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Light Glossary

space blanketa camping item, sometimes attached to location walls or ceilings to reflect light. caution: check for flammability.
grip heada clamping and positioning mechanism usually mounted on a century stand. it holds flags, nets, diffusers, and butterflies.
attenuator (optical)a continuously graduated color or neutral-density camera filter used to tame snow, enrich sunsets, and perform absorption magic more subtly than can be done with a graduated filter.
gobo1) a flag; also a disk with a cutout pattern that casts shadows when used in an ellipsoidal spot light.
2) something used to block unwanted or stray light from falling onto the subject. often a reflector (using the black side) can serve a dual purpose and act as a gobo as well.
graduated scrima hard light scrim with a degree of subtlety in modulating the brightness of areas of the subject or scene. a fast fix for subjects burning up as they approach a strong light. see: moving subjects.
space lighta large cylinder containing several broad lights that is hung from ceilings to provide soft top light. a black "skirt" can be lowered to limit spill on surrounding walls. used mostly on features and commercials.
normal lensa lens that, for a specific camera aperture, produces an angle of view approximating that of the human eye, or about 25 degrees. see: angle of view and perspective.
gray carda matte 18% reflectance card used instead of a subject for a reflected light meter reading. tips: exposure corrections for unusually light or dark subjects are the same as for an ilm - not an rlm. angle the card for typical but glare-free light. see: 18% assumption*.
timed printa motion picture workprint that has received timing to compensate for exposure and color variations.
lighting with painta pail of oil paint on a drab location and an ounce of grease paint on a pale face (see: makeup) may work better and faster than painting with light. also, what some artists do on canvas.
practical lighta prop light seen in the shot which can be operated by the talent; sometimes doctored to control brightness, color, or coverage.
apple boxa rectangular wooden box used to support people, props, or equipment at any of three different heights. thinner half-apples offer other options, alone and in stacked combinations.
edge lighta separation light somewhere between a kicker, and a rim light.
close-up (stills)a shot requiring a supplementary lens, bellows, extension tubes, or macro lens to bring the subject into focus.
open-face lighta vague term that seems to refer to a hard light (perhaps others) without a focusing lens, although (safety tip) not necessarily without a protective glass or screen in the front.
hair lightan accent light presumably limited to the top of the head. sometimes only a back light with delusions of grandeur and fancy-colored gels.
par (parabolic aluminized reflector)an automobile headlight-like lamp that is used in special, non-focusing fixtures.
wind machinean excellent way to introduce atmosphere and drama - power and budget permitting.
clothes lightany off-the-face fixture used to lighten dark clothing or emphasize its texture. angle: often from the side or 3/4 back.
accent lightany source from almost any direction which is used in addition to more basic lights to call attention to an object or area - not the lighting.
reflections (unwanted color)avoid large brightly lit areas that will reflect their color onto the subject unless the effect is desired and motivated.
back lightback light separates subject from background, saints from sinners, and one pro from another. angle: toward the lens from above and behind the subject, or above, behind, and slightly to the side of it, high enough to cut lens flare. it is especially helpful for video images that may suffer loss-of-edge contrast. sins: confusing this source withbackground light, and, for motivation purists, using it at all. tip: smoke, steam, and other translucent subjects adore back light of almost any color.
tieing-inconnecting electrical cables directly to a live circuit box, dangerous even for an experienced, licensed electrician; illegal and suicidal for others. quote: deep down in your heart you know that someday you`ll meet face to face with the grim gaffer while you are doing a solo tie-in at a fuse box in some old lady`s damp basement. - tom sadowski [ln]
light surgerydelicate operations performed on subjects to improve faulty or out-of-fashion features using a little light, a little shadow, and a lot of finesse.
base lightdiffuse, overall set illumination intended to keep video electronics quiet. this characterless illumination has been going out of style thanks to improved camera performance and skillful lighting directors - at least on single-camera sets.
moving lights (video/film)effective when justified by the action, baffling most other times. exceptions: diffused sources moving with the talent and camera, outdoors, or where background shadows are not a problem. or when used symbolically.
efpelectronic field production as distinguished from eng video shooting.
heat wavesextreme heat eventually causes some surfaces to radiate "shimmering" waves that are emphasized by long lenses. they decrease definition but in-crease drama - as in lawrence of arabia, brilliantly lit by freddie young.
strobe light (stills)flash used sequentially for edgerton-like effects; otherwise, as ben sobin, among others, reminds us, it should be called electronic flash.
reflectors (to redirect light)flat devices, mostly white, silver, or gold, that redirect the sun`s and other source`s rays. lighting with reflectors is like lighting with lights - except no cables. just cloud and wind worries.
guide number (flash)guide numbers proclaim the light output of electronic flash units more realistically than watt/seconds do, but still ignore such essentials as reflector design. the guide number divided by subject distance represents the theoretical f-stop, but since you spent so much for that meter - exercise it.
discharge lamphid (high intensity discharger) cid (compact indium discharge), csi (compact source iodide), xenon and most importantly for shooting purposes, hmi (hydrargyrum, medium arc-length iodide), are lamps containing special gases under pressure (some high, some low pressure) through which an electric arc is discharged to produce a highly efficient light source. they require a ballast and starter. their color rendering index and hot restrike time vary. lamps may require individual color correction with gels. also see: hmi.
umbrella (for subjects)instant shade for immobile subjects like growing flowers and perspiring ones, like camera crews in the desert. don`t forget a stand, clamp, and weight.
interpretive exposureintervention in the meter-diaphragm-shutter conspiracy in order to achieve a special look such as high-key, low-key and silhouette.
wrap (light)large, close, soft sources tend to envelop small subjects with light that falls off gradually on the curves.
