Lighting. Back or rim light part 4


In my last article, I discussed modelling of the ‘talent’ by choice of lamp, and careful choice of the horizontal and vertical angle of the ‘key’ light. Having made those choices my next priority would be to choose a ‘back’ light. It is also sometimes known as a ‘hair’ light which gives a pretty good clue as to its function.

Just to say that we are still talking ‘Black box’ lighting where you have full control. Dealing with windows and other annoying real world stuff will come later.

Essentially it has two main functions:

1) To enhance the 'solidity' of the picture, making up for the lack of the third dimension in a TV screen by highlighting the hair and shoulders and giving some apparent ‘depth’ to your images.
2) To reveal texture in the surfaces that it glances.

Having said that, although usually desirable, it’s not essential. If a bald head or white hair causes nuclear burn out in your highlights just switch it off.

The angle of elevation of the backlight can be steeper than the key light; up to about 60 degrees. If you go too steep, you are in danger of getting a 'negative penguin' effect on a seated artist. This is when the shadow of the head forms a dark shadow on an otherwise brightly lit chest. (Also known as a 'bib')

This can also result if a person sits well back in a sofa or chair, which has a low back. (I’m thinking Daytime Chat shows.) The type of seating should be ‘clocked’ at the time of focusing because although the designer is not likely to be able (or willing) to change it, it is probably worth pointing out to him/her of the lighting problem that results from such seating.

If you go too shallow, there is the danger of a flare in the camera lens or even the lamp getting in shot! Remember also that the angle is a combination of the height of the lamp and the distance between the person being lit and the lamp position. Bear this in mind when setting up. Generally speaking, the backlight can be a lower power lamp than the key as it is likely to be physically closer to the subject and can be ‘spotted’ to some extent.

If the subjects are likely to remain seated, a small lamp such as a Dedolight can be used. Small lamps have the advantage of requiring smaller, lighter stands/clamps or magic arms.

Which brings us onto the practicalities of getting your lamp in the ‘right place’. Whereas the key light is going to be out of shot (in a single camera shoot) your back light is likely to be on the edge of your shot on some kind of ‘sky hook’.

I would say that usually, a backlight should always be ‘back’ with respect to the
camera. That is to say that lamp, artist and camera should normally be in a straight line. There are differing opinions on this as on other aspects of lighting, but I believe it makes a good starting position. If the lamp moves too far round to the side or if the head turns slightly there is a danger of the backlight catching the tip of the nose. This is most unattractive and distracting.

If the backlight is off axis, it will no longer give a symmetrical effect; separation from the background will be limited to one side of the lit person.

Two backlights, slightly separated, can be better than one when used for someone with long hair. This however has the snag of throwing two forward going shadows on the floor or desk which would be distracting in a wide shot as well as taking longer to rig. It’s also an extra lamp that has to be carried and rigged!


The Kicker

An alternative to backlight is to use a kicker, which essentially is a lamp at head height, which is set to glance down the side of the face on the side shadowed by the keylight. This is a technique much used in the world of film. (To great effect in my opinion)
The advantage of using a kicker is that you can light a person with just two lamps as the ‘kick’ down the shadow side of the face effectively fills the shadows as well as rim
lighting the person.
It gives quite a ‘dramatic’ look to the face which clearly needs to be appropriate to the nature of the item. It also has the advantage of not needing to have its stand or support to be hidden. It can stand just out of shot. Careful adjustment of the barn doors is essential to avoid causing a flare.


In summary
Remember that a backlight is not essential. If a lamp is dimmed right down, the colour temperature goes very low and this will look quite odd and unattractive on a bald persons head. That’s the time to ‘bite the bullet’ and just fade it out. Just because you have rigged and focussed a lamp does not mean that you are obliged to use it. Always let your eyes (via the camera) be the judge.

