The Challenge of Lighting White on White

Lighting a white cyc wall can be challenging enough, but lighting a white world on a white cyc wall can be VERY difficult. I recently lit, shot, edited and colored a commercial where I had to do just that. I have lots of experience lighting white cyc’s but I haven’t had to light white on white very often. I also didn’t have my usual access to Spacelites which led me to improvise a little.

Oh, there was also another wrench thrown in the spokes…the product we were highlighting was a fine mist spray-on lotion. White on white, with dimension on my talent and a fine mist spray that we needed to clearly see…oh boy. Here is the spot:

Production Company: VMG/Studio 520 | Bellevue, WA

Here’s how it went down:

Camera Selection:

The first thing I wanted to iron out was camera selection and I knew right out of the gate I wanted dynamic range and resolution. My number one choice for dynamic range (Alexa) was outside of the budget so I opted for RED. Any flavor of RED MX would have been fine however because of the fine mist spray we needed to capture, I felt the need to over crank to try and get as much detail as possible when the mist shot out of the can, so I went with an Epic. The lenses I went with were Zeiss CP.2′s  because I’m really partial to these lenses. I think they perform great mechanically and they are pretty sharp especially for the price not to mention they are also so damn versatile.

I shot the closeups on a 135mm (since it was a beauty spot I always like the way it compresses facial features) a 50mm for the MS’s and a couple shots were on a 28mm.

Frame Rate was 23.98 for the majority of the spot. The spray shots and the product shots were captured at 100fps.

Lighting Choices:

After some thought, the direction I decided to take was to almost blow out the background with the goal of keeping detail in the white clothing and set pieces all the while producing natural looking skin tones. After a few lighting tests I was able to underexpose my scene (talent) about 3/4 of a stop darker than the background. I would have liked to be able to go a stop and a half darker but due to the lighting instruments available to me, this was the best I could do. In the end it did leave me room to pull detail in the talents clothing with the ability to push the background brighter. I did run into a close call on my “Lotion girl” on the camera right side (key side). We had a double net on her to knock down the exposure her shirt but it was still uncomfortably close to the background exposure and I had a little difficulty when Color Grading to save the edge on her right side (the edge where her shirt meets the background) As you’ll see, I squeaked by. See below:  (You can click on it to view in high res)

Milo Lotion Girl Raw vs Graded

I really wanted dimension on the models faces. I did not want totally flat lighting in the white world. I lit the wall and dialed in all of my soft sources on my talents and my kick ass gaffer Matt Barrett built the kicker/sidey look to help highlight the chiseled look on our hero girls face. As always, thank you Matt! It was exactly what I was looking for.

Other things we had to watch out for:

The product CU was quite challenging. Let’s see, it included a non-colored clear hourglass, a shiny white can with bug type and a semi-transparent lid, a curved frosted glass all on a white background. The lighting on this one was all Matt and the Art and Props by Lisa Hammond. Both did a fantastic job. Here is the side by side product shots Raw and Graded: (You can click on it to view in high res)

Milo with Flowers Raw vs Graded


Milo Before After Product 2 Hi Res

Other discoveries:

I had the advantage of being able to thoroughly test and dial in my lighting and to also test how the camera would see the mist because we had 4 days of casting in the same studio as the spot was shot in. The day of the shoot I had lighting pretty much mapped out, that opportunity usually isn’t available unfortunately.

I already discussed the white clothing issue but the other big challenge was the mist.

It became clear after the very first camera test that you cannot see mist if it is sprayed over a white background. 5K resolution and 300 fps have no effect in this situation so, after seeing the screen tests, the Director Kelly Sparks and I made sure that during all misting shots, the talent sprayed the product in a way that the mist was always over her skin to create contrast so you could see it. The high frame rate was still beneficial  because once the mist could be seen it allowed us to capture more detail and to have flexibility in post for timing the shots.

Here are some shots of the setup for both product and talent:

Milo-Product Shot Setup

Lisa Prepping the Product

Milo-BTS 3

Milo-BTS 4

How a set should be…fun.

Milo-BTS 2

Milo-BTS 1


To wrap up this post, here is the Lighting Plot for the majority of the spot. Of course adjustments were made throughout the day depending on focal length etc, but this was the main setup. Also keep in mind this is how we lit the spot using the tools available to us. There are endless ways to accomplish the same look and this was just one way. If lighting is new to you, this will give you one example of a good approach. In a perfect world, I would have swapped the Diva 400′s for more 4′ 4 banks and also used either Spacelites or more 4′ 4banks to light my wall. (You can click on it to view/download in high res)

Milo Lighting Plot


As always thanks for taking the time to stop in. I’ll do my best to answer any questions or comments. I hope article was helpful for some of you.

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