Lighting The Looks

Tales From The Grading Suite – Lighting The Looks

October 20, 2015

When jobs look good you wonder why your own work might not look as good. In this insight Dan shares his thoughts on Lighting The Looks.


One thing all colorists have in common is that we look at every single commercial and music video out there and think why doesn’t my footage look like that?

The truth is that most looks are at least 60% in-camera and our job is to complement the cinematography to get the best pictures possible.

Most of the extreme looks you see have been lit that way and it inspired me to break down some grades and go behind the scenes on lighting the looks.

To give you an idea of how this works I’ve picked two of my favorite grades that are both extremely different and show you behind the scenes of the lighting choices and how I got to the end result.

To prove the theory of lighting being 60% I will also show you two clips that have very similar lighting setups to the projects and how the grades can be achieved in one or two nodes.

My moral of this insight is the hardest part about grading is that we heavily rely on the footage that comes to us to create nice results!

Check out my video below to see more tales from the grading suite.


– Dan

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Homepage Forums Tales From The Grading Suite – Lighting The Looks

  • Fanastic insight! I actually love the “contrasty” grade for the music video, but simply personal preference. I only wish I I could pass this knowledge to DPs and others before I have to advise I cant relight the entire shot to match an reference that has been carefully lit on set. What strategies do you use to “break the news” to a DP /Director that the footage is as it is, and you can only do so much (impossible relight digitally to match the music video for example). I find a lot of clients have unrealistic expectations of what we can do and how long it takes. Thanks Dan!

  • Marc Wielage

    I agree overall with Patrick, except that I think the lighting is 75% of the look. If they don’t give us enough fill, if they don’t provide an eyelight, and/or if they don’t provide a backlight, we’re screwed. Way too often, low-budget projects come in underexposed, and then the clients have inflated expectations as to how much can be changed in post. It’s particularly rough when you get an actor’s face in half-shadow and the client says, “can we lose the shadow?” I often warn them “darker is easy — brighter is hard.”

  • Totally agree about low-budgets and lack of fill-light. A recent job I did, I almost wished they’d not used any key light and just exposed with ambient light rather than having too much key and no fill.

  • VitusSoska

    Great One!
    I would like to see more stuff like this, because I’m working in both worlds. As a Gaffer and as a Colorist and I constanly switching between the two worlds. And as I’m working on that way, I see how much sense a “job-combination” like mine makes, because I realize problems that I run to on set, which influence the colorgrading later and can make confident decisions to solve the problem before the footage comes in to postproduction.

  • Jack Li

    Speaking of the technical issue, the one that you need to do a lot of keying to make color balance between the scene switchover, I simply wonder if you can cut the shot somewhere between the transition so your job is easier?

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