5 Essential Strategies To Lighting Day Exteriors

(Cinematic Lighting Lesson 12)

Summary: Day exteriors can feel intimidating to light, but it doesn’t have to be. In this video, Ryan shares with you five essential strategies that will set you up for success on all of your day exterior shoots.

Length: 8:54 minutes

Video Lesson

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Interiors are easy, right? We can control and shape the light exactly how we want it. But where do we begin when it come time to controlling the sun? Is it even possible to get great looking footage outside? Fortunately it is. In this video, I’ll share with you the five essential strategies to lighting a day exterior.

Prepping and the Virtual Scout (Strategy 01)

To Prepare Visit Location At Various Time To See How Light Changes (LC112)

The key to shooting day exteriors lies in the pre-production. If you just show up to the shoot hoping to get something magical, you’ll be disappointed. That’s because if you don’t show up prepared, you’ll just be reacting to the situation, rather than controlling it. Remember, the best images are a result of being proactive in your lighting. One solution — something I did back in my earlier years — is to visit the location at various times to see how the light played throughout the day. I would take photos of how the light changed, then would use these as reference when planning out the shots. This habit also will help train your eye to see various aspects of light and how it can dramatically change the mood and look of a location.

Use Features On Google To Scout (LC112)

Unfortunately, these days everyone is rushed to get the project done, so scouting trips often get the axe. Other times accessing the location isn’t possible until the day of the shoot. For these situations the next best alternative is our good friend Google.

Use Google Streetview to Scout Locations (LC112)

Once the location is locked, I’ll use Google Maps and move around the location using street view and 3D view. As I take this “virtual scouting trip,” I’ll look at where the sun is positioned and how it makes the location look. My focus is to see how the location is oriented to the path of the sun, and what features in the space could affect the look. Maybe there is a tall building or tree that will cast a shadow I don’t want.

Google Streetview Has Time Clock Feature (LC112)

There is also another handy little feature I’ll use: the time clock. On street-view, underneath the address, there is a little clock. Clicking that reveals the street-views taken over the years. There are usually enough weather variations in there to see a range of looks, from sunny, to cloudy, to overcast.

Google Earth Has 3D Environment (LC112)

If I want to take my virtual scout even further, I’ll pull up Google Earth. I’ll bring up the location, move into street view, then click on the building icon to go to ground level view. Now for the cool part: I’ll click the sun icon to turn the sun on. From here I can scroll through the day and watch the position of the sun in relation to the location. And if Google has converted it into a 3D environment, I can figure out exact times when the sun will clear buildings or be in the position that I need it to be in. Even if it isn’t a 3D environment, I can still get a rough sense of timing. If that still isn’t specific enough, I can also enter a future date and see where the sun will be on the day we’re filming. It’s pretty impressive what we can do with technology these days.

Now that we have virtually scouted the location and know the path of the sun, let’s look at the best strategies for making the most of our day exteriors...

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Lighting Diagrams

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Tools We Used

How To Cinematically Light A Corporate Video (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 20)
How To Light Quickly (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 19)
Lighting For Extreme Frame Rates (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 21)
12 Crucial Questions Before Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 15)
3 Strategies For Lighting Your Night Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 14)
5 Essential Strategies To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 12)
10 Tips To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 13)
How To Light A Small Commercial (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 23)
Where To Begin Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 18)
6 replies
  1. Brandon_Y_Lee
    Brandon_Y_Lee says:

    Hey Ryan, Great video thank you very much!

    I am curious inparticular with those black floppys you used in this video since they are paired with your DIY frames, did you make those yourself or did you purchase them made already with all the velcro ties and corner straps for the frame? Been needing something exactly like it since I built my own frames. 🙂

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Hey Brandon,

      These pre-made floppies are meant for other frames, but they work on our DIY 1″ square tube frames. The floppies come with elastic on the corners and Velcro along the edges. The Velcro isn’t much help because our tubes are bigger than they can fully reach. But they definitely do the job. I’m not sure of the brand; Ryan bought them years ago. I looked around at various supply stores, but couldn’t find the exact type we use.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      It actually isn’t ARRI, but a knock-off of ARRI from Queenshiny. We bought their 1.2 kW and 575W HMIs over a year ago to see if they were adequate so we could recommend less expensive options to members. These lights work great. (Well, after we fixed the power cord on one and the power switch on the other. Always good to be knowledgeable with electronics in this industry!) We also figured that if the bulbs didn’t produce decent color quality, we could always buy ARRI brand bulbs and use those. So far we haven’t had to.

      Just checked and they are currently only selling the 575W version. Best to buy well ahead of when you need it since it takes a month to ship to the United States since it’s coming from Asia.


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