‘Get it right during the shoot,’ I hear you cry, and you’re quite right, there’s no substitute for nailing your desired lighting during filming, but what if it’s just not possible? Post-production lighting effects to the rescue!
Why Use Post-Production Lighting Effects
Day for Night and Matching Footage
Shooting during the day with the intention of it looking light night-time footage is quite a common practice. It’s easier to get footage that’s clear and without noise by shooting in the day, and then post-processing it to look like night. Many Hollywood films have made good use of this, Castaway being one of them!
Before digital processing was at the level it is now (and before it entirely, actually!) filmmakers would achieve this with filters to help underexpose the footage and give it a blueish tinge.
If you need to film some pick-up shots but the conditions of the day don’t match the prior shooting conditions, you might need to process the lighting to help the footage blend into footage you’ve captured previously.
Arty and Cinematic Results
Changing the light can be desired for a whole number of reasons. Why we often can’t put our finger on exactly what it is that makes something have a ‘cinematic’ quality, we know it when we see it! Adding light leaks, bokeh and other lighting effects can all help to give your production that cinematic feel.
Adding light might also enhance the light you captured naturally. For example if you have a room that needs a warm glow from a lamp, you might have exposed the room lighter than desired in your footage, to make sure everything was visible, only then to want to dampen that down and pick out certain light, like from a lamp.
Style and Special FX
Using light effects as transitions can add a certain stylistic quality to your production and can even become something you’re known for (J.J. Abrams, we're looking at you).
Sometimes it’s necessity. Your environment might not have
been able to have light in a place you need it, or it might be something that’s
just not possible to get – think, you’re filming a scene where a gun is being
fired and you need a muzzle flash. Not only do you need the flash, but you need
the immediate environment to be lit by that flash too.
How to Create Post-Production Lighting Effects
There are many ways to add post-production lighting effects. Some require you to think about what you’ll want, while shooting. If you’re doing day-to-night, for example, you’d need to think about underexposing your footage so you can easily increase shadows and reduce highlights. You can also change your white balance in post-production to make everything cooler, with a blue tint.
Shooting your own lens flare and bokeh can be fun. For bokeh, you just need to knock lights out of focus, so you can try that with string lights shot against a plain background. Then use the screen blending mode in post-production.
Many editing suites have a lens flare option as standard (in different focal lengths too), which is really useful if you’re just starting out.
Many filmmakers like to use pre-made templates to add lighting effects because it can be quicker than shooting your own footage or light effects, and they can usually be customised to fit seamlessly with your work. Here’s one of our favourite lighting effects, from Envato Elements, where you can download unlimited resources for one monthly subscription.
Studio Light I 3D Effect Generator for Adobe After Effects
Replicate studio light digitally with the Studio Light 3D Effect Generator for Adobe After Effects. Add and adjust light, shadow and tone in a realistic way. Great for all types of projects including shooting products and people.