Replicating the evening light indoors, with a low budget and just one light, provides several challenges. Let’s look at how we can overcome them.
I love to film in the evening. Whether it’s music videos or short films, there’s no time of day I enjoy more. From the even, soft light to the golden haze, it adds a sense of production value to low-budget productions that you just don’t find at midday or at night. However, replicating this light indoors provides several challenges, so let’s look at how to overcome them.
As I preface at the start of every tutorial writeup, the information is served better by watching the video due to visual examples. But, you can find the written transcript beneath to catch up on notes.
Let’s start with the three characteristics define evening light — color, direction, and intensity.
Evening light is typified by its golden hue. The reason why we have golden hour is due to the position of the sun and the density of our atmosphere. When the sun is highest in the sky (midday to late afternoon), there’s very little interference from our atmosphere. So, all spectrums of light disperse equally, presenting what we’d consider as white light.
However, just after sunset or just before sunrise, the sun is just about level to the horizon, and the light has to travel through many miles of dense atmosphere. The blue and violet frequencies scatter easiest in the atmosphere, leaving more red, yellow, and orange to pass through, which gives the light a beautiful, warm, golden glow.
Light spectrums are dependent on color temperature. Image via Sompoch Tangthai.
At sunset, the color temperature of the sun sits around 3500K, which is close to the type of color temperature you’d get from a tungsten light.
So, there are two things we can do to replicate golden hour light. Either use a tungsten light, or put CTO gel over a daylight-balanced light to lower the color temperature. However, this specific temperature is dialed-in for a golden hour, so you may need to play around with CTO gels of different strengths, or even change the camera’s white balance to obtain the light from 7 PM as opposed to 9 PM.
This is just one element of creating evening light. Another aspect is how you direct the light. Typically, if we want to emulate daylight inside, for the most part we’d be looking to bounce some light into a scene to create soft, ambient light. Or if on stage, we would use diffused overhead lighting.
With the sun directly overhead, there are very few shadows to contend with. Image via PlusONE.
With the sun directly overhead, we’re not going to see much directional light coming through the windows. Therefore, not a lot of shadows or low contrast.
With evening light, it’s a little different. To show the visual example, you’ll need to refer to the video tutorial. There I demonstrate the change in light direction through preview software called Cinetracer.
However, we come to the grand problem of no-budget and low-budget filmmaking. How do we replicate the large light source of the sun with something small like an entry-level Fresnel or an Aputure 120D? They’re bright because they’re hard lights (meaning they come from a small source), but they’re going to create hard contrast over a small area. We can diffuse them, but once we start to diffuse a small source, the light falloff isn’t going to be that great. At least, not in the way the evening sun would still power through a location. So, the answer to replacing it? You don’t!
If you ever see any behind-the-scenes material of films emulating sunlight coming in from a window, you will find several large lights on condor cranes. With such a large source, you can replicate the softness of the evening light, but also emit enough of it to cause those elongated shadows like the sun.
Large cinema lights on condor cranes help replicate natural light. Image via Konstantin Roovere.
Therefore, as low-budget filmmakers, I implore you not to try and illuminate the scene. Instead, add a splash of golden light to the scene, as if filtered in through the window.
Before the golden light is added.
After the golden light is added.
Likewise, we know the setting sun casts long shadows, so bring your actor close to the window, and have the light angled where the blinds or nets will cast shadows. While the sun may come through the window midday, often it’s just going to land close to your feet and not your face.
Move the actor into the light source.
While it’s not impossible to replicate evening light with a single, entry-level light, you want to look at using it to add a splash of golden light, as opposed to trying to light the entire room with it.
Make sure the light is warmer than your composition’s white balance. 3500K is great for the golden hour, and evening light will typically fall from 5000-3500K.Make sure to position the light at an angle relative to the time of day. More than 90 but less than 180 degrees. Add a touch of warm light to suggest it is evening, instead of trying to illuminate the entire scene. Without several large light sources, it’s not going to look great.
Find more lighting tips here:
Top 10 DIY Lighting Rig Tutorials to Light Up Your SetCinematography Tips: How to Use Additive and Reductive LightingSetting up Lighting for YouTube: The Beginner’s GuideColor Temperature and 3 Point Lighting BasicsCinematography Tips: 10 Things Beginners Need to Know About Lighting
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