Custom Catch Lights or Eye Lights

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Lighting Exercise: Custom Catchlights

50I’ve always had this thing for unusual catch lights in people eyes, something other than the usual rectangle or dot.  Catchlights, also referred to as eyelights, are generally understood by photographers and videographers to be important; people’s eyes seem a little dead when there’s no light reflected in them. Not coincidentally, the times there’s no light reflected in someone eyes is usually when there isn’t any light source in front of them, so they’re usually a bit backlit or sidelit anyway, which might lead people to feel that the person looks a little gloomy.

Exhibit A: No Catchlight

51Grim selfie with no eyelight

The notion of using customized eyelights to give some sort of special meaning to an image was inspired by something I saw once in a comic book. Somehow through the years I still have the comic book.

Exhibit B: Creepy Eyelight

Kalibos the nasty psychic robot is invading our hero’s brain and stealing the secret he most wants to protect. Kalibos’ eye is sporting a creepy cross as he’s reading Grimjack’s mind
******** MISSING PHOTO ********
52Grimjack having a rough day after having his mind abused
I don’t know what that little cross in the eye meant, if anything, but the image stuck in my head over the years. And much appreciation to Steve Pugh the artist and First Comics.
Anyway, back to the topic.  Catchlights are important in videography and photography.  Why not exercise all the options available and make them extra cool?

Why not have a shape appear in their eye?

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She’s not going to invade your mind, she promises.

Or how about a word?

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Hmm, what’s she like?  Oh right, she’s NICE.  It says so right there on her eyeball.

Or while we’re at it, why not put a company logo on a pretty girl’s eye?

******MISSING PHOTO********
It’s really simple how to do it.  You need a large luminous object and some opaque black material.  I used diffusion marked up with black tape, slid into the front pocket of Airboxes mounted to LED panels. The logo I printed out black on white paper.  This takes a lot of toner, beware. It could be any luminous flat object though.  A 4×4 frame of diffusion with a light behind it would work well, and make custom cutouts out of black tape and blackwrap.  Light your subject from the front using this source with the black cutout, fiddle around with the placement to get the catchlight where you want it, and call it done.
These are the tools I used:
55sheets of 250 in the front pocket of an Airbox Model 126
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Airbox Model 1×1 with a printout of our logo in the front pocket

Remember that words will be reversed in the reflection, just like a mirror.  You have to put the words in so they appear backwards.
Good luck with all your lighting experiments!
Tom Guiney

Laryngitis at a trade show…

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Airboxlights.com At Photo plus, big NYC trade show. Lost my voice! Pretty useless. You know how hard it is to give a sales pitch using gestures only? Fortunately, I had my handy sales video that I could point to.  And my cool Inflate-O-Matic(see below).

Anyway, B & H is doing a show special on Airbox products til the 27th!
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Some redemption codes for you:
1507446759165600
1507446733561900
1507446744501190
At least I have my sales video to speak for me:
https://vimeo.com/60720449
And cool inflate-o-matic to show people they’re inflatable!
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Inflato Video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbdj8GXmopo
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Micro Grip and Lighting Kit

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Sometimes I get this notion like I’ve got all the answers on something, an of course that means I don’t. I got my eyes opened a bit on how small you can go with gear and still be very effecive. This is particularly relevant when you’re working by yourself or with a very small crew. I gaffed a Chrome spot for a dp named Norman Bonney, and he had a whole kit of totally miniaturized gear, optimized for fitting in one vehicle and for taking on airplanes.
Kit was
1 case: 4 LEDs, 2 1×1 panels and two 6″ x1′ panels
4 skinny little 18/3 “stingers”
A bag of slender aluminum stands, of a degree of sturdiness that I had previously dismissed as Mickey-mouse student film stuff. Some stands were 3/8″ studs at the top, some were standard 5/8″ studs.
Portable fold-up flag kit
Collapsible 4×6 westcott scrimjim frames and a duffel bag full of soft goods.
Instead of heavy duveteen, he carried lightweight ripstop nylon
And the grip kit: instead of heavy steel 2 1/2″ steel gobo heads, these tiny little 1 1/2″ grip heads. So this is what your “C-stand” looks like:

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A tiny stand, a tiny head, and a tiny cardi. Slender, but big enough to handle this lightweight collapsible 4x frame on an interior set:

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And all the bags and cases were 49 lbs or less and less than 62″ long, making it all air-travel ready.
I dig it!  I shoot a bunch of little jobs where it’s basically just me, and if everything fit in bags and cases and didn’t weight all that much, that would be just fine with me.
Handy items in my kit as far as extreme portability are the inflatable softboxes I make to go with my LED lights.  They just squish down on top of the lights in the case and add barely any weight or bulk since they’re inflatable. Also handy are these cheesy “Impact” brand light stands that I got a while ago and then regretted because they seemed so flimsy.  They’ve proved really reliable, even if they are lightweight. They work.  When I’m not bringing “any” lights, I bring my two 1×1 panels in their laptop bags and these two lightweight stands and my little briefcase of small LED units and Airbox softboxes.
Trivium: “Impact” is one of B&H’s house brands of gear, along with Pearstone and probably a few others.

