SOFT NIGHT LIGHTING
It’s common when lighting a scene to first focus on the broad strokes and then work your way down to the finer details. Find a good HDRI to use as a textured aiskydome as an overall fill (nighttime HDRIS are notoriously hard to get right) and perhaps place a soft directional light to mimic the moonlight. It’s very tempting to go for the classic Hollywood blue moonlight but once again, try to figure out what feels real to you.
A good place to start with a night scene – if you are lucky enough to be in an urban environment – is to use the practical lights that would already be there in the scene. In this scene the hanging lanterns offer clues as to where the light could be sourced. Cylinder Area lights work well inside glass lanterns with some added spotlights to control the bloom and falloff of the light.
Once you have the moonlight and practical lamps working for the environment, you can manipulate them as sources to light the character. Make choices based on the character’s emotion; for example, lighting from the top will give dark shadows over the eyes, adding to the mystery of a character. Lighting up from under the character will give them an evil look, and can add mystery depending on the colour.
For this light setup, I chose to use the simulated moonlight as the key and fill on the character’s face. This shows that, while he isn’t standing in direct light, the audience will be able to read the emotion on his face. You could also use light from one of the streetlamps to add a more direct light to the character’s face for yet another mood.
Next, use the streetlamp to the left of the character as motivation for a strong rim light to carve out the shape of his head from the background. This light serves two purposes, as it connects the character to the scene as well as defining him as the first area of the image the audience will focus on.
Try to be faithful to the three-point lighting setup for characters if you can. It will save a lot of stress in the long run – especially if the character moves through the scene or looks around in different directions. After you have these three lights set up, it’s just a matter of finding the balance of how much of each light to use to stay true to the mood of the story.