When focussing a backlight (or any other lamp for that matter) set the barn doors carefully and adjust them so that they are localised to the area that need to be lit. There is absolutely no advantage to allowing ‘spill’ light to go everywhere. Indeed, in a situation where you have many lamps focussed in a studio, you can be sure that spill light will cause problems. Generally speaking I say: “One lamp, one job.”

Individual backlights are nearly always better for a panel of two or three people rather than one lamp covering all. That is certainly the case for individuals that are likely to be seen in close up. Often you will have little time to ‘tweak’ once your interviewees are sat in front of camera so make it easier on yourself by having the option to dim your backlights with in line dimmers rather than having to clip bits of ND (Neutral Density filter) on individual lamps.

Neither is it necessary to let the back light go all the way down to the floor, especially on a seated person. I would just set the barn doors to light the upper half of the body, maybe even head and shoulders on occasions. This has the advantage of ‘cleaning up’ the floor of conflicting shadows from all the light sources.

Although my studio training discipline always has me starting with a lamp in ‘fully flooded’ mode (for evenness of the field of light), I would certainly not be too worried about using a small amount of ‘spot’ if I needed more intensity for a backlight or kicker.


The Fill, or Contrast Control Light

The Fill' Light has two main functions:

  • To provide contrast control so that the pictures are within the technical limitations of the T.V. system. (Whilst the eye can accommodate a contrast range of in excess of 1000:1, Television pictures need to be 40:1 or less)

  • To control the 'mood' of the pictures according to artistic requirements. More fill light produces, curiously, a 'High Key' picture which has nothing to do with the angle of the Key light, it actually means a picture with a low overall contrast ratio. Conversely, a 'low key' picture has little fill light and is therefore quite contrasty.

Choice of kit

Soft lights by definition will always be bigger than hard sources, simply because they need to be a wide source of light which is not in itself likely to cause extra shadows. Videssence or kinoflow type units use specially coated fluorescent tubes to give light of a particular colour temperature. They use little power (important on location) and provide soft fill light to lighten the shadows that the key light produces.

LED soft lights are the new kids on the block, they are also good on power usage. ROSCO Lighting, for example, make the impressive ‘litepad’ which I have used recently. They are much more compact than fluorescent features and are available in numerous sizes and shapes but are only at 6000K at the time of writing. However, do check out the colour rendering index (CRI) of non incandescent sources as they do not always reproduce colour accurately. The nearer the value of CRI to 100 the better. LED sources are getting better but there’s still a way to go.


When lighting a single person, I find it helpful to think of light them in a natural way simulating daylight. Having established the key (sun) light, which is a hard source, contrast control should normally be a soft source (skylight). There are, of course, exceptions to which I will refer later. Aren’t there always?

My own personal preference is for the soft, fill light to be at about 90 degrees to the angle of the keylight. (as above) In this position, it just fills in the shadow area of the face and does not interfere with the intensity of the keylight. If you fill from near the camera lens position it will add to the key light intensity as well as filling the dark areas. Important to note that the perceived softness of a light source is very much a function of the distance from the source to the subject.

Put another way, a small light source the size of an A4 sheet of paper 1 metre away from the subject is similar in apparent size to a piece of expanded polystyrene sheet 2 metres by 1 metre at 4 metres distant! I know which I’d rather light if I was a cameraman shooting a piece to camera. Remember one of the most important but least often remembered rules of lighting, the area that is not seen on camera is all yours! If the lens doesn’t see it you can put a light source there.

Now I did indicate earlier that fill light does not have to be from a soft source. The problem with soft light sources is that because they are tend to be physically large in order to produce light that doesn’t give shadows and that there are no barn doors, the light does tend to go everywhere and not just where you want it. This might not be a problem if you are lighting one person in isolation against black drapes, but it certainly is an issue if you are lighting a one plus three in a crowded news studio.

In this article I have discussed the three main elements of Portrait lighting individually but also hinted at how they interact. One mans keylight is another mans backlight in certain situations! Next time I propose to look at variations of Portrait lighting and how to cope with them in more detail. Portrait lighting is just one module of the huge gamut of lighting scenarios for TV, but it is arguably the most important element that you need to grasp.