Matting a subject into an existing background and matching the light.

It is handy to have some kind of reference for what the light was like in the earlier situation. That is something I didn't have. The closest thing to that I have is the tree on the right side of frame.  Looking at the tree, you can see that there was warm, hardish light falling on it that is kind of sidey or three-quarter backy. It's shadow side is pretty dark, but that's a detail I chose to not imitate as faithfully.

The need to have an accurate reference is why the special effects guys shoot a few frames of a little painted ball and a reflective sphere in the same lighting setup as you just shot the live action.  It shows them what and where the lights were, and how they looked on the subject. The mirrored chrome  phere shows them all the lights, and the painted ball shows them what the direction and quality of light was falling on the talent.

Lacking any reference for the viewer in frame can be handy too, since if you've fudged it a lot, no one will know. In this situation, the tree and the hillside are the only reference points the viewers will have. All the viewer will know is a sense of warm light, coming from a low angle, sidey and backy,  relatively hard. The wash over the grass on the hillside even suggests that the light isn't necessarily that hard.

Since I was lighting a portrait, I chose not to be entirely faithful to the light in the photo.  Hard sidey late-season light  with a deep shadow side might not be the most flattering thing for a holiday portrait.

The studio setup:

When you’re matting the subject of your shoot into a plate of an existing background from another prior shoot, I think what gives away the fakery the most is if the lighting doesn’t match.  I will show you a little homegrown experiment in attempting to make two people shot in a “studio” look like they were lit by the same light as was falling in an earlier outdoor situation.
This is the original situation, a meadow on Martha’s Vineyard.  Much more scenic a background than my living room.

It is handy to have some kind of reference for what the light was like in the earlier situation. That is something I didn't have. The closest thing to that I have is the tree on the right side of frame.  Looking at the tree, you can see that there was warm, hardish light falling on it that is kind of sidey or three-quarter backy. It's shadow side is pretty dark, but that's a detail I chose to not imitate as faithfully. The need to have an accurate reference is why the special effects guys shoot a few frames of a little painted ball and a reflective sphere in the same lighting setup as you just shot the live action.  It shows them what and where the lights were, and how they looked on the subject. The mirrored chrome  phere shows them all the lights, and the painted ball shows them what the direction and quality of light was falling on the talent. Lacking any reference for the viewer in frame can be handy too, since if you've fudged it a lot, no one will know. In this situation, the tree and the hillside are the only reference points the viewers will have. All the viewer will know is a sense of warm light, coming from a low angle, sidey and backy,  relatively hard. The wash over the grass on the hillside even suggests that the light isn't necessarily that hard. Since I was lighting a portrait, I chose not to be entirely faithful to the light in the photo.  Hard sidey late-season light  with a deep shadow side might not be the most flattering thing for a holiday portrait. The studio setup:

It is handy to have some kind of reference for what the light was like in the earlier situation. That is something I didn’t have. The closest thing to that I have is the tree on the right side of frame. Looking at the tree, you can see that there was warm, hardish light falling on it that is kind of sidey or three-quarter backy. It’s shadow side is pretty dark, but that’s a detail I chose to not imitate as faithfully.
The need to have an accurate reference is why the special effects guys shoot a few frames of a little painted ball and a reflective sphere in the same lighting setup as you just shot the live action. It shows them what and where the lights were, and how they looked on the subject. The mirrored chrome phere shows them all the lights, and the painted ball shows them what the direction and quality of light was falling on the talent.
Lacking any reference for the viewer in frame can be handy too, since if you’ve fudged it a lot, no one will know. In this situation, the tree and the hillside are the only reference points the viewers will have. All the viewer will know is a sense of warm light, coming from a low angle, sidey and backy, relatively hard. The wash over the grass on the hillside even suggests that the light isn’t necessarily that hard.
Since I was lighting a portrait, I chose not to be entirely faithful to the light in the photo. Hard sidey late-season light with a deep shadow side might not be the most flattering thing for a holiday portrait. 

