Terminator Part 1: Reverse Engineering Lighting Set Up

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: June 10, 2016

Category: Photography

Ok so following on from the previous post (LINK), here we’re going to start by taking a look at Reverse Engineering the lighting set up for this Terminator Genisys Movie Poster…


Lighting Set Up
So looking at the original movie poster the first thing to note is that there is pretty much a black background. We’ll assume here that for the shoot they did have Arnold stood in front of black seamless BUT for this project we’ll do things a little different and will aim to achieve the black background using the Invisible Black Background technique. Why? Well a couple of reasons 1) I don’t have any black paper to hand 2) It’ll be kind of cool to do the I.B.B. technique on the Hot Toys model.

If you’re not sure what that is, then check out the short video below:

Getting back to the original poster we can see that Arnold who’s body is angled away from camera has light on the back of his head, shoulder and back as well as on the gun. This would suggest a light source coming in from camera left. The light here isn’t severe and defined but rather blends fairly gently into the shadow areas, so I would say something like a strip box has been used with both diffusion panels (inner and outer) to create a soft light. Of course a harder light source could have been used and just the outer / feathered edge used to light this area on Arnold, but keeping things simple and logical here we’ll, or rather I, will go for the strip box option.


On the other side of Arnold we can see that the light running down the side of his face, jacket, and hand is much more defined and obvious. This could be for a couple of reasons, and the first I’ll say is because this light has been metered brighter than the strip box light on his back; it’s roughly 1 to 1.5 stops brighter. It could also be that a harder light source has been used which may even be another strip box with the outer diffusion panel removed. This would create a harder light source as the light would only be going through the inner diffusion panel. To be honest though I think just metering the light that bit brighter will suffice to get the light looking like this.


Another thing to note about the lighting in the original poster is that the other areas of Arnold that aren’t lit are still visible, so there is still an element of ambient light here showing detail. Now some of the far edges of the lights used would do a little bit of this but this is mainly going to be achieved by dragging the shutter to allow ambient light into the scene.

REMEMBER: As a general rule, Shutter Speed controls Ambient Light; Aperture controls Flash Power.


This would further suggest that a black background was behind Arnold so dragging the shutter made no real impact on the black background. For this project though, for us dragging the shutter may cause one main issue of not getting a pure black background…so let’s see what happens and deal with any issue with this that arises.

So as for lighting set up this is pretty much what reverse engineering the poster would suggest:


A few more things before we move on to the next post which will be the photo shoot…

  1. In the lighting diagram you can see I’ve shown strip boxes with grids. These grids will help to direct the light much more an minimise any light spilling elsewhere in the scene. It’s highly possible that grids could have been used during the original photo shoot to prevent any light falling onto the seamless black background. In our photo shoot I will be using small flash (Phottix) with soft box modifiers made by Rogue and because I want to use the Invisible Black Background technique, I too will use these modifiers with grids attached.
  2. Although the Hots Toys Terminator Guardian Model is incredibly detailed (and I really do mean INCREDIBLE) it does have posing limitations and I don’t think I can get it to hold the gun in the same position, so I will likely have to modify the pose or maybe even just the crop.

For now though I think that’s all there is to say about the lighting set up. It’s pretty simple really looking at the poster and seeing that just 2 lights would have been used. However it’s always worth bearing in mind that this is a movie poster and the digital artist / retoucher