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Softer than Softboxes: How to Create Book Lighting

Caleb Ward

Use book lighting to create incredibly soft light at a very low cost.

Soft lighting is great for indie-films. It can ‘wrap around your subject‘, hide skin flaws and cast shadows with soft edges. Common techniques for creating soft lights are using soft boxes or diffusers directly in front of a light source. However, if you want your light to be even softer, book lighting is the way to go.

Image Courtesy of Hurlbut Visuals

What is Book Lighting?

In essence, book lighting is bounced light that is diffused before hitting the subject. The result is a consistent soft light. Normally when a lighting director is wanting to create a book light they will use a bright light source such as a 2K fresnel or Maxi Brute and bounce it off a white object such as bead board or foam core, then the light will go through a diffusion panel.

Due to expensive equipment costs and a (somewhat) long set up time, book lighting is a technique that’s often avoided on indie-film sets. However, instead of buying “name brand” equipment there are a few alternatives you can use to save money.

Book Lighting 101

The trick to getting great book lighting is to have an extremely bright source. Your LED video light probably isn’t going to be bright enough. However, a shop light should do nicely. Just be careful, touching a shop light after a 7 hour shoot is like touching the surface of the sun.

Next you’ll need a bounce source. In his post on book lighting, Shane Hurlbut suggests using a bleached muslin which you can online for only a few dollars.

Lastly, you will need some sort of diffusion panel. While you could go out and buy a LEE diffusion panel for over $100, a semi-transparent shower curtain will get you similar results for a fraction of the price.

The book lighting setup should look something like this:

Images courtesy of Hurlbut Visuals

Don’t forget that in order to create book lighting you will need quite a few stands, clamps, and rods to hold everything in place.

The following videos show us what this book lighting set-up will create:

Take a look at how quickly shadows are diffused with distance:

If you want to learn more about book lighting check out the following:

Creating a Beauty Light with a Book LightHurlbut Visuals
Build a Book LightNoFilmSchool