Serving Hard Light: 5 Ways to Light Through a Window (Article/Tutorial)

Posted by on Feb 27, 2017 | 0 comments

Lighting through windowsThe first step in lighting a daytime interior scene is almost always to blast a light through the window. Sometimes soft light is the right choice for this, but unless you’re on a big production you simply may not have the huge units and generators necessary to bounce light and still have a reasonable amount of it coming through the window. So in low budget land, hard light is usually the way we have to go.

Now, I used to think that this hard window light had to hit the talent’s faces, otherwise what’s the point? But eventually I learned that there are many things you can do with this light….

1. Light the talent directly.

This is what I always used to do. The problem is that the light will be very harsh. If there is a good amount of natural light coming in through the window too, that might soften the look enough. If not, slipping a diffusion frame in front of the light will take the edge off the hardness. And it depends which way the talent is facing. If the hard light is backlighting or edging them, the effect might well be beautiful.

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E4, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E4, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Hard side light from an Arri M18 outside the window, combined with a 4x4 kino from a 3/4 angle inside the room

Hard side light from an Arri M18 outside the window, combined with a 4×4 kino from a 3/4 angle inside the room. (The Gong Fu Connection, director: Ted Duran, DP: Neil Oseman)

2. Light part of the talent directly.

This is a nice way to get the best of both worlds. You hit their clothes with the hard light, maybe a bit of their chin too; it creates contrast, brings out the texture in the costume, and adds dynamics because as the talent moves, the edge of the hard light will move around on them. To light the parts which the hard source doesn’t hit you can use bounce, or a kinoflo Window Wrap.

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E4, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E4, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E2, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E2, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

3. Light the floor.

Arrange the light so it hits the floor, creating a skip bounce. Unless the floor’s a very dark colour, the light will bounce back up and light your talent softly from below. While some people are afraid of the “monster” look of lighting from below, it can often produce a very beautiful look. It’s well worth exploring. Alternatively, bounce the hard window light off a wall to create a soft side light.

Manure, director: Michael Polish, DP: M. David Mullen

Manure, director: Michael Polish, DP: M. David Mullen

This photo from the set of Above the Clouds (director: Leon Chambers) shows a white sheet which I laid on the floor to skip-bounce the HMI outside the window.

This photo from the set of Above the Clouds (director: Leon Chambers) shows a white sheet which I laid on the floor to skip-bounce the HMI outside the window.

4. Light the background.

A hot splash of “sunlight” on the background is a common way to add interest to a wide shot. It can show off the production design and the textures in it, or help frame the talent or separate them from the background.

The Crown, S1 E10 “Gloriana”, director: Philip Martin, DP: Ole Bratt Birkeland

The Crown, S1 E10 “Gloriana”, director: Philip Martin, DP: Ole Bratt Birkeland

My Utopia, director: Patrick Moreau, DP: Joyce Tsang

My Utopia, director: Patrick Moreau, DP: Joyce Tsang

5. Light nothing.

Sometimes the most effective way to use a shaft of light through a window is simply as background interest. Volumize the light using smoke, and it creates a nice bit of contrast and production value in the scene. Silhouetting characters in front of the beam can be very effective too.

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E4, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Ren: The Girl with the Mark, S1 E4, director: Kate Madison, DP: Neil Oseman

Big Sur, director: Michael Polish, DP: M. David Mullen

Big Sur, director: Michael Polish, DP: M. David Mullen

Any that I’ve missed? What are your techniques for lighting through windows? Leave your comments below!

This article originated at www.neiloseman.com . 
Check out Neil's other cinematographic articles there.

I'm a director of photography with 18 years' industry experience. My recent feature credits include The Little Mermaid (starring Shirley MacLaine), Heretiks (starring Clare "Hellraiser" Higgins) and additional photography on The Etruscan Smile with Brian Cox. In 2016 I was awarded Best Cinematography at Festigious International Film Festival for my work on the short drama Night Owls. Second only to my love of cinematography is my passion for sharing what I learn, which I do through my blog and my Instagram feed.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *