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Light it up

Lighting is one of important and often overlooked aspects in film making.  Lights are used to emphasize important details or hide them and to influence the dramatic content of a scene.

Even so, lighting is one aspect where a lot of Kenyan productions have not been very successful.  The problem is compounded by modern digital cameras that are so sensitive, it is easy to overlook the need for proper lighting. Furthermore, lighting equipment does not come cheap and requires a level of expertise to setup.

The 3  critical aspects of lighting that we are going to highlight  are.

  1.     Proper Exposure
  2.     Depth Creation
  3.     Mood and Feeling

1.Proper exposure

Every shot needs enough light to activate the camera’s sensors and give a picture that is “natural” to the human eye. In most instances, inadequate lighting is the most common cause. Mostly due to lack/improper use of lighting and poor exposure settings of the camera. Moreover, many  photographers make the mistake of using auto-exposure settings settings rather than manually adjust to required levels.

On the other hand, there is also a problem where the lighting used is too much – overexposure. This is common and is evidenced by washing-off of colours such as peoples’ complexion, grayish blacks and in the worst cases, the light reflects off the subjects and props. Over exposed pictures tend to eliminate shadows, have unnaturally bright backgrounds and poor contrasts. An easy way to check on this is to check on the camera Zebra settings to identify and correct over exposure.

2.Depth Creation

Average cinematographers are happy just to show you films where the subjects are well lit. However, you need much more to stand out. Artistry in the use of lights is required. The screen is 2 dimensional but the pictures must have the 3rd dimension -depth. Therefore, this presents a challenge that photographers and canvas artists face. Creating 3-D effect on a 2-D media. This is achieved by the creative use of highlights and shadows to create depth. This is achieved by creative use of lighting equipment to play with light patterns, colour temperatures and shadows.

3.Mood and Feeling

The use of lighting to convey mood and feeling is almost totally absent in many Kenyan productions especially those seen on TV. Just like a sound track, lighting can be used to create psychological effects such as fear, anxiety,happiness etc. The idea is to create a profound emotional effect on that the audience can identify with.

For example, high contrast lighting that is characterised by strong lines of light and dramatic dark shadows is used to create an eerie feel in horror movies. High contrast lighting is commonly used in British Gangster flicks to create a feeling of anxiety or confusion.

Still, proper lighting remains a challenge that even professionals have to grapple with as the  requirements for interviews, action shots, indoor and outdoor settings are all different.

What to Do?

The challenges posed by lighting setups are surmountable by use of the available light equipment creatively to achieve 1st class results.

We have illustrated some excellent setups that are simple to set up and require 1 or 2 lights plus a white board to strike a good balance between hard and soft light.

This is not to discredit lighting systems that utilise more equipment but to show that a basic lighting setup- when used imaginatively, can result in outstanding images

Creative Lighting Setup Examples: Pictures courtesy AIRR Handbook.

  1. This set achieves good results 2 lamps : 1000w Keylight and 300w light bounced of a white wall.

2.This bright image is the result a 300w Keylight and a 650w lamp illuminating the background via a white bounce card.

3.Great shadow and detail is achieved by this setup utilising just two 300watt lamps.

To capture pleasant images, there must be enough light to illuminate the scene. There’s no image without light. It is also important to understand that while light illuminates, it is the shadow that creates depth and gives dimension to the subject. Therefore, illumination without shadow achieves nothing. The most important thing is to create a good balance between illumination and shadow so that the resultant images have the required dimension.

Kenyan Cinematography has taken big steps in the last few years and it is our hope that we will see more creative lighting in local films.

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