Sometimes you want the light to be somewhere it just can’t be otherwise you will ruin the shot. Moving a soft light just a hair closer to your subject is a good example and that just straight up doesn’t work when you are doing an ultra-wide take. Now, what you might want to do is just put the light exactly where you want and then afterwards just take a magic eraser and wipe it out of the shot.
You might actually be able to do that yourself with this tutorial from filmmaker Brandon Li. The technique can help you get all sorts of unwanted objects out of the way so you can shoot the exact shot you want and then replace them later.
A great idea that Li dives into is the ability to use a proper video light and then replace it with a practical in the final shot. This lets you get the best quality of lighting and yet benefit from it appearing to come from a source within the scene. This one also looks really easy.
Being a static shot, there isn’t any movement to account for or match up. Li simply took one shot with his Godox LC500R RGB LED Light Stick and then another shot with the lamp in its place. Bringing the clips into Final Cut Pro X you can do an easy split screen.
Draw a rough mask around the area you want to keep and then add a feature for a smooth transition. Add a bit of color correction to make everything match up even better and more believable. You may also need to adjust your mask or the lighting to make it a little better.
One thing to watch out for is reflections. In this shot, a reflection on the other side of the shot shows the Godox light and not the practical.
You’ll want to basically do the same masking technique again with the practical shot just on the other side to make it work. Feathering and opacity adjustments can really help make the effect look smooth.
The next shot Li shows is similar, just swapping out a light, but it adds camera movement. This time there is a window in the background and required a little fill light.
Camera movement was handled by a Syrp Genie II 3-Axis Kit. This fulfilled the need for a perfectly repeatable movement to help the effect match up between multiple takes.
Then, to cheat the position of the camera without using too much gear Li used the Manfrotto FAST GimBoom to get the camera to the right height instead of raising the slide with multiple stands/tripods.
Doing two passes, one with the light and subject and then one with just the background is all you need. Using the same technique as before with masking out the light and person and then replacing with the background shot should work great here. Add some color correction and enjoy your new shot.
Going for something a little more complex, Li shot a wide take of himself working at his desk. As the natural light was super bright he needed to move the UL150 and softbox very close to get the right exposure.
He also wanted the LC500R to act as an accent light in the background. There was movement here as well, so once the different versions were shot he brought them in and did some masking. He also dropped the opacity of the accent lighting to help it look more natural.
Moving on to the next example, Li points out that the most important thing to do is to keep the lights (or anything else you want to mask out) away from overlapping with the actor’s movements.
That will make masking much more difficult. The next take showed how you can do this with massive lighting. In this case with a massive sheet as diffusion, a black reflector for negative fill, and a fill light.
Another trick he shows off here is how you can use multiple exposures to completely change the scene. Exposing for the windows in a different take from the background can help reclaim dynamic range you might normally lose trying to expose for both and allow you to get away with low-powered lights.
Blend modes are your friend here. He uses them to help smooth out transitions and make sure the stacking is effective. In his shot with multiple exposures, he has a basic background shot and then a shot with a key light turned on. The key light shot is much brighter.
By changing the blend mode to Lighten the new key light pass will actually just brighten up the parts of the background pass that were dark relative to the new take. And it does it in a natural-looking way. You can even adjust the opacity to change the actual lighting effect.
Now, he has the window exposure layer where everything is much darker. Obviously, we want the window to be darker to bring back the details, so Li changes the blend mode to Darken. Unfortunately, this makes the entire scene much darker, which makes sense.
To fix this, you’ll want to use the Luma Keyer. By adjusting the keyed you can actually get rid of the darkest parts of the shot. This leaves just the brightest areas and when combined with the darken blend mode you will only impact the brightest areas of the shots below it.
Compared to simply using opacity controls versus blend modes you’ll see that it affects everything uniformly. We want to just change specific areas and blend modes will help you do that. It also gives a lot more control when you add in things like keying.
If you were curious, Li’s kit features a Sony a7 III and he used a TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 Lens or TTArtisan 21mm f/1.5 Lens along with a Black Satin 1 Filter and Hoya Variable ND. He also shot in HLG3 for his picture profile.
This technique can completely change how you light your scenes and allow you to create something even better with the tools you already have. It’s an interesting effect to test out. What are your thoughts on it?
[source: Brandon Li]
- Godox LC500R RGB LED Light Stick (B&H, Amazon)
- Godox UL150 Slient LED Video Light (B&H, Amazon)
- Godox Softbox (B&H, Amazon)
- Syrp Genie II 3-Axis Kit (B&H)
- Manfrotto FAST GimBoom (B&H)
- Sony Alpha a7 III Mirrorless Camera (B&H, Amazon)
- TTArtisan 50mm f/0.95 Lens for Leica M (B&H, Amazon)
- TTArtisan 21mm f/1.5 Lens for Leica M (B&H, Amazon)
- Tiffen 77mm Black Satin 1 Filter (B&H, Amazon)
- Hoya 82mm Variable ND Filter (B&H, Amazon)
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