How to Light a Jail Scene | 3 Lighting Setups

How to Light a Jail Scene | 3 Lighting Setups

Zane Gong |

Have you ever been inspired to recreate scenes from popular films? Today we are going to follow along with Nerris and DP, Eric Lombart recreating three jail scene’s from popular HOLLYWOOD films using Aputure LEDs.

Setup #1 Inspired by, ‘Mindhunter’

The scene they chose from the movie was from the visitor room in the prison and they wanted to recreate the look of fluorescent overhead lights. For the key light, the Aputure 120d and Light Dome soft box was used overhead. For additional fill, a second 120d in a Light Dome Mini was used as well. A downward facing LS1s along the wall, camera left as an accent and an LS1/2 also camera left was used to recreate additional sunlight.
recreation fluorescent lighting
Here’s where things get really interesting, especially for those of us, solo-shooters or with a very limited crew and limited time. Since fluorescent light has a green tint compared to daylight balanced lighting and the lights used are daylight balanced, normally one would green gel all the lights. For the sake of time and efficiency, he custom white balanced the camera to a magenta gelled light which made the daylight LEDs appear to have a green tint. The magenta gelled light was then used to shoot through the window and would appear as daylight on a magenta balanced camera.

Lighting setup:
lighting setup
Lighting used: Aputure Light Dome and Light Dome Mini soft boxes, LS1s, LS1/2w, 120d

Setup #2 Inspired by, ‘Shawshank Redemption’

Next, they chose a scene from the movie, ‘Shawshank Redemption’, that takes place inside a jail cell and is a lower keyed shot. So, they used a smaller key light, using the Mini20d gelled with CTO and diffusion located just above the camera on the left. Next, there’s a 120d with fresnel and black wrap to further control a narrow spread of light from outside the cell to recreate light coming from the rest of the jailhouse. You’ll notice the shadows of the prison bars on the bed behind him as well as a nice lit edge on the side of his face.

Next we have a second 120d and Fresnel facing the back wall from inside an adjacent cell. Notice the jail cell bar shadows along the back wall? Then there’s an LS1/2 with diffusion and CTO. This light gave the illusion of a practical tungsten overhead in the subjects’ cell. And lastly an Aputure M9 was added on the back wall as a practical industrial light.

Nerris took notice on how much Eric really focused on practical lighting the scene, more than lighting the subject. Eric’s explanation for that was to create a scene that would be more interesting and dynamic for the subject and build the film lighting around the practicals. Setting up the practicals first can add motivation and brightness, like the M9 glaring behind the subject on the wall above. Lastly for more separation and depth the light on the subject was set to tungsten with gels and all the other lights were daylight balanced, along with the camera.

Lighting setup:

Setting up the practicals
Lighting used: Aputure Mini20d, LS1/2, 2x 120d, 2x Aputure Fresnel, M9

Setup #3 Inspired by, ‘American Hustle’

Finally, Eric chose a scene from, ‘American Hustle’ taking place in a holding cell. Normally lighting for most scenes related to jail are very hard with lots of shadows. The primary motive for this scene was to duplicate the style the director of the film, David O. Russell, which was very soft fill light which looks very flat and allows for moving the camera around quickly.


Original Scene from Movie

Recreated Scene

To achieve this look, they used a 120d and Light Dome and softened the light even more with a giant frosted silk in front of the light on camera right and perpendicular to the subject as a soft side light. A second 120d was used with the Aputure Fresnel bouncing off a white board, camera left to fill the face. Initially that look was still too harsh on the subject, so they added a diffusion in front of the bounce making a book light setup, further softening the light.

Both lights are essentially serving as two fill lights with no distinguished key light, producing soft flattering look. So we have a soft warm look using daylight balanced lights, so instead of using some CTO gels, Eric chose to once again conveniently set the camera to a cooler temperature above 5600K at 8000K to make the lights look warmer and more tungsten-like. That way you don’t lose output intensity or need to raise ISO on camera.

Although the look is soft for for a prison scene it’s also very dim with no motivated source of key light in the room.

Lighting setup:

lighting setup
Lights used: 2x Aputure 120d, Light Dome, 6x6 diffusion silk, white bounce board, collapsible diffusion.
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