When it comes to lighting a green screen, people tend to forget about the basics. And while there’s a lot of information out there on how to do it properly, most experts don’t cover some of the more straightforward, simple points that all cinematographers should know.
We sat down with LED pioneer and co-founder of Litepanels Pat Grosswendt to get his five best tips for creating the perfect lighting for your green screen!
1. Digital vs. Chroma Green Screen
If you have a choice, try digital green screens. Chroma has a density to it that makes it less reflective, usually causing people to use more light than is needed. On the other hand, digital is highly reflective, so the amount of light that you need should be less. This makes digital green screens easier to work with in the long run. Try the difference and see for yourself!
2. Light Your Talent Before Lighting the Green Screen
Most people go in and light the green screen perfectly even, thinking, “I’m going to light the screen so that it’s an even 5.6 f-stop exposure at the lens.” But once you do that, the real challenge becomes lighting the talent.
To avoid making the scene too bright and contaminating the skin, be sure to light the talent first and then figure out what you need to add to the background green screen. This is especially true if you’re working with digital, which, as we established, is already very reflective to start.
3. Positioning and Simplicity are Key
With lighting, it’s not about how much light you have, but where you put it. We’re in a new cinematic world filled with powerful camera sensors and tricasters that are more sensitive to light than ever before. So in the end, the position of the lighting source – not how much it’s emitting – makes all the difference.
You can see the importance of light positioning with certain genres, such as horror films or thrillers. For those types of films, gaffers often place a small, low-emitting light under the villain’s face, making the facial features sharp and skeletal.
What’s the message here for lighting a green screen? Be selective with your lighting, where you put it, and don’t go overboard on the amount of light you use.
Instead, opt to try a front light right above the camera. This angle is complimentary and will create an even and consistent wash of light that will make pulling a matte much easier. Next, try placing the light at an angle to the talent. This angle will create harsh shadows and will make pulling the matte much less effective.
4. Get to Know Your Camera
As we’ve already mentioned, modern day cameras are more powerful and light sensitive than ever. This means that you won’t need as much lighting to pull off an effective green screen as you would’ve needed with a camera from ten years ago.
You can leverage your camera by learning its capabilities and understanding its limitations. In many cases, just by raising your ISO or its light sensitivity, you can use less light than you might have believed initially. Experiment ahead of time to understand how much light your camera requires pulling a good matte.
5. The Power of the Soft Light
When thinking about using soft light, remember the 3 Fs: flattering, forgiving, and full. These three qualities are the reason why soft light is more versatile than others and why it’s easier to light a green screen with it.
Effective lighting for a green screen requires an even and consistent cast of light. With a soft light like the Litepanels’ new Astra Soft Bi-Color you can get omnidirectional lighting – perfect for getting that even cast for the entire screen.
The Astra Soft has an impressive output rated among the highest of soft LED panels. This higher intensity illuminates a wider area, allowing the panel to compete with strong exterior light sources or illuminate a large area effectively with just a single fixture. These fantastic light output levels combined with various color temperature settings mean there is no need to install expensive fixed color temperature plates.
So in this case, Astra Soft’s ability to light a wider area not only makes it easier to use, it also means you can often use just a single fixture for your lighting. Once you’ve used the Astra Soft to light the green screen effectively, you can add in key lights to help create definition between the talent and the green screen, as needed.