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Forums Lighting Design How to best light agricultural workers in the field

  • How to best light agricultural workers in the field

     Bob Cole updated 2 years, 11 months ago 4 Members · 10 Posts
  • Bill Sparkes

    February 26, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading various threads here, and researched various lights I could find online.
    Haven’t found what I need so posting here.
    I’m in the process of documenting (video, not still) agricultural workers harvesting various crops in the fields.
    Often their faces are down, or in shadow from various head gear they wear, so hard to see their faces and eyes.
    I am also looking to to do some creative lighting ie back or side-lighting for effect.
    I am looking for strong enough lights (either led or hmi) that would be portable, battery-powered and relatively easy to use. I know there are always new lights coming on the market.
    I am a former professional photojournalist who has switched his skill set to documentaries.
    Good lighting, creative use of shadows etc has always been very important to me.
    If anyone has previous experience in a similar situation I would appreciate your input, advice and recommendations.
    Thank you.

  • Rick Wise

    February 27, 2018 at 12:24 am

    The first thing that comes to my mind is no lights at all, but various large bounced sunlight rigs. If you need some light to lift shadows, 12×12 or 12×20 ultra bounce or the largest gold-silver reflector surface you can find/afford/handle. For edge/rims, shiny boards. These all require skilled crews to handle well. The sun moves constantly. Wind can wreck the look and even the fabric. Always a challenge. Again: get good grip crews!

    Rick Wise
    MFA/BFA Lighting and Camera Instructor Academy of Art University
    San Francisco Bay Area

  • Bill Sparkes

    February 27, 2018 at 1:37 am

    Thanks Rick. Could you provide some links to products mentioned? Also this will be a very small crew 3 at most…may not be able to deal with very large reflectors. If I only want to say backlight 2-3 workers at a time, would something like a battery powered Joker bug 200 work? Or a smalker type reflector? Will a 8×8 scrim jim do the trick?

  • Todd Terry

    February 27, 2018 at 3:28 am

    Rick is right, as he most usually is.

    In an exterior situation like this, reflectors are your friends. Of course you could use lighting intruments, but in an open agricultural field in broad daylight (especially sunlight) you’d need real REAL firepower in order to do anything. We’re talking HMIs, and not little ones either, I’d say at least an 1800 if not a 4K. And that means big heavy expensive instruments and likely a generator.

    There are not any LEDs that are going to have anywhere near enough punch for that kind of use in daylight/sun. Maybe the couple of biggest instruments made by Movofilms and Aadyntech, but that’s about it and those are the only two battery-powerable HMI-equivalent instruments I know of). Unless you can put something like a 4x or 6x LitePanels Astra really close to talent, LEDs are not going to be the way to go.

    You’ll be much better off with bounced light. With a small crew, I’m going to suggest much less than Rick was proposing. For wider shots, I’d probably just go with available light. It’s the closeups that I’d worry about, tighter shots where those shaded-by-the-brims faces are in a dark cave. In those instances you can use much smaller reflectors because you can put them relatively close to the talent. I’d try just a plain white 4×4 bounce card or two, there’s no prettier reflected light than that (and don’t order such from Filmtools or whatever your usual vendor is, because both the pricing and shipping will be killer… just go to a sign shop and have them sell you a blank 4’x8′ sheet of white foamcore and have them cut it in half for you).

    You can get a great deal of illumination from bounced light like that, more than most people would think. But you need to be very judicious with it, because the easiest way to get light onto faces under headgear and from bend-over talent will be to bounce light up at them. That works, just be very careful with it. Bouncing light up at a person’s face is usually not extremely flattering or natural looking, and if you overdue it even a smidge people will start to take on that creepy Boris Karloff look. It’s a fine line.