The studio setup:2

Not fancy.  A bit awkwardly narrow. But it worked. If we were shooting motion and not stills, it would have to be a greenscreen (not blue because she has blue eyes and I had on a purple shirt) and be pretty evenly lit.  Still are much more forgiving, so a purple bedsheet worked out fine. I used the two kinos at the left rear to make a large wrappy 3/4 back source, 2900 bulbs plus 1/4cto and light grid cloth. The key is a 3' chimera Octaplus with a 1k bulb and 1/2 soft frost over the face. I didn't use the stock diffusion that comes with it, I clipped a layer of half soft frost to it so it wouldn't get too soft,  retaining some of the specular quality of the bare bulb and silver reflector inside.  All the light in the landscape frame is on the hard side, and I didn't want the key light to jump out at the viewer as being overtly different. I had a large 12' black negative fill taking the shadow side way down, killing all the bounce from the whitish wall, but it ended up looking too gloomy and noir, so I ended up furling it out of the way and adding a 1x1 litepanel instead as an eyelight. I chose not to go as hard as the real sun in the picture because I thought I could get away with it and that it would be more flattering on my wife's features. There's no obvious frontlight source in the landscape photo, but all the lit background areas are distant enough from the lens that the viewer really doesn't know what's close to the lens. Perhaps a soft 3/4 front key could even make sense...

Not fancy. A bit awkwardly narrow. But it worked.
If we were shooting motion and not stills, it would have to be a greenscreen (not blue because she has blue eyes and I had on a purple shirt) and be pretty evenly lit. Still are much more forgiving, so a purple bedsheet worked out fine.
I used the two kinos at the left rear to make a large wrappy 3/4 back source, 2900 bulbs plus 1/4cto and light grid cloth. The key is a 3′ chimera Octaplus with a 1k bulb and 1/2 soft frost over the face. I didn’t use the stock diffusion that comes with it, I clipped a layer of half soft frost to it so it wouldn’t get too soft, retaining some of the specular quality of the bare bulb and silver reflector inside. All the light in the landscape frame is on the hard side, and I didn’t want the key light to jump out at the viewer as being overtly different. I had a large 12′ black negative fill taking the shadow side way down, killing all the bounce from the whitish wall, but it ended up looking too gloomy and noir, so I ended up furling it out of the way and adding a 1×1 litepanel instead as an eyelight. I chose not to go as hard as the real sun in the picture because I thought I could get away with it and that it would be more flattering on my wife’s features. There’s no obvious frontlight source in the landscape photo, but all the lit background areas are distant enough from the lens that the viewer really doesn’t know what’s close to the lens. Perhaps a soft 3/4 front key could even make sense…

Here’s the pre-edit photo from the shoot:

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And here’s the final result.

There is a greenish kick on Alex' camera right cheek and neck that comes from the landlord-chosen semi-white wall paint, but I left it in since it seems to work, echoing the yellow-green grass we also see on frame right. The edge on the back of my head and shoulder are consistent with what we see raking across the grass. The key level is a bit brighter than is absolutely believable given where we know the sun is, but hey.  I wanted us to look nice. So how successful is the fakery? Important question is how successful does it need to be for the client's purposes. In this case, the client is me, and the target market is friends, family, and colleagues with whom I want to keep in touch with.  A forgiving bunch, generally. Not one where you get a lot of clients furrowing their brows and reaching out to touch a certain little spot on the monitor.  Knowing where the image is headed gave me the leeway to light it more flatteringly and a little less realistically, and it's important to know how strictly realistic it ought to be. Choose your battles.

There is a greenish kick on Alex’ camera right cheek and neck that comes from the landlord-chosen semi-white wall paint, but I left it in since it seems to work, echoing the yellow-green grass we also see on frame right. The edge on the back of my head and shoulder are consistent with what we see raking across the grass. The key level is a bit brighter than is absolutely believable given where we know the sun is, but hey. I wanted us to look nice.
So how successful is the fakery? Important question is how successful does it need to be for the client’s purposes. In this case, the client is me, and the target market is friends, family, and colleagues with whom I want to keep in touch with. A forgiving bunch, generally. Not one where you get a lot of clients furrowing their brows and reaching out to touch a certain little spot on the monitor. Knowing where the image is headed gave me the leeway to light it more flatteringly and a little less realistically, and it’s important to know how strictly realistic it ought to be. Choose your battles.