There was once a ministerial interview on a certain late evening Current Affairs programme in which the lighting of the minister was pretty dire; eyes in deep shade and a lack of contrast control on a very severely lit face. When the opposition were invited to an interview on the same programme a couple of days later, they brought along their own lighting person. This is not anecdotal; it was actually reported in the national press. So beware, bad lighting is noticed and is not good for your career!




Tags: lighting | expert | rim light | back light | iss028 | kicker light | fill light | contrast light | soft light | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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Contributing Author Phil Vinter Click to read or download PDF
Security, Identity and Privacy
Bruce Devlin - new Put your hand up if you have more than one online-identity. Keep your hand up if the adverts for your latest online purchase follow you between identities as you surf the web. You can now let your hand fall into your lap because adverts that follow you indicate algorithms that have merged your multiple identities into the one and only you.
Tags: iss131 | class | Security | Identity | Privacy | gdpr | Bruce Devlin - new
Contributing Author Bruce Devlin - new Click to read or download PDF
Opting In or Opting Out
Peter Savage 2 Peter Savage, CEO of Azule, explains whether you should opt in or opt out of the current red tape nightmare facing businesses large and small.
Tags: iss131 | azule | gdpr | consent | Peter Savage 2
Contributing Author Peter Savage 2 Click to read or download PDF
Moving to an IP Platform Considerations
Stephen Brownsill Audio transport methods have remained virtually unchanged in the broadcast industry for more than half a century. Common approaches to routing audio around large broadcast facilities have closely followed methodology employed in telco central offices, with the use of X-Y crossbar or crosspoint switching.
Tags: iss131 | ip | smpte | st2110 | Stephen Brownsill
Contributing Author Stephen Brownsill Click to read or download PDF
How to shoot the perfect lighting mix
Alan Ipakchian Advances in high-quality LED lighting over the past couple of decades might be one of the best things that’s ever happened to broadcast and cinema production. Compared to traditional tungsten fixtures, LED lights offer powerful operational and financial benefits from longer life and lower energy bills to brighter, more consistent light and greater control over color temperature. LEDs generate much lower heat and are relatively cool to the touch, meaning they can be used in much smaller rooms and studios without sweating out the talent and crew or damaging property. Plus, compared to traditional tungsten bulbs, LED lights are virtually maintenance-free and can deliver tens of thousands of hours of lamp life.
Tags: iss131 | litepanels | led | lighting | 2 person interview lighting | Alan Ipakchian
Contributing Author Alan Ipakchian Click to read or download PDF
Broadcasting Indoor Sky Diving
Daniel Harker Barnes When you say you’re broadcasting skydiving, there are two types of reactions. One is the creative, who’ll say something along the lines of “Wow. Those shots must look great” and other is the engineer who’ll say “That must be a real hassle to get all the infrastructure in and secure.”
Tags: iss131 | sky diving | ally adams | roaming camera | Daniel Harker Barnes
Contributing Author Daniel Harker Barnes Click to read or download PDF
TVFutures : Bouncing Back
Jane Lawrance When I arrived at the University of Portsmouth three years ago, I would never have thought in my wildest dreams I would end up where I am now. My time at university has been eye opening, informative and fun. Of all the lessons I have learned in the past three years, resilience is the one that has taught me the most. Starting out in the television industry is hard. Like many others, I’ve applied for graduate job after graduate job and been pipped to the post and rejected many times. I have also started projects and been faced with a variety of unexpected setbacks. Yet, my drive to enter this industry remains just as strong because bouncing back is the joy of resilience.
Tags: iss131 | portsmouth uni | graduate | job | Jane Lawrance
Contributing Author Jane Lawrance Click to read or download PDF
NAB is all about people
John Smith -new The relative success of NAB is down to people. The individuals we meet, the relationships we make and renew with customers and the desire to work together to develop a technology solution to any given challenge.
Tags: iss130 | media links | nab | mdp 3020 | md8000 | John Smith -new
Contributing Author John Smith -new Click to read or download PDF
TV Futures, Tales on Location
Georgia Thirtle If I think back to last May, I was just finishing my second year at the University of Portsmouth, studying Television and Broadcasting, and winding down for the summer. Then out of the blue I got a message from my course leader, saying I might be getting a call from someone who was a location manager working for Raider productions, you know, the production company behind the upcoming Tomb Raider film, I mean, what!?
Tags: iss130 | portsmouth university | tomb raider | cci tv | ccitv | Georgia Thirtle
Contributing Author Georgia Thirtle Click to read or download PDF
Transforming asset management and monetization
