A night at the museum ~ Lighting sets

Nov 17, 2014 | Continuous Lighting, Location | 6 comments

1. The start of the rig showing Victoria on the stairs.

1. This is the start of the rig showing Victoria on the stairs. I lit the back wall with the Lupolux LED 1000 and a ‘Crunch’ scattergel shown on the right at the top of the stairs. I picked up the statue on the half landing with this light too. The light at the top of the sketch plan shows Victoria’s backlight. Another Lupolux LED 1000 in full spot mode rigged two floors up pointing down over the balustrade. The third light in the set is Victoria’s key light. It is a Lupolux LED 650 with an ‘Alto’ scattergel. This light picks up on the lion and the stairs too. (The drawings in this article are by Luke Knight, our in house illustrator).

Shot 1 using the lighting rig shown above. This was not on the client list but I shot it for me while we were waiting for Donatella's hair and makeup to be completed.

2. Shot 1 using the lighting rig shown in the sketch above. This was not on the client’s list but I shot it for me while we were waiting for Donatella’s hair and makeup to be completed. I’m in love with classic film lighting from a bygone era and use every chance I get to recreate it.

Here are the shots from the shoot together with the back story, the lighting plots and the strategies I use for lighting sets…

Camera: Fuji X-T1 with 23mm and 14mm lenses
Models: Donatella Hazel Lilian Peglar and Victoria Lindsey Coutts
Designer: Molly Mishy May
Makeup and hair: Vicki Waghorn

A recent phone call from a client for a rush photoshoot led to a great opportunity to use
the lighting skills I learned many years ago at the BBC. All I knew was we had the Bristol Museum available for 2 hours and we needed a couple of wow shots for an event campaign.

I suggested a few models and together with designer Molly Mishy May, we worked out the plan. Vicki was to do Victoria’s hair at my studio ahead of the shoot to save time on set and while I rigged lights she was to work with Donatella. It was a great plan and it worked perfectly.

You have to start with the end in mind. As soon as I was on set with my clients I established the fact they wanted one shot with portrait orientation for a poster and leaflet campaign with space at the top and on the left for text and one landscape orientated shot for body copy. Both shots needed to show the museum as a classic building suitable to hold functions. The models were to be in dramatic poses as if playing roles in a performance rather than just looking pretty.

3. Our first shot for the client included both girls and had a slightly dramatic pose.

3. This is our first shot for the client and included both girls. See the lighting plot below.


4. The lighting rig for shot 3 above. I added the second key light for Donatella. I used a Lupolux 650 tightly doored in to keep the spill off Victoria. You can see Donatella’s shadow from the light on the back pillar in picture 3 above.

I needed the house lights in the museum turned off so my first job was to rig a Lupolux spotlight for Vicki Waghorn to work on Donatella’s hair and makeup. I then established the camera position and rigged my tripod. Working from a tripod enables me to see at a glance what is in shot and what is not. That enabled me to start setting lights in the right places from the start.

I chose to use the 23mm lens on my Fujifilm X-T1 because that focal length gives a wonderfully natural perspective. The relative size of objects in the frame is completely natural. The Fuji 23mm f/1.4 prime lens exhibits the same 3D rendering qualities as it’s f/2 little brother on the X100, x100s and X100t. I’d have been happy to take this shot using the X100t (if it wasn’t still on back order) because the new larger LCD on the back is equally suitable to the X-T1 at showing clients the development of the image in real time/ live view as positions of models or objects in frame are adjusted.

Using the wifi feature for this kind of job is wonderful too. The backlight on Victoria (in the foreground) was rigged on the second floor balcony and I could see exactly where it was going without the trial and error of point and guess. I used a Lupolux LED1000 Qdot for this job and rigged it on full power and in full spot mode. It was lighting Victoria from about 30m away and that’s the beauty of using lights with lenses. They have a decent throw. There was no power close to hand where I rigged the light so I used one of my Li-ion powered inverters to power the light. Inverters are great when either there is no power or the power installation is dubious. I always power my lights from inverters when I’m shooting in hospitals or buildings with very sensitive equipment too. [UPDATE – We now recommend using the new Lupo battery kit to power the DayLED spotlights]

5. I took this close up

5. I took this close up for reference and to show a jacket that Molly has made. Look at the wonderful shadows under Victoria’s cheekbones created by the fresnel Lupolux spotlights. The white balance was tweaked up to make the shot cooler too.

Lighting strategy

When lighting big spaces I either:

a) Light the space in the building and let people go where they want in that space. Good examples of this strategy are reality tv programmes like Big Brother, shows like Grand Designs and the TV coverage in the Houses of Parliament.

or b) Light the walls and fabric of the building separately from the people within it. This technique is more often used for big budget TV dramas like 24, NCIS and Downton Abbey plus virtually every feature film since the 1940s.

I went for strategy b. I set the light s on the walls of the building in the background and then lit Victoria and Donatella separately.

6. This is the lighting plot for the shot 7. below.

6. This is the lighting plot for the shot 7. below.

6. The most complicated set up required me to shift a key light into a niche

7. This, the most complicated setup required me to shift a key light into an alcove on the left just tucked out of shot. This became Victoria’s keylight in her new position high on the stairs. There was no power in the alcove so I used an inverter to power the Lupolux LED 650. I can get over 4 hours use on full power from my inverter between charges.

By switching the lights off in the museum I gained the contrast and bite I needed in the shots to give the impression of a film set. The Scattergels give the effect of multiple light sources. It’s kind of cheating but when time is tight all efficiencies are greatly welcomed. We arrived at the museum at 5pm and were wrapped by 7pm. I work fast and without assistants.


8. This is the second of the shots for the client. I used three spotlights on this frame and the dramatic perspective is a result of using my 14mm lens.

9. Another sneak shot for me featuring Victoria.

9. Another sneak shot for me featuring Victoria using the same lighting rig as the frame above except I calmed down the background by dimming the light to 60%.

If you are writing a book on lighting and would like wonderful illustrations drop Luke an email.

My next interior lighting workshop for portraiture is at the wonderful Manchester Hilton on Wednesday 6th May 2015.

Please feel free to comment below :)


  1. Daniel

    Coming a bit late, but just now found your great and inspiring site. Love the articles, but I have a question regarding this one. I underwent a relatively extensive training in studio lighting and our teacher had quite a strong stance that having double shadows was a no-no. I would be interested in your take on that since it’s obvious here that you didn’t mind it. Thanks a lot and great work.

    • Damien

      Thank you Daniel, Your teacher has a point but we only relate the number of shadows to the face. Multiple nose shadows or ‘double keying’ is bad but on the floor is not a problem. Go into a room with wall lights and count your shadows on the floor. It will be the same as the number of light sources. Victoria has one key light (supposedly a chandelier in the great room) and one nose shadow as a result. Her back light (from another chandelier over the staircase) generates a floor shadow and that’s fine. I hope this helps. Just avoid double key lights (creating a shadow bib under the chin).

      Kind regards,


  2. Roland Sulzer

    As always very inspiring. It´s good to see what a master of lightning can do with some hard lights in people photography.

    • Damien

      Thank you Roland :)

  3. Rick Lewis

    Incredibly well done! Reminds me of the old film noir here in the U.S. Very elegant and timeless in my view. Your client definitely got their monies worth.

    • Damien

      Thanks Rick :)


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