Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Exterior Lighting - Actors Eyes

Publcished : 20th May 2007

Often here in Australia when shooting people outside I will use sheets of poly bounce, or an HMI through a frame as a key light. The light here in Australia can be very harsh, and most times needs some overhead softening, then filling.

Something I always come up against is how much light, or bounce I can get away with, without having the actors complain about their eyes being blinded. Which mind you, can be very little light if the actors have sensitive eyes, or if they simply decide they don't want to work under such bright light. Also, I have been shooting a lot with High Definition and find I really need to pump the light into faces to keep detail in the backgrounds, and keep blue in the skies.

So, I'm wondering if any one out there has a trick, or solution on how to light softer on the eyes, yet still bright enough to get a nice key, and contrast ratio on the face.

Are there such things as tinted contact lenses?


Dan Freene Sydney DP.

>Are there such things as tinted contact lenses?

Yes, indeed, Johnny Depp wore tinted contact lenses on "Pirates of the Caribbean" because of the bright light... like sunglasses, but as contacts. I'm sure most eye care professionals can help you, as mine even offers special contact lenses for Halloween. Shouldn't be too expensive, either, but I think the actor will need a prescription from an optometrist.

Sometimes, I have the same trouble with the lights being too bright for sensitive people. I often just try to be encouraging and sympathetic, and ask them to try to acclimate to the light for a minute or two. This often is enough.

I was speaking to John Schwartzman about his work on "Meet the Fockers" with Barbara Streisand, a notoriously picky actress, and he said she actually complimented him about how comfortable the light levels were. He laughed, since there were in fact many large lights, like 20Ks and 18K HMIs surrounding them on set, but the way it was all diffused and created such a soft source, it made the levels even and comfortable. She didn't feel the lighting at all.

Best wishes,

Graham Futerfas
Los Angeles DP

I worked with Andy Griffith on a project and the director was concerned that I put a 4K HMI on the dolly to move with him during the shot. Mr. Griffith's comment was, "At least it isn't an arc, and besides if I close my eyes and look into the light for a minute, my eyes will adjust to it." The director was satisfied, and Mr. Griffith was wonderful to work with.

Close the eyes and look turn to the bright light and let the eyes adjust. Best advice I've ever had from an actor.

Mark Woods
Director of Photography
Pasadena, California

In that kind of situation and also in studios where I need to work with very high light levels, using probes for example, I always try and put blacks in the artists sight line.

It kinda gives them an area to relax their eyes.


Geoff Boyle FBKS
Director of Photography
EU Based

Hi Dan,

I experienced best way how to not to poke actors eyes with hard light keeping the needed light level is using large frames, doesn’t matter if diffusion as a silk or grid or any other according to situation and DoP's taste, to push the light thru or reflective material to bounce it off – the key is: best balance between softness and light output is relation of size of the panel (frame, bounce card...) and distance to the actor, which is 1:1, i.e. 12x12 frame, evenly lit positively, is to be placed 12 feet off the set.

Further away you will loose softness and light at the same time, closer you will achieve a bit more light, but loose softness.

Few years ago I had to make a test to convince my DoP, and anybody can repeat it: we lit up a 2K Fresnel in a studio and placed a model person 15meters away.

Then I asked one of the grips to handheld a 4x4diffusion frame (WD 250) right in front of the 2K and walk it in slowly. At the beginning we had almost no soft effect, but we start to loose lighting output dramatically till the frame reached 4feet of the model – the light level literally jumped up.

For an exterior use its handy to have irregular frames such as 4x8,8x12 or 12x20, using them horizontally – they are easier to handle in the wind and so on, and after all human civilization beginning with a human body is constructed vertically – see the point?

Best regards

Andy Arnautov
Czech republic


>>Are there such things as tinted contact lenses?

Yes; they're used by people with an eye condition called aniridia, which is fairly self-explanatory - if you're born without irises in your eyes, everything's out of focus and overexposed all the time. I'm not sure I can envisage going to the lengths of having people fitted for them just for this sort of thing, though.

Phil Rhodes
Video camera/edit

It works very well under bright sun too. Unfortunately not for pronounced shots (more than a minute perhaps - at least under the Greek sun)

Argyris Theos
Athens Greece

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