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Lighting a Diner Night for Day (4 replies and 1 comment)

Grant Kaufman
2 months ago
Grant Kaufman 2 months ago

Hello Sir Deakins & Community,

I'm currently in the prep stages for a low-budget film, and I'm quite concerned and worried about lighting one of the locations. The location is a spacious, 60s-era diner. Because of location logistics, we are only able to shoot the scene at night, however, the scene takes place during the day in the script. I suggested the scene be changed to accommodate for this (and our very small equipment list), but the director is set on it taking place during the day. So it's come down to me to figure out how to light the space for a late-evening look with minimal equipment.

The front of the diner is basically a wall of large clear windows. My goal is to never show the windows, but I still need to light through them. HMIs are out of the question, unfortunately, so my E-side equipment is pretty much limited to this:

  • 3x 1K Tungsten Fresnels
  • 6x 1K Par Cans
  • 2x 2K Tungsten open-face's
  • 5x 500w China-balls
  • A couple of 750-200w Fresnels
  • A Litemat

I have a good amount of various silks and rags for g-side equipment.

One idea I had was to cover the windows with Hollywood Frost or a different type of diffusion so we don't see the outside, and put our most powerful lights through that (I'm fine with the windows blowing out; the look of the film is quite stylized so I'm very forgiving with stuff like that happening)...

Overall, I'd love some tips & suggestions for lighting a space "day-for-night" with large windows and minimal equipment. Let me know what you all think!


Here's a photo of the outside of the diner during the day:

RedEye Diner | Charlottes Got A Lot

Grant Kaufman

Andrew C
2 months ago
Andrew C 2 months ago

Hi Grant, your thoughts on putting diffusion over the windows and lighting through them sound pretty reasonable. I'd probably use the 2Ks and maybe a few 1Ks. By shooting at night, I think you'd have a lot more control over the exterior lighting coming in.

As for the windows blowing out, maybe you can use some light lens filtration for the blow out to look softer. Especially if this is a 60s era diner, it may work well. 

If you have the grip equipment, I'd try to boom a few China balls on the interior, spread out, for some ambience. The Litemat may work for a soft backlight on the actors if you have closer shots. You could key with a China ball and drape another silk under it for a softer key light on the main actors. Then if you need more punch you can boom up a or multiple 1Ks into the diffusion. Not sure if you have any gels for the tungsten lights, but possible subtle color contrast is something to think about. 

The lighting also depends on how much we are seeing in the diner and the context of the scene, but this is a starting point. I'm not super experienced but what I stated above is about what I'd do.

2 months ago
carloscfrias 2 months ago

I agree with what Andrew said. One of the most important things that sells daylight to our eyes is a good amount of ambient light everywhere. I love parcans and I've found they work pretty well to create shafts of light on certain spots of the background and foreground so they seem like accidental sun coming in, specially if the scene takes place at hour where the sun is down and the light is very horizontal.

Andrew C
2 months ago
Andrew C 2 months ago

I'm curious what others think as well.

2 months ago
quijotesco24 2 months ago

Without knowing all the shots you need for the scene is hard to tell. Also we would need to see a picture from the inside.
Based on your equipment list I would also put diffusion on the windows and light trough them to generate a base ambience and fill the room with practicals and chinas as I feel it’s needed to have good light levels. Knowing is a late afternoon scene you could go with a strong light more sideways to simulate sun setting cominng from a window not showing on camera. That would be my main source so I would play around that fake sun. But again, is all about what shots you need.

1 month ago

I'm probably late to the party but this seems like an interesting challenge that would really would come down to where you're placing the scene in the diner. I would imagine the scene takes place in a booth....since they usually do. But does it take place at the counter? Behind the counter? At a table? How much of the diner are you showing? Does it need to have wide shots or can you get away with angles that show just a couple other tables?

While pushing light through diffused windows makes sense if you have to see the windows, if you're never seeing the windows you might want to think about bouncing the light. One of the problems about pushing the light through diffused windows is that if you see them you'll probably see the ring of light in the diffusion. If you don't see the windows will you get a better spread from a bounce?
But you're also going to have to think about the character of the light and drop-off.

Again, this all depends on what the shots are and where in the diner it takes place. Are you trying to light the whole space to daylight with your lighting package? I took a look at the place on yelp and I'm not sure you have enough light to mimic the sun through two walls of windows. If not you can find another way to bring the ambient light up in a different way and it'll have to be shot-specific. But it's a cool retro-inspired diner that I assume was chosen to see as much of the decor as possible.

Love the idea of using the par cans to hit the background to make highlights in the background and at the same time boost the overall ambience.

I would think it'd also depend on how you're establishing that it's a daytime interior. Is there an entry or exit in the scene that requires something specific? Is it two characters sitting at a booth to plot a heist? Does the scene move around the room?

I've probably typed too much here (sorry, been off this forum forever) but it's a fun little problem. Hope it goes/went well.

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