Chad Hamilton FremantleMedia is one of the largest global television-production companies in the world — with one of the biggest and most valuable catalogs. We operate in 36 markets, creating, producing, and distributing content across traditional TV and digital platforms at a rate of more than 10,000 hours of programming per year.
Tags: iss130 | freemantlemedia | core | wazee | Chad Hamilton
Contributing Author Chad Hamilton Click to read or download PDF
Tried and tested: DPA d:vice
KitPlus KitPlus recently took delivery of an interesting piece of equipment for review. We like our iPhone gadgets here. For us, useful iPhone gadgets started when the Olloclip lens gave us a wide angle adaptor. This was a good start, finally evolving into a proper tool when Ziess produced the Exolens system for the 5,6 & 7 series iPhones. Around the same time as the Olloclip came out we were testing the Fostex AR4i which was a very exciting development at the time. You have a portable device, that you carry everywhere with you, connected to the world but with very limited audio capabilities. A stereo interface with decent microphones was a real boon!
Tags: iss130 | dpa | dvice | iphone | journalist mic | filmic | ios | microdot | KitPlus
Contributing Author KitPlus Click to read or download PDF
Grand slam IPTV and digital signage platform
Joe Walsh Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, is home to major league baseball’s Kansas City Royals. Built in 1973, “The K” has a proud baseball legacy, and goes down in history for winning two World Series championship titles; one in 1985 and another in 2015 — exactly 20 years apart. The most recent win brought a resurgence of baseball fever to the stadium, hosting more than 2.7 million fans during its 2015 winning season.
Tags: iss130 | iptv | vitec | eztv | Joe Walsh
Contributing Author Joe Walsh Click to read or download PDF
The shining star of Dancing On Ice
Rod Aaron Gammons Lighting is an incredibly important part of any TV production, and it can make a huge difference to what is seen on-screen. If the right lights are used in the right way, it can create a mood, set a tone and convey a certain atmosphere.
Tags: iss130 | rotolight | led lighting | anova pro 2 | chris yacoubian | Rod Aaron Gammons
Contributing Author Rod Aaron Gammons Click to read or download PDF
VR and the importance of tracking
KitPlus I would like to begin this article by clarifying what we at Shotoku mean when we talk about VR in live production. It’s not the production of immersive, 360 content where you need to wear a headset; we are talking about virtual studio (VS) and augmented reality (AR) work, such as placing graphics into a green screen environment or physical set. The technology used for this work is entirely different, though equally specialist – therefore it is important to understand the challenges of this kind of production in order to make informed kit choices.
Tags: iss130 | shotoku | vr | live production | KitPlus
Contributing Author KitPlus Click to read or download PDF
Technological advances in the broadcast industry
Alan Wheable Since it is Omnitek’s 20th anniversary this year, I thought it would be interesting to look back over the technological advances in the broadcast industry over the last few decades and look at the similarities between then and now.
Tags: iss130 | omnitek | test and measurement | smpte 2110 | untra tq | 2022 | sdi 2022-6 | Alan Wheable
Contributing Author Alan Wheable Click to read or download PDF
Out of the box: Sennheiser Ambeo VR microphone
Jon Pratchett 2 The use of 360 video, especially on platforms like Facebook and YouTube is really starting to take off. Gone are the days when you needed to buy multiple GoPros and rigs in order to get something decent looking. Now players like Insta360 and even GoPro with their fusion 360 camera are providing single camera, high quality solutions, enabling the masses to put out reasonable quality, certainly watchable, 360 video.
Tags: iss130 | vr | virtual reality | audio | ambiosonic | Jon Pratchett 2
Contributing Author Jon Pratchett 2 Click to read or download PDF
Six steps for award winning sound design with Jungle Studios
Chris Turner Few can argue that great sound design is one of the most important elements to any moving picture. Mute most horrors, and the difference in fear factor will be enormous. Visualize Jaws or Star Wars, and John Williams’s iconic score will instantly come to mind.
Tags: iss130 | jungle studios | fairlight | blackmagic design | davinci | Chris Turner
Contributing Author Chris Turner Click to read or download PDF
How IP-based KVM can improve workflow in broadcast control rooms
John Halksworth One of the most significant shifts the broadcast industry has seen over recent years is the adoption of IP technology as a standard infrastructure across the entire broadcast workflow. IP provides a network suitable for routing audio, video and control around a broadcast facility and is providing the answers to many industry challenges.
Tags: iss130 | kvm | adder | adderlink | alif100t | John Halksworth
Contributing Author John Halksworth Click to read or download PDF
Interview with Peter Rowsell, Polar Graphics
Polar If you don’t recognise the name Peter Rowsell instantly you no doubt would recognise him in person, from the famous ‘Pink Coconut’ parties during IBC (Brighton) in the 80s or the name ‘Polar Video or Polar Graphics’ both companies which he’s built up over the years.
Tags: iss130 | polar graphics | apantac | bluefish | cinedeck | focalpoint | mediaproxy | stardom | storagedna | Polar
Contributing Author Polar Click to read or download PDF
State of the Nation
Dick Hobbs - new

