I am a big fan of Roger Deakins and his works. I learned about the ‘Cove Lighting’ technique while researching it, and today I have the great pleasure of sharing it with you.
What is ‘Cove Lighting’?
To my knowledge, it is a technique developed by Sir Roger Deakins, which consists of creating an arc, often at 180° degrees, around a subject, with a reflective surface such as a reflector or an unbleached Muslin to obtain a soft and naturalistic look.
Deakins often uses this technique to light his films. We will look at some of them in this article to learn more about their use and inspire you.
When should this technique be used?
The answer to this question varies depending on the emotion, mood, and look the director and cinematographer chose for a particular scene.
As for Deakins, he announced in an interview:
I like images to look natural – as though somebody sitting in a room by a lamp is being lit by that lamp.
To give you a taste of what he’s talking about, let’s analyze this scene from ‘Skyfall’ closely
As you can see, we have a subject watching a video with his laptop while sitting on the couch. Beside her is a lamp. It is called, Practical lighting, and as you already know, Practical light means any light that appears within the frame.
This lamp, although quite large, is not enough to illuminate the scene. To do this, Deakins, therefore, chooses to use the Cove Lighting technique to imitate the light emitted by the lamp. In this way, we have a soft and gentle light that illuminates the scene as if it is the lamp that does everything. Spectators see nothing. Here’s a lighting plan to illustrate the setup.
This is not the first time that Deakins has used this technique to motivate light emitted by a lamp. Let’s take a look at this second shot;
In this scene, James Bond and the young woman are sitting on a kind of terrace surrounded by candles. Now, Let’s see some close-up;
Here they put CTO gels on the two tweenies that served as their source to achieve a much more golden reflection to mimic the light emitted by candles. Always the same principle; A 180° arc around the subject. Here’s the lighting Plan;
To go much further, let’s take the time to analyze this scene: taken from the movie ‘Revolutionary Road’ directed by Sam Mendes
It is normal to think that the lights emitted by the sun and entering our house are bouncing around everywhere. Which lights up our house during the day. Here Deakins used this principle to light the scene. As you can see, we can see a window in this socket and start with the fact that the rays emitted by the sun (replaced by an HMI bouncing here on a large reflector) bounce all over the house, Deakins, therefore, decides to use the Cove Lighting technique with three tweenies to have this soft light that illuminates our two actors as well as their surroundings. Here’s a behind-the-scenes picture;
It is quite simple, but very practical. Especially if you have to light a scene in a small room where you don’t have space. To do this, all you need is a light source and a reflective surface such as unbleached Muslin, and a little bit of creativity. Still, you need to practice to master this technique.
For more setup, check out my Instagram account by clicking here. You will find some other shots by Roger Deakins there.
As you already know, I use the Ci-lovers Lighting Diagram Toolkit to make my illustrations, which I highly recommend if you are looking for a tool to create your lighting plans for your projects. It is very useful.
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That’s all for today, I hope you learned a few new things. Feel free to share this article with your cinematographer friends so they can learn from it. If you won’t miss any Lighting Breakdown Episode, I Recommend you to subscribe to my newsletter, Like so, you will be notified of the next Episode.
It was Marco Robinson for episode 03 of Lighting Breakdown. Tchaouuu!!