Boyle FBKS
Cinematographer
EU Based
Skype geoff.boyle
mobile: +44 (0)7920 143848
www.gboyle.co.uk


Argyris Theos wrote:

>> With all due respect, you are discussing contrast not light. Light is ethereal untouchable, artistic. The

>> question was ...what percentage lighting (and planning of lighting) represents to you as a part of the whole >> job of the cinematographer.

I think a course on the *whole* job of the cinematographer should include a tiny section on the camera since:

"All that matters is how it looks on the camera." - David Mullen, ASC

Cheers.

Noel Sterrett
Admit One Pictures
(310) 591-8744
(404) 879-0707


Caleb Crosby on light when it's available :

"... it was an easy set made easier by her being hip to the reasons for her blocking. she felt the Light..."

I have always called that : "The Money Light".

Actors will ask where you want them and if they are hip to what's going down can just be told to find the money light. You just watch. A good actor feels the light and will stay within that perimeter unless directed otherwise.

Stage actors are particularly adept at that concept.

Wonderful synchronicity.

Allen S. Facemire-DP/Director
IATSE 600
Norcross/Atlanta-USA


Allen Facemire wrote:

>> Stage actors are particularly adept at that concept.

And as any Production Stage Manager will tell you, they're so adept there's often a fight for the bright light. But to be fair, screen actors have far less, if any, rehearsal time to find the sweet spot.
Cheers.

Noel Sterrett
Admit One Pictures
(310) 591-8744
(404) 879-0707


>>/ Stage actors are particularly adept at that concept.

>>/And as any Production Stage Manager will tell you, they're so adept there's often a fight for the bright >>light. But to be fair, screen actors have far less, if any, rehearsal time to find the sweet spot.

Also, stage lighting has to be designed keeping in mind that the audience is close, far, to the right, to the left, etc. There's no "sweet spot" with one point of view. One might use a tight area for a soliloquy where the actor stays in one spot. Otherwise, if an actor needs to be kept in well modelled light while moving through an otherwise generally lit area, the designer uses follow spots, intelligent lights, or bringing up and dimming a series of fixed areas. Film lighting is a different world entirely where the entire lighting rig is designed for one or two cameras each with one point of view whether dollying, booming, etc. or not. The camera may move, the lights do not.

Hal (been there, done that) Smith
Engineer and Somewhat DP
Edmond, OK


And there are directors who would say: take that lamp out of my frame, or actors who would hide from light no matter how over-lit and filled your set is!!

It all makes sense when the scene is clear in the mind: start general lighting, make a frame and adjust the light to the frame. That could take forever. A frame is never finished, it is left as it is, at most.

ART is never complete, it always can be better!!!

Miguel del Valle
DoP
Mexico city


>>"ART is never complete, it always can be better!!!"

I suggest you read "the unknown masterpiece" ("le chef d'oeuvre unconnu) written by Honore de Balzac during the first half of the nineteenth century.

My copy is illustrated by Pablo Picasso.

Argyris Theos
DoP
Athens Greece
+306944725315