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Learn How to Create a Timeless Look with a White Cyclorama

Tanner Shinnick

Lighting a white cyclorama? These tips will help you get the classic look you’re going for in your next film or video project

One of the most common tasks in video production is lighting a white cyclorama (or “cyc”) — a white backdrop. This timeless look can be difficult to master; however, with a few techniques, you can get the results you need.

Let’s take a look.


Distance Your Sources

The first few times I tried lighting a white cyc, I was under the impression that you wanted to take your brightest sources and get them as close as possible to the white backdrop — to essentially blow it out — making it true white. However, I quickly realized that for a better-looking white background, a softer, more evenly cast light looks much better on camera, and you can do this by distancing the light from the backdrop. This approach will give your light a more even and appealing look. Essentially, just walk your light back for a more uniform spread, which will maintain a consistent exposure as the talent moves throughout the scene.


Don’t Forget Contrast

When you’re lighting a white cyc wall, it can very easily turn into a flat image without any contrast. Our first instinct is to usually blast all the light we have onto the stage to see where it puts us. However, by adding contrast back into the image through lighting, you can help lift the scene.

One production that did this well was the series of Heineken commercials with Neil Patrick Harris. Although the background is purely white and evenly exposed, the filmmakers still managed to create a nice degree of lighting contrast. All you need to pull this off is some negative fill.


Always Use Soft Sources

Soft sources and lighting a white cyc go hand and hand. Shadows can be one of the biggest threats to lighting your white cyc. Shadows can quickly interrupt the infinite feeling and draw attention to the ground — or the background if the shadows appear on the walls. One way to avoid this is to incorporate very soft light sources with diffusion materials. When shooting on a white cyc, you’ll very rarely use raw sources of light.

There are many ways you can create a soft source of light — no matter your budget. Whether that means using a soft box, a shower curtain, or even an 8×8 full grid butterfly, there are plenty of options out there to help you create a large soft source on any budget.


Experiment

Overall, lighting a white cyc wall or backdrop is an exciting and fun part of the filmmaking process. Through trial and error, you can find the perfect way to create the best lighting for your next production. Then, by incorporating shape and contrast, you can take your project to the next level.


Cover image via Marko Poplasen.

Looking for more video production tips and tricks? Check out these articles.

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