natural lightnature`s illumination: daylight, even on interiors. the term implies that the source is not artificial.
ear-side keyoccasionally the main source lights a model from the camera-side of her face, sometimes from behind her ear which will leave the front of her face in partial shadow. also see: far-side key;* and on-the-nose key.*
fog filterone of many special camera filters that introduce image diffusion, smearing of highlights, and light-ening of dark areas. the "fog," however, neither moves nor increases with distance. for those, use a . . .
sharp (shadows)shadows that have a hard, clean edge. tip: the farther away subjects, snoots, and flags are from a light, and the closer they are to the background, the sharper their shadows will be. the edge of a spot beam produces sharper shadows than the center; the sun, ellipsoidal spot light, and, to a lesser degree, fresnel lights, cast sharp shadows.
day-for-nightsince ours is the art of illusion, it doesn`t have to be night, it only has to look like it. tip: shoot late in the day with the sun, if any, as back light and use little fill; avoid the sky; underexpose 1 or 2 stops; some subtle-blue helps convey the effect. if you want to see the moon, street lights, or store lights in the scene, shoot during late dusk or real night.
speed (your lighting)slower than light. often lighting speed is the critical element in whether you capture the shot, the spirit of the performance or, despite even a dazzlingly successful image, the next job.
snootsnoots are front-of-the-light "tubes" that project a circle of light on a subject or background. they also reduce spill. tip: to turn the circle into an ellipse, decrease the light-background angle.
warming filtersubtracts excess blue or adds sunset-candlelight- like glow to a shot.
flat-light syndromesymptom: pale faces drained of life. cure: modeling.
magic hourthat supremely beautiful time of day (dusk or dawn) when almost everyone would shoot almost everything, if only it lasted longer. tip: use little or no fill, underexpose 1 or 2 stops, "drop" the 85 filter if you like blue or need more exposure.
big nose/small ears syndromethe "comic," and mostly unattractive, appearance of a face shot from extremely close through a wide-angle lens. see: distortion and perspective.
vanity ploythe art of getting vip subjects, by exploiting their insecurity, to "talk you into" one more take long after they said they absolutely had to leave.
flicker (intentional)the attempt to suggest sources such as fire. it is easy to overdo the effect and undermine the reality. one reality: tv sets don`t flicker.
finessing lightthe black art of refining white light by using focusing knobs, barndoors, fancy scrims, butter-flies, gels, and anything handy that won`t melt.
waveform monitorthe box that provides the electronically literate with a beam-by-beam evaluation of the lighting while they set up, but does not, as harry mathias reminds us, replace a trusty light meter.
sync voltagethe camera flash contact voltage at the time it is fired.
separation of planesthe craft of suggesting a non-existent third dimension through the use of lights positioned to emphasize modeling. tips: keep subjects well away from backgrounds; back light, rim light, and background light will usually do the job; so will a good dolly shot. quote: i like to rely on tonal separation rather than just relying on the color to separate it . . . if you can incorporate the right use of color with tonal separation, you get a greater perspective in composition, a greater depth. - billy williams [ml]
flash durationthe discharge time of an electric flash unit which determines its motion-freezing and kelvin (the shorter, the cooler) characteristics.
scattering (of light)the effect an irregular or matte surface has upon incident light - broadly reflecting it.
ambient light1) the general (and often undesirable) illumination surrounding the shooting or projection area; not exactly the same as available light or natural light. tip: use the term to ward off meddling clients, as in "i can`t light it your way because of the ambient light." they are likely to nod sagely.
2) the light in the scene, as opposed to the light provided by the photographer with flash, photofloods, etc.
3) also referred to as available light, is the light that is occurring in the scene without adding any flash or light modifiers. this could be daylight, or man made light such as tungsten or fluorescent bulbs.
speed (lens)the largest stop (smallest number!) a lens can provide. tip: high-speed lenses are great for low-level illumination but limited in terms of depth of field when wide open.
averaging1) the light meter`s arithmetic mean of all the light it "gathers."
2) in light metering, where the light is read from most of the viewfinder frame then averaged to yield an overall, standard exposure for the scene. this setup works fine in normal lighting conditions, but may need some additional input when light is flat or contrasty.
stand-inthe look-alike who stands in for the principal actor/actress during lighting sessions and, rarely, during blocking. not a double.
no problem locationthe producer`s term for a location he couldn`t afford to have you scout. too often synonymous with a no-amps, no-access, no-cooperation location.
exposure latitude1) the range, above or below optimum exposure, within which a given film can reproduce acceptable results. negative films have the widest latitude for decent exposure.
2) the range of exposures in which a satisfactory image will be produced on a particular type of film or sensor.
slow motion (video and film)the stretching of real time for technical or lyrical reasons. see: frame rate.
focus (camera)to adjust the distance setting on a lens or let an automatic focus device do it for you.
stop downto reduce the size of the diaphragm in order to decrease exposure or increase depth of field. the opposite of open up.
film lookvarious claims by video manufacturers and pros that their tape images resemble film quality.
time lapse (film)when a very slow frame rate is used, flowers appear to open in seconds and buildings seem to be constructed in minutes. tip: since time-lapse shots may span hours, days, or even months, unchang-ing or gradually changing lighting is important. systems for reducing or killing the light between frames should be considered. another requirement: careful calculation of exposure (slow shutter speeds mean low levels of light) and tests so there won`t be unpleasant surprises at the end of a three-week shot.
seamless paperwide rolls of background paper used to make sweeps. these add background color and create limbo.
over-kill fillwishy-washy lighting as a result of the tendency to play it safe in the contrast and lighting ratio departments. also see: flat light.