Is Your Top Light… Tops?

This mini article is a from my new White Cyc Lighting Course that comes out August 2017!

Top lighting can be both dark and “Godfather-esque” or it can be soft and heavenly. In this mini article we’ll study 3 different lighting setups that were visualized using Cinema 4D and Cine Designer.

Small Light Sources = Hard Shadows

White Cyc Lighting

If you use a small light source (relative to the size of the subject being lit) it will create sharper shadows. This is illustrated in the figure above where the talent is being lit by an Arri 2K Open Face light.

The open face light is a “spotlight” and the 2K double ended tungsten globe inside of it emits light that is gathered by a reflector and projected from the lighting unit in a cone shaped light beam. The beam is narrow as it is emitted from the lighting unit but widens the further it gets. This beam creates a circular lighting pattern when it hits the floor.

The shadow that it creates on the floor is “sharp” and well defined. The shadows on the talent are also sharp and defined. Because of the dark shadows it creates under the talents’ eyes, this creates an ominous and scary vibe. Even if you put diffusion the barn doors of this unit, it wouldn’t change the shadow quality very much. BUT if you put FOUR of these units through a 20×20 Bleached Muslin, then we would get a much different look.

Large Light Sources = Soft Shadows

White Cyc Lighting

When you use a light source that much larger than the subject the light beam is much broader and creates softer shadows. You can think of every point on the 20×20 diffusion frame (illustrated in figure 2) as a discreet spot light, like the 2K Open face. Every point of light on the diffusion frame is emitting it’s own beam of light. Because the sources are so close together they blend together.

But if you consider two different points of light on opposite sides of the diffusion frame, their shadows are essentially “cancelling” each other out. This effect is why the shadows from the large light source appear to be so “softer” and much “brighter” than the shadows from a smaller light source. Relative to the subject, lighting is coming from more directions which is softening the shadows and adding more fill from below.

EPIC Conclusion!!11

Try this concept out for yourself on your next shoot and pay attention to the shadows and the emotional effect it has on you. AND if you liked this WIP lesson and you want to see more, SIGN UP for my latest online course: Commercial Cinematography I: White Cyc Lighting” and stay up to date on when the course goes live and any special promotions before the launch!