Considerations when lighting daytime exteriors

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  • #215286

      Hello Roger and other members of the form, I have been trying to refine my thought process when it comes to lighting exteriors and would love some insight behind your decision making when deciding things such as contrast, time of day, diffusion, backlighting, wides vs mediums/close ups, and space considerations.

      I recently shot a short film and went in with the mindset to shoot my exteriors without any diffusion and to try and backlight my subjects as much as possible. I wanted to create contrast with a 6×6 solid and 6×6 ultrabounce (with an occasional small boost using an aputure 600D) and on average I shot the exteriors at a T5.6 on cooke s4 mini lenses (mainly the 25mm and 32mm) on an Alexa XT rated at 400 iso with a variation of .9, .6, and .3 filters occasionally being stacked. I’ll attach a few frames from the short as well to give a bit of context.

      One issue I noticed was that I had trouble getting a nice level of contrast when purely backlighting the subject even while using a 6×6 solid and ultrabounce frame on each side of the subject. Often times the effects of them were just barely noticeable. However when I slightly adjusted the blocking so the actors were slightly more side lit or somewhere between a full backlight and side light, the actors would still retain a nice backlight in addition to having better contrast on the face. I didn’t need the solid or ultrabounce as well! Now I’m wondering if this is how most people actually “backlight” subjects in exterior shots, or if theres something else I’m missing. To make matters worse I’m now wondering from a story and environment perspective when is it the right time to have the actors backlit with flat lighting on their face vs being backlit with a bit of contrast!

      I also had a couple of shots that were large wides (or wides that moved into moving mediums via steadicam) where we didn’t really have any room to put up any sort of control for lighting. I ended up capturing the actors from almost every angle and was wondering if on a larger budget production there would be more equipment to control the light, or if even on bigger productions you’d rely on the time of day and accept that you can’t really put much equipment up when covering such a wide area before moving in and shooting in multiple angles on the same take. Or are there productions that will put something crazy like a 60×60 diffusion overhead with a crane on location?

      Speaking of diffusion, there was one shot where 1 of the actors did need to face the sun and I attempted to make it a bit easier on the actor by putting a full grid to block the light but the exposure difference ended up frustrating me to the point where I just removed the diffusion. If I had access to a very light type of diffusion I may have used that, but budget issues prevented that. For those of you who enjoy using diffusion for exteriors, Where are you typically placing it, what type is it and how large does it tend to be?

      Lastly I’d like to hear some thoughts about daytime exposure. Do you have a general rule of thumb about where you like to place your exposure on the key side? How does it change with a sunny day vs an overcast day vs a shaded area?


      I’ve attached a few additional frames from the shoot. Would love feedback if you think there would have been a better way to light/control the light in these scenes, or if something unnatural sticks out.


      wide est into steadi coverage

      purely backlight, feel like I wouldn't like the contrast if they were facing the camera

      How can I feel confident with my exposure in shaded areas?

      Another wide, mostly backlit, but not a huge amount of contrast on faces. Please ignore the matte box at the top of the frame!

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    • #215304

        IMO without ingent budgets or even with them, time of the day and proper carefully planning and scheduling is what it is when doing exteriors.
        There is no wrong or bad and different stories need different approaches.
        And some people favor certain approaches more than others.
        Personally I avoid sun-sandwichs like the plague, but few super awarded DPs use them all the time. To me they look unnatural and that’s my reason to avoid them. But the audience are used to them. So it’s personal opinion. When backlighting were you using proper flags and avoid the sun entering the lens? Were you bouncing some level back to the actors?
        Usually what I do is plan the wides to be shot at the exact time I want because I can’t control the sun. Mids and CU can be faked easier with flags/reflectors or lighting.


          The sun moves fast!

          On the last image the actors are in the shade while unimportant objects in the back- and foreground are prominent from being in direct sun. Judging from the second frame grab, that happened because the sun had already moved away from where the action took place (unless this was intended for specific reasons).

          Scheduling, blocking and time management already solve many issues and prevent others from happening.

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