Multiple lights mean multiple shadows!

            Shadows are a part of life and are not to be feared in motion pictures.  Skillfully placed, they add depth and texture to images and help turn an essentially flat representation of people and objects into something approximate to the human experience.

            According to the script, there will be times when varying grades of shadows are appropriate and times when they will not.  Those are questions of taste, but your taste needs to be backed up by a level of technical\mechanical competency.  So, listen up, fledgling cinematographers…

            When faced with distracting, inappropriate or competing shadows on set, trace each one back to its source.  Having done so, you have four basic choices in how to control them, contingent upon the dramatic effect you’re trying to achieve.

            Extinguish the offending source.

            Change the position of the offending source.

            Flag off the offending source from the subject or item that’s casting the shadow.

            Use diffusion to increase the size of the offending source, softening it to the point where the effect of the shadow becomes negligible.

            You might also change the frame or restage the blocking of the actors, but those are the last remedies you should call on to solve such a simple problem, resorting to them only after affirming you’ll have a new line of work waiting for you in another state tomorrow morning.

            As always, keep it simple.  The fewer lights you use to get the job done means the fewer unwanted shadows you’ll have.  Your photography will be better and your director with thank you for that.

            So will your grip and electric departments!


2 thoughts on “STUDENT QUICK TIP #20”

  1. Thank you for this tip!

    Question regarding multiple shadows. This is something I will test over the weekend, but I wanted to see what your thoughts are on it first. If I bounced two lights from different angles into a sheet of 5ft x 5ft unbleached muslin, and say they covered the whole sheet, would the resulting bounced light give me multiple shadows? I imagine if I added a frame of diffusion to create a book light then the source would act as if it came from 1 light.

    Like you mentioned, softening the source could negate some of the multiple shadows issue.

  2. Andrew – As you describe it, no, you won’t have two shadows from the two sources…especially if you also use a large sheet of diffusion to turn the bounce into a book light. But be sure to look very closely… If any stray light is emanating from the heads of your light sources – i.e., if they’re angled in such a way that the lens of the lamps are putting hard light on your subject – you will definitely have multiple-shadow issues. So just be extra careful that the heads are properly flagged off from your subject and you’ll be fine!

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