9 hours ago
Whether we want to admit it or not, the first responsibility of a cinematographer is to effectively light actors. Most of the time, this is about making them look good. This means slimming them as much as possible (by defining their jawline), hiding blemishes and wrinkles, and making their eyes pop. Only the beauty lighting pattern can consistently do this for any human subject..
That doesn’t mean other patterns cannot be beautiful. But all the rest can have side effects that can be unflattering for some people. Pure top light can hood eyes, hide chin and emphasize skin texture. Pure side light can emphasize and round the cheeks. 3/4s “sidy top” light can emphasize the nose. Pure front light can completely flatten the face and erase the jawline. If you find an example of beauty light not working, it is almost always the same reason: shininess..
Makeup artists are always necessary. Ignoring this simple fact is an all too common indie-amateur mistake. Oil on the skin will shine if directly lit, period. Yes, softer light can lessen this somewhat, but it won’t delete it from existence. Many millennial shooters have come to believe that soft light is how beauty is accentuated. To them, I ask this: why is every magazine cover girl lit with hard light from above? Because hard light sculpts the face. Double chins can be chopped away with the right shadow placement. A good makeup artist will make your work look better. So invest in one..
Part of the reason classic Hollywood beauty light often seems “stagey” is for two reasons. One, they were literally using stage lights on ceiling grids. Frequently this would lead to double shadows under chins. The double shadow can make the lighting more obvious. Second, dynamic range in old celluloid was actually shockingly low, 4-5 stops. The result was, to be properly exposed, faces had to be BRIGHT. Beauty light doesn’t have to be too bright to do its thing. To define the jaw, a ratio of at least 4:1 is advisable. But with high DR modern sensors, this can be applied with just as delicate a touch as anything else, hard or soft.