I am a subscriber to shootingpeople.org New York filmmaker bulletins and I’ve seen the Light and Shadow workshop advertised on there many times over the last couple years. Since it is a two day workshop the planets have to align so that I don’t have anything planned for either day. Luckily those planets did their thing and I was able to take the workshop on 16-17 April 2011.
Eric Lau is the instructor. For some reason I was expecting someone mid-30s to mid-40s. Someone hungry and looking for another source of income to augment a meager videographer’s wages. Not so. Eric made his first film in 1971. He has had a successful career for decades and is partially doing these workshops to give back to the community. The workshop is not free by any means, but it is very affordable especially if you have a student ID or take advantage of the early bird special.
Eric Lau has a mouth on him. If you are opposed to occasional strong language or are easily offended maybe this workshop isn’t for you. But if you can tough it out it’s worth it. The great aspect to this workshop as opposed to a class is that after the theories and concepts are discussed and examples are shown we are broken into groups and told to do it ourselves. I will be the first to admit that all of those good ideas I had written down and attempted to commit to memory went out the window when it was my turn. I failed and I failed badly. I didn’t knock hot lights into actors faces or anything, but my three point lighting broke most of his rules. Put the back light diagonally opposite of the key light. Fail. I put them 90 degrees apart. Don’t scoff. It really made a difference. Light the side of the face farthest away from the camera. Don’t scoff there, either. With an over the shoulder interview setup where the interviewee is facing diagonally toward the interviewer Eric placed the light so that it illuminated the side of the face that was “smallest” from the viewpoint of the camera. This made very interesting shadows on the interviewee’s face. Very compelling images.
Like any attempt at an explanation of what was learned in a workshop this pales in comparison to the hands-on ability to fail and receive constructive criticism. I am very happy with the workshop and I am seriously considering taking it again in a few months. I need a chance to use these techniques in a few of my own productions, first. I won’t know what my follow up questions will be until I get into a lighting situation that, once the footage is watched… could have been better.
I would gladly recommend this workshop to anyone I know who wants to understand how to light a compelling shot.