Video Eye Lights: 2 Reasons & Ways to Create Them

We are going to talk about eye lights, two reasons to use them and two different ways to create them, and what the hell do they have to do with Capt. Kirk and Morticia Adams.
First off I promise I will not say anything like the eyes are the window to the soul. What I will say, when meeting a person, it’s been shown via eye tracking software, that the eyes are the first thing we look at. We know people see with their eyes, and how they use them tells us a lot. No different than when we’re watching a film or a video. We’re drawn to the eyes, one of the tools of the actor. So how can we help them out? 

 Eye light on Roxane (Mala Powers) in Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950

Eye light on Roxane (Mala Powers) in Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950

If you follow traditional three-point lighting which is really four–key, fill, maybe a backlight/ hair light, and ambient light–you may notice at times something is lacking, depending on your lighting situation, it may have to do with the area around the eyes.
For example, when lights are high, like outside in the midday sun, and depending on how recessed the eyes are or how prominent the brow, we can get very shady eyes.  What we call raccoon eyes. That’s an extreme example but you get the point, sometimes you may want or need to add additional fill to the eyes.

Kirk Light
One way is with a small soft source near the camera snooted to focus on the eyes.
You could cut a rectangle out of show card, the film crew term for cards that are black on one side, white on the other. Art stores call them art card or presentation board. 

065 Eye Lights-03-Kirk_Light_Showcard_Mask.jpg

Here I have an LED par on a dimmer and I’m using a grip stand to rig the card facing the actor. 
I’ll make it bright so you can see it. A bit extreme but it may look familiar. It’s why we nickname these Kirk lights back in the day.

 Where the "Kirk Light" got its name.

Where the "Kirk Light" got its name.

Now I’ll dim it down and you can see that it just fills in the eyes and a little bit of the face. 
Don’t worry if the rectangle is too big, you can use paper tape to adjust where it’s cutting the light so you just get it on the eyes.

 Using black paper tape to adjust and narrow the width of the showcard opening, to keep it mostly on the area around the eyes.

Using black paper tape to adjust and narrow the width of the showcard opening, to keep it mostly on the area around the eyes.

Now I’ll add diffusion between the light and the card and the fill spreads more around the face.
Here I’ve pulled the card out altogether and I’m back to a front fill that also fills the eyes.
Now some of you may have noticed that these eye lights also add a reflection of light in the eye which is nice and can give it a more rounded and realistic feel. 

Reflections in the Eye
Some of you may also be wondering isn’t that actually what an eye light is?
Well yes, that’s the other type of eye light and what you normally read about or see in eye light videos. Where that term “the eyes are the windows to the soul” comes from but here’s the thing. If you’ve done any lighting, you’ll notice that your key or fill light or both will usually create that reflection for you. Just in shooting this video, it was really hard to keep the lights from reflecting in their eyes so I could show you a before and after. I had to flag the key to keep it from reflecting in Courtney’s eyes in the shot.

 You can see the reflection of the eye light and the window in Courtney's left eye.

You can see the reflection of the eye light and the window in Courtney's left eye.

So this focus on adding eye lights as a reflection in the eye, I gotta call 50% bullshit on it. It’s normally handled and it’s more important to add fill to the area of the eyes than just a reflection. And circle eye lights, not a fan. They draw so much attention to themselves and are overdone. For a music video maybe. Except for D4Darious, he can do no wrong. 
In still photography portraiture eye lights are an art form and they can give you clues to the lighting setup. But they’re capturing a still, that’s one frame for us, where every pixel is scrutinized.
In filmmaking, actors are moving so it’s a bit trickier but still important on close-ups, especially feature films when they’re projected onto the big screen.

 Here’s the kirk light fill reflected in the eye. it’s very straight on, level with the camera and draws some attention to itself

Here’s the kirk light fill reflected in the eye. it’s very straight on, level with the camera and draws some attention to itself

 Here’s a bounce card fill, reflected in the side of Courtney's eye.

Here’s a bounce card fill, reflected in the side of Courtney's eye.

 Here’s a softbox fill, from the key side, filling the face but also mimicking the reflection of a possible key light. It’s also a bigger light source, so it feels like a window or a wall reflected in the eye.  

Here’s a softbox fill, from the key side, filling the face but also mimicking the reflection of a possible key light. It’s also a bigger light source, so it feels like a window or a wall reflected in the eye.
 

Now you don’t have to add an eye light. It’s not a requirement and it may be desirable to have no eye light for the effect you want. It’s somewhat like ambient audio, something that is in the background but without it, you notice something’s missing but you’re not sure what which itself is an effect. Watch the "Godfather" to see what I mean.

Daguerreotype Time Machines
Now I promised I would not say the eyes are the window to the soul but I will say they are at times a window to the past. 
The earliest photographs, daguerreotypes, are super fine grained. They hold up to magnification so well that microscopes are used to see the details captured by them that we can’t see with our eyes. A set taken as a panorama of the Cleveland waterfront in 1848 had so much detail, they were able to zoom into a clock tower in the distance and see what time the picture was taken.
How detailed is that compared our megapixel? Well, the highest megapixel camera today looks to be a 250-megapixel prototype Canon’s been playing with. That’s a lot of megapixels compared to 4k. What’s the megapixel equivalent of a daguerreotype? Try 140,000 megapixels. You couldn’t even put that in your 4k pipe to smoke it if you wanted to.
So given that, some researchers at Columbia started looking at the reflections in the eyes of daguerreotype portrait subjects to see the actual room they’re in. 
Cool. Mostly they could make out the windows, camera and maybe other people in the room.

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Actors
Courtney Shaffer
https://www.courtneyshaffer.com

James Aaron Oh
https://youtube.com/channel/UCeQiZH7aWgTWC-DvORQWwAw
https://www.jamesaaronoh.com

Music
“Right Place, Right Time”
by Silent Partner from YouTube Audio Library

Cyrano de Bergerac, 1950 with José Ferrer & Mala Powers

Links
Photographs and videos by K. Nishino and S. K. Nayar/Columbia University

http://www.tested.com/art/movies/463501-filming-light-and-dark-side-godfather/

http://www.vintag.es/2017/05/the-1960s-typical-age-of-youth-look.html
by Gregory Melle
http://www.vintag.es/2017/02/everyday-life-of-vancouver-youth-in.html

Katerina_Knizakova
https://pixabay.com/en/woman-girl-sexy-model-portrait-2998996/

Gromovataya
https://pixabay.com/en/woman-portrait-fashion-girl-people-3190852/

Sam Studio
https://pixabay.com/en/woman-portrait-adult-cheerful-3178537/

AlexKlen
https://pixabay.com/en/woman-one-people-grown-up-portrait-3169726/


Audio

The Cloud in A by sandyrb
https://freesound.org/people/sandyrb/sounds/35647/

Scotty Star Fleet by celldroid
https://freesound.org/people/celldroid/sounds/134942/