Lighting Scenes Outdoors & DIY Lights

Hey guys, I am in my second week of production of a short film. I have been shooting all shots outdoors with only the existing light and a simple reflector. Some of my images look dry and boring which is think due to the poor lighting.
Does anyone have any tips and perhaps DIY lighting gear to help me have a more lit character when there is absolutely no sun? It is fall in Wisconsin so there will not be much sun in the next weeks. Mostly cloudy and rainy.
A while ago I recall seeing something like a light panel used in an independent film. I believe they made it themselves. If anyone knows what I am talking about please show me what I am trying to think of. Also some resources for diy would be great.
I know I expect so much!


  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,255 Staff
    Generally cloudy skies will give better light that daytime sun; clouds diffuse things and soften the light, thus avoiding harsh shadows and allowing more of the scene's dynamic range to fit within your exposure. Most of the exterior lighting stuff is more to even out harsh sunlight, by filling in the shadow areas or diffusing the light before it hits the scene.
    To overpower the sun, even on a cloudy day, you'll need lights that are very, very bright and a wee bit pricey (like HMI's), or they will have to be very close to your subject, probably so close that full shots will prove tricky, let alone anything wider. Also, the color temperature of the lights becomes critical, as when you are blending it with actual daylight, the temperature has to match very accurately or it will be obvious that there is artificial lighting involved.
    My recommendation would be to embrace the wonderful qualities of overcast lighting, and take advantage of the benefits it brings. If you need a bit more shadowing, look for the biggest piece of black foamcore you can get, and if you hold it close to your actor, it will reflect black onto them, thus darkening that side. Again, its only going to work in moderately close shots, as the black surface has to be pretty close to be effective.The technique is called subtractive lighting, and especially in outside daylight, its generally going to be easier to take light away than it will be to overpower the sun.
  • Ok that makes sense. But shouldn't there be a separation of the actor from the background. A back light? Or is that more for greenscreen work. In my shots I have absolutely no separation.
    Perhaps I just need to get a shallower depth of field. Here is a pic of a shot that I particularly think is dull.

    Perhaps it is just because my cinematography is quite bad. I will most likely be redoing the whole scene I shot.
    Can you tell me what is wrong with it? Any advice on what to do different? How would you film a shot like this.
  • AxelWilkinson
    AxelWilkinson Posts: 5,255 Staff
    edited October 2012
    That's not a bad shot. I can't quite tell; is she holding a sword? Looks like my kind of project.
    If you had the ability to add a hair light, it would be great, but again, its a very expensive option. Instead, try looking at other ways to draw the audience's eye to the subject, which will inherently separate them from the background. There are three basic ways to draw the audience's eye to a specific part of the video frame. Focus, Brightness, and Movement. If you can use two or more of these at the same time, its even better.
    Shallower depth of field would help, as the eye will immediately go to what is in focus. With this particular shot, because the part of the background directly behind her is so far away, it shouldn't be hard to decrease depth of field while still showing some nice detail of the environment she is in.
    Dressing the character in lighter clothing, so she is the brightest part of the frame, would be another way to draw the eye to her. Obviously this won't always be the appropriate technique to use, but it should be a serious factor when designing costumes for a project. A clear contrast between the background and the character's costume can help separate them from the background and draw the audience's eye.
    A third technique would be to keep camera movement to a minimum, which results in the entire background becoming fixed, so that when the character moves, the audience's eye is immediately drawn to them.
    Maybe someone else has a good idea for an affordable way to create a hair light for separation here, but I think the best though you could do (affordably) to improve the lighting here is a large reflector in front of the subject, as close as you can get without being in the frame. Use a silver reflector to get as much light off of it as possible. You could cover a big piece of cardboard with aluminum foil to make one very cheaply. You will probably need a crew member to hold the reflector though, so you have to factor that in.
  • Hey, thanks Axel, I have tried to use a big flash light for a backlight during day but it looks like, well a flash light. Maybe if I have a diffuser in front of the light it will make it look better.
    Yeah that is a sword she is holding. I have behind the scenes footage coming soon with lots of stills from the shoot. Right now it is only a five crew team including my twin sister. Next week it will be around an eight person team with lots of action coming!
    Production Diary coming soon!
  • Viktoious, what kind of camera are you using? Does it have manual controls? Exposure, iris, shutter, ISO, etc? Is it fixed lense camcorder?
    What Alex said about reflectors would do wonders. A reflector would bounce the natural light back onto your subject and pour more light on her. It would also fill in some detail in the darker areas.
    You could experiment with masking her out (using feathering and smoothing) and applying a color corrector or the like to brighter her up a bit and then add the same footage on a layer below the masked layer. Hitfilm doesn't have a secondary color corrector type filter to allow you to pinpoint certain luminance and color areas that you could manipulate one by one.
    But, I would try reflectors next time and see how your subject pops out from the background.
  • I am using the 60D(love that camera!) lol Yeah the reflector would be really good. That is what I will end up doing. I think I will try my big flashlight again but this time put a difuser I got with five reflectors in front of the light so it is not so harsh and flash light looking.
    Hopeful it turns out well. Also I have been looking around and learning about cinematography. I did not really imagine how emotional and artistic you have to be when setting up your shots. I knew the basics of coarse but I looked a a lot of vids and learned a lot.
    Thanks guys for your help.
  • spydurhank
    spydurhank Posts: 3,156 Expert
    A actually really like that shot, the background is awesome. Love all those leaves on the ground. :D