Black, White, Yellow…  No Matter

by Walter Graff


A lot of people tell me how difficult it is to light darker complexions. When I ask what the problem with lighting them was, they say they didn’t have enough light, the background was too dark or light, the talents skin absorbed light, and a bunch of other explanations that I frankly think are ridiculous.  I don’t care what color a person is; to me, it’s not about anything but getting the job done with what you have at hand. When it comes to darker skin I don’t think you need more light, any special kind of light, or anything else for that matter, other than what you’ve always used.

I recently was asked to produce a piece for Reebok. We were to shoot Kenyon Martin of the New Jersey Nets at the Nets’ training facility after a practice. The options for places to shoot the interview were slim.  The choices were the loading dock (no, I’m not kidding) or a small guest locker room. Guess which one I choose?

As soon as we walked into the locker room I knew we would have some audio issues. The room was completely lined with ceramic tile and contained a large shower area, resulting in acoustics like a wine cellar, not  a place you should be doing a TV

interview in. But when this is your best option you make it work.

It is standard practice to use two microphones on an interview: a boom and a lavaliere. One of those two will get the audio better than the other. In this case we knew the “directionalness” of the boom would be the better choice but we still recorded with a lav.  I did not have any sound blankets in the truck or I would have placed a blanket or two on the floor in front of the talent, which cuts out a bit of reverberation in the room.  In this business, you don’t always have everything you need so you make it work as best as you can.

As this was a sports interview, there was something about that hollow room sound that in my mind was more acceptable here than if the CEO of a company were on camera.  Sports seem to allow you to do things slightly differently, even in audio.

But back to lighting.  You may have seen me discuss situations such as this before, and I want to say I am not doing it again because I am lazy. I am doing it because it’s the simplest lesson in lighting, yet one that must be understood without question if you are to improve at the craft. 

What I like about this set-up is that it allows me to show how to use lights without too many extras. Walls become my friend, as does the locker, which is a lot easier to place a back light on than a stand. And as you’ll see, in this case the lights do double duty, which means I use fewer fixtures and get more out of what I use. First let’s look at the plot.

I start with a key light consisting of a 600 watt Omni aimed into a 38 inch flex fill on the other side of the talent (Below).

I do this because normally I can let the spill from the omni act as a fill light, so I only need one light to do two jobs. But in this case, the spill isn’t enough. So I simply attach a 200 watt pro light to the same stand as the Omni and aim it into the adjacent wall giving me enough spill to pick up the fill side. (Below).

When it comes to back lights and sports players in their sports garb, I always like lots of reflections. It just seems more edgy. I guess I look at it as the sweat a player has in our imaginations because when they are wearing a sweat band or a uniform they could easily be sweating and it would be perfectly acceptable. Whereas make-up covers up reflections, my use of backlights here creates a natural looking sheen.

 In this case, I don’t only use a backlight with the 100-watt pepper mounted on a 6-inch plate placed on top of the locker (below).


I also want lots of flares and rims of light as if some great stadium light is behind my talent, so I use another fixture to do that while it does something else too. My background is a set of blue lockers. They are unique, but they need a bit of ‘texture’. So I use my handy ‘cookie’ cutout with that light to make a bit of lighting texture on the lockers (Below).

Notice that with two lights, I got four nice hits of light on my talent and at the same time lit the background (below). There was a time when I probably would have set up more lights to do the same effect, but as I get older I realize how to use less to make more. In the end it saves me set-up and strike time.

A lot of people ask me why I don’t use light boxes for my key lights. I used to when they first came out (I was actually a beta tester for some of the first ones on the market) but I have to say nothing beats the quality of photons that are bouncing all over the place as they do with a specular bounce like a flex fill, or a bead board, or even a wall. Look at the close-up below and notice how even the key light is on the talent’s face. It’s pure magic! With a light box it would have been less even and harsher. Long live the bounce!

Copyright 2013 by Walter Graff. This article may be circulated and shared as long as the following reference is made: 'This article appears courtesy of Walter Graff-'

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