Film School Friday – What is motivated lighting?

Motivated Lighting Episode Summary

In this episode of Film School Friday Corey and Bill discuss motivated lighting.

Motivated Lighting Episode Notes

In our first episode of Film School Friday, Corey and Bill discuss one of the first lessons every DP should learn and that’s what makes a light motivated. Anybody can throw light around on set and cast a shadow, but it takes a keen eye to make light look natural.

“The reason a light is motivated is because there is motivation behind it. It’s helping to enhance something that is there in the scene. It does not mean making up light sources that don’t exist in the environment.” – Bill Cornelius


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Motivated Lighting Transcript

Corey (00:00):

Welcome to film school Friday, I’m Corey.

Bill (00:09):

I’m bill.

Corey (00:10):

And together we host the InFocus podcast. Film school Friday is our special weekly episode where I get to quiz bill to see how much knowledge he retained from film school. And if he listened to our prior episode or he got to know a lot more about bill you’ll know, he is a uniquely qualified to at least be put on the spot about some of these topics we’re going to talk through. So best of luck to you, bill in this week’s episode, we’re talking about motivated lighting as a total new, but to lighting. If I were to hear motivated lighting, I would think like, are you cuing up this light? Like giving them a pep talk and a motivated before you strike it

Bill (00:47):

Are you given the light of Mark to walk, to or…

Corey (00:51):

I don’t know how you motivate a light? So,uif you could please enlighten us bill.

Bill (00:55):

So the easiest way to talk about motivated lighting is to use an example of, of an actual location or a scene. Let’s say you’re, you’re shooting in a living room of a house. Your basic living room may have some overhead lighting may have some lamps on the table or sunlight or moonlight coming through the windows. Motivated lighting is basically taking that light that is there that exists in that space and enhancing it, or in some cases imitating it to the degree that you can control it for the scene and get the kind of image that you’re looking to get. So a lot of times that involves rigging things underneath lampshades, you know, there’s all, all the fun, little ways you can hide lights within a set and kind of fake, you know, the, the power of the lights that that would otherwise be there. Okay.

Corey (01:52):

Okay. So, so if I, if I got this right, it’s definitely not about a pep talk instead. It’s about like, how do you take the light that exists today that like on camera, we know there’s naturally a light there, but to your point, it’s not, maybe it’s not bright enough that it doesn’t show up well, on camera doesn’t accent, the way we’d want it to. So maybe we have a window like off to the side and you get this nice split lighting potentially, but the sun’s just not powerful enough. So totally blast like a 600 or, you know, an HMI through that window. And now that window would be motivated. Is that, am I hearing that correct?

Bill (02:27):

Yes. And sometimes in the case of the sun, the sun is not at the right angle that you want. And you know, a lot of times you want those shadows of the blinds coming through and you know, something that doesn’t just look like a bright void on the wall. Oh, there’s a window there. Great. and so you want to control the sun a little more that’s when you would, you know, motivate with a HMI or 650, 2K something like that outside the window, angle it the way you want let it strike the scene on the inside the way you want it to, and you get that kind of control and that flexibility, because you know, you can’t move the sun. I mean, you can wait for it, but right. Time is money. Right.

Corey (03:11):

Okay. All right. That makes, that makes a ton of sense. Now, if I think about ideally we’re motivating or we’re enhancing light that exists today. So thinking back through your time as a filmmaker, maybe even back to film school, was there ever a time where maybe that didn’t go quite as planned?

Bill (03:29):

Oh yes. So another thing to understand about motivated lighting, the reason it’s motivated is because it is, there’s a motivation behind it. It’s helping to enhance something that’s there in the scene. Something the audience knows is there or subconsciously expects is there. It does not mean making up light sources that, that don’t naturally exist in the environment unless you’re doing something sci-fi or something strange that lends itself to that.

When I was in film school, young, naive, stupid, just trying to make something look great. I shot a short film where a guy walks into a bathroom and I was like, you know what, you know, what would make the scene look really cool and edgy is if we put a white light below, like looking up at him. And so what did I do? I put what was basically a Kino on the toilet seat facing up and it gave him this kind of sinister, strange aura. And I was like, that looks cool. I didn’t think about the fact that why would her light be coming out of the toilet? But of course my instructor and everybody else in class shamed me for that. Why is there a light coming out of the toilet? And my response was literally it just looks cool.

Corey (04:42):

That that was the best you could do. It looks cool. Now, like this, this a magnificent number two like…

Bill (04:48):

No, I learned quickly on that one.

Corey (04:52):

Okay. well I feel a little more educated now at this point So nice job motivated lighting. I’m perfectly clear now. I look forward to putting that to practice. So keep her motivated, keep it motive. Nice job, all right. So this week I’m going to give you a pass on the pop quiz. Nice job.

Bill (05:12):

Thank you. It’s been a few years, many, many years. Yeah.

Corey (05:15):

That’ll do it for this week’s episode of film school Friday. Please make sure to feed your crew.

Bill (05:19):

Yes, please.

Corey (05:20):

And we’ll, we’ll check in next time. We know you have a lot of podcast options and we appreciate you choosing us. Come back next week to hear me put bill to the test again, check us out And if you liked what you heard today, could you do us a favor and rate our show? Wherever you consume your podcasts, it would help us out a ton.