Hi-speed shooting, tungsten filaments, and flicker/pulse

Tweeted on the topic of high- fps shooting today.  More info here:

It is commonly understood that when you’re shooting above 120 fps, you can’t use small lights, that a 5k is the smallest light that you can use.  Why? In brief, because a smaller, thinner filament can cool and therefore dim quickly, as the AC voltage cycles up and down 60 times per second on a 60-hz system.  To the eye, and a normal framerate, the very brief dim period of out put in between +120volts and -120volts that happens 60 times each second isn’t visible at all, the same way you can’t see hummingbird wings or helicopter blades.  When you’re shooting extremely high speed, these “brief” dim periods are extremely obvious, and the lights that appear steady to your eye appear to be pulsing in a very odd way.  With larger, thicker filaments, like on a 10k or 20k, it takes a much longer time for the heat and light to dissipate out of the metal, and by the time the filament would be noticeably darker, the voltage has already reached it’s next peak and the brightness of the filament is restored.
Today it was pointed out to me by a DP I’m about to work with that the “nothing under 5k” rule is actually a conservative overcompensation(a little typical of us gaffers and electricians, I think).  I’ve pulled maxibrutes (9 x 1k Par-64 bulbs) off of an order because I heard that we were adding a bit of high speed.  Jim Matlosz (Www.dpmatlosz.com) clearly knows what he’s doing, if you look at his site, and he said, “Yeah, you get away with it sometimes. 1ks?  Yeah. I’ve seen them flicker, and I’ve seen them not. We’ll try it.” But in any case, he firmly asserted that 2k is the safe smallish light, not 5k.
Regular tube-shaped kinos are fine when they’re bright enough, because kino ballasts ramp up the frequency of the current to about 10,000 hz.  Interestingly, the u-shaped kinos like diva lights, parabeams, and vistabeams are problematic sometimes.  That requires further research; I don’t know why they aren’t fine and the straight tubes are.  They must use lower-frequency ballasts.
“Flicker-free” HMIs:- those arent really flicker free.  Their brightness still increases and decreases 60 times per second, but they become “flicker-free” by squaring off the top of the AC sine wave.  The amplitude(height) of the wave is increased, but a filter is applied that cuts off the top of the wave beyond a certain point, which gives you an almost completely flat-topped, steep-sided waveform, almost a true square wave.  This results in seeing the maximum brightness for a relatively longer time out of each cycle and having the transition between brightness peaks be relatively brief.In any case, don’t use flicker free HMIs at a framerate higher than 150 fps. Some people say 120, but that might be just staying on the safe side.

yours
Tom Guiney, gaffer and DP
Airboxlights.com inflatable LED diffusers for Litepanels
twitter lighting tips @airboxlights

Expansion @airboxlights twitter feed of lighting tips, tricks, and opinions

 I’m Tom Guiney, a gaffer, electrician and DP for fourteen years in New York City, and the owner/inventor of Airboxlights.com, your source for ultralight inflatable softboxes/diffusers for Litepanels.

This blog is intended as a co-blog to my twitter feed @airboxlights, where I put lighting tidbits up a few times a week,  sharing my lighting work experience in the world of commercials, on-air promos, reality shows, corporate videos, movies, tv shows, and music videos.
Expansion on recent tweet:
tidbit: Underused light- molebeam beam projector. Powerful defined tungsten beam. Hard model key? window light? like a tungst xenon.

Here’s a link: http://www.mole.com/lighting/beams/tun_beam/tung_beam.html

Have you used them?  They are awesome!  They put out a powerful super-refined beam with very distinct edges.  Useful in some of the same ways a leko is, except for when you need more than 750 watts, the maximum size HPL lamp.  Molebeams come in 2k, 5k, 10k, and 20k.

A molebeam is great when you need something like a shaft of light effect, but you’re in a tungsten lighting situation.  A bit like a xenon, but without a lot of the obvious problems of xenons, like unreliability, the hole in the middle of the beam (on older ones), and being unable to unplug them in a hurry for fear of exploding bulbs.

Also very useful to bounce into a board that’s rigged up and behind the subject. If it’s too much hassle/time/logistical difficulty to actually rig a backlight, you can generally rig up a piece of silver/white beadboard there, with tape if nothing else, and then hit it with a leko or a molebeam, since they  don’t really spill the way a fresnel does and won’t require any gripping to keep spill off of the front of your subject.

Also useful just as tungsten source to use as a bounce source for key/fill/wherever, not rigged; it’s still a 2k/5k/10k/20k.

Useful for creating crisply-defined shadows as well. 

You can always soften a very hard source, but you can’t harden a mushy source.  Try casting a crisp shadow with a kino, tell me how that goes.

yours
Tom Guiney, gaffer and DP
Airboxlights.com inflatable LED diffusers for Litepanels
twitter lighting tips @airboxlights