Ren: Masculine & Feminine Lighting

A few days into my tenure as DP on Kate Madison’s ambitious fantasy series, Ren, we filmed a shot/reverse for one of the opening scenes. The scene introduced us to the eponymous Ren (Sophie Skelton) and her friend Karn (Christopher Dane).

Kate described Ren to me as “pure innonence”, while Karn is an older, more worldly character with a difficult past. It seemed to me like classic femine and masculine lighting were called for. Classic feminine lighting is designed to create a soft, flawless, often shadowless face. Classic masculine lighting enhances jaw definition, embraces lines and skin texture and generally creates a rugged look.

Clearly you have to start by casting actors with the right physical characteristics for these roles, which Kate had certainly done, and make-up plays a huge role. The DP is the third part of the triumvirate determining the look of the cast’s faces.

The shot/reverse in question took place under trees in a valley on a cloudy day, so the natural light was very top-lighty (rendering eye sockets dark), with a bit of green bounce here and there.


We shot Ren’s close-up first. We had already established in the wide that she was looking towards the sun, albeit a very cloud-obscured one.

There are two ways to create the shadowless look of classic feminine lighting. One is to use a lot of bounce to fill in the shadows. The other is to put the key light directly above the lens, like a flash, so that the shadows are all hidden from the camera’s point of view. Since we’d established Ren was looking in the direction of the sun, I chose the latter method, rigging a small LED panel right above the lens.

Backlighting the hair is another common component of classic feminine lighting, so I had gaffer Richard Roberts hand-bash a second panel as a three-quarter backlight. We had to keep this very subtle since we had established that direct sunlight could not be coming from behind her.


I lit Karn’s close-up very differently. His orientation to the sun justified a strong three-quarter backlight from an LED panel off frame left. This picks out Chris’s stubble and jawline nicely.

I decided that his key would be motivated as sunlight reflecting off the river (off camera right). This could jusifiably be coming in from the side, again adding texture and definition to his face. It was achieved by Richard holding a silver-sided collapsible reflector just out of frame. We initially tried wobbling it to suggest the movement of the water, but ended up shooting a safety take without the wobble in case it proved too distracting.

I know that this degree of manipulation and augmentation of natural light is not to every cinematographer’s taste, but I feel it fits perfectly with the show’s fantasy world. My view is that in this world where magic exists, the light is a little bit magical too. Hopefully it will subconsciously help the audience pick up on Ren and Karn’s essential characteristics in this, their first scene.

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Ren: Masculine & Feminine Lighting