On the most recent occasion I was trimmed, my hairdresser had just returned from a holiday in Hawaii.

Where she thought she was going to die. She thought this because the state’s emergency alert system was triggered, sending messages across all available platforms, for 38 minutes, that a ballistic missile was about to strike. That, I suspect, is the sort of thing that casts a pall across your holiday.

Why did it happen? Essentially it happened because an operator selected the wrong menu item. “I feel very badly from what’s happened,” he is quoted as saying, in a somewhat mangled version of English which may at least in part explain his difficulties with menu items.

Tags: iss130 | alertsense | Dick Hobbs - new
Contributing Author Dick Hobbs - new Click to read or download PDF
Reliable back-up at the Music City Bowl
Sam Gordon WLEX – LEX18 – is the NBC affiliate in Lexington, Kentucky, and part of the Cordillera Communications Group. As a very popular local station with a broadcast area that covers 40 counties across central Kentucky we have a big commitment to news, broadcasting more than seven hours of live programming on a typical day.
Tags: iss130 | wlex-tv | dejero | engo | gobox | cellsat | Sam Gordon
Contributing Author Sam Gordon Click to read or download PDF
Why OTT needs multicast ABR
Damien Lucas Last year, Netflix’s global revenue reached $11 billion, with 24 million new names added to its subscribers’ list. Viewers are certainly making their preferences heard – and voting with their remote controls to show that over-the-top (OTT) content is here to stay.
Tags: iss130 | ott | abr | adaptive bit rate | cdn | dsl | lte | Damien Lucas
Contributing Author Damien Lucas Click to read or download PDF
Taking the lead in the HEVC and 4k revolution
Malcolm Harland There’s probably a good reason that BVE is held in late February — it offers you a few weeks to set your annual plans in place. Then, once you’ve decided on the opportunities you want to take advantage of and improvements you want to make, you have a chance to visit this massive exhibition to see the latest technological innovations that will help to bring your plans to fruition.
Tags: iss129 | garland | hevc | liveu | hc11000 | media excel | ntt | bws | lu600 | Malcolm Harland
Contributing Author Malcolm Harland Click to read