    As for backlighting, as much as I like backlighting this is probably one of those instances where I’d probably just forgo it, or block shots so that the sun is my backlight. Remember that expecially for exteriors a backlight will need to be quite a bit more powerful than your key light to even read, so it would take an instrument with some real punch. I don’t think a Joker 200 would do much of anything if you have direct sunlight. Maybe a JokerBug 800 with a beamer on it or a 1200w HMI (PAR or fresnel, I personally like fresnels) could help, but you’d still need to be putting it relatively close to talent… and will need to power it.

    I think bounced light is going to be your friend.


    Todd Terry
    Creative Director
    Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

  • Bill Sparkes

    February 27, 2018 at 4:13 am

    Thanks Todd. I appreciate your acknowledgement of Rick and your additional input. Smaller reflectors are probably the way to go as per both your replies. Trick will be to keep moving a reflector along with the workers – depending on the crop they can move along quite quickly. I am familiar with the “Boris Karloff” look from under-lighting, certainly not what I am trying to create.
    I always want to incorporate “art” into my images, usually by careful sturdy of the existing natural light conditions.
    With my background as a professional photojournalist, where one does not interfere with anything, I had to learn to be extremely conscious of light: from where, to where, how much, shadows created etc.
    As I transition into documentaries the use of light is crucial to me.
    I want to use light as an essential element of my storytelling.
    Often, (always) light is everything.
    I am usually a one or two-man-band, for this kind of work low key presence and simplicity is the name of the game. Workers are usually in the fields from 6 am to 3 pm, so in order to avoid that harsh daylight I may be seeing some early mornings. Will be working with wide angle lenses in close proximity.

  • Bob Cole

    March 13, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    SUBTLE bounce.

    Or look at Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” iirc, his answer there was: nothing. Backlight the scene, and let the faces go dark. Of course, it worked with his story.

    Bob C

  • Bill Sparkes

    March 13, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    Thanks for replying Bob.
    Eastwood was in a position to be forgiven for the way he lit “Unforgiven”. Not sure if I will receive the same leniency.
    What I want to capture is the emotion, expression and sweat on the faces.
    Most of the workers wear hats, wrap-around scarves or something else for sun protection, and they look down
    Already a bit of a challenge.

  • Bob Cole

    March 13, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    You don’t know if you’ll be forgiven until you break the rules in the first place. But if you need to see their expressions, you’re right — you’ll need some fill. For a bent-over worker, shot up close, a small white reflector near the ground would probably give you just enough to show the detail without looking “lit.”

    Again a risky choice, but you could go the other way from “Unforgiven.” In backlit CU’s, you could expose for the faces and blow out the background. That might enhance the feeling of heat and alienation. If you shoot in a log format with an extended range, you might still retain enough detail to identify the location.

    What you don’t want, imho, is to “normalize” the lighting with too much fill.

    You don’t say whether you have the cooperation of the workers or the supervisors. You’ll affect their productivity (and income) if you get in their way. Filming this up close is very different from filming at a distance.

    Bob C

  • Bill Sparkes

    March 13, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    I have an extensive background as a Credentialed Professional Photojournalist (still am).
    (I’ve done all this before as a photogrpaher.) See:
    This is a sample of still images I created as a sample of what video would look like for promotional purposes.
    Yes, I get permission.
    No, I don’t affect their productivity or income. I tell them to just ignore me…if they forget that I’m there…perfect.

    Background is somewhat unimportant…it will be mostly the cloudless skies we get in Southern California.

    As per several suggestions, small reflectors are probably the simplest and easiest way to go.
    I can place them where I want, no power required, and adjust them as I move along with the workers.

    I thought there might be some new lights I don’t know about….or a particular technique I’m not aware of.
    In my 60s and still learning…(and thankful I am) 🙂

  • Bob Cole

    March 14, 2018 at 3:56 am

    Nice shots. I don’t think you need any advice about lighting or exposure – or any reflectors or other folderol. I really wouldn’t change a thing about the way you’re shooting. Especially if you add log shooting for the video, you’ve got this!

    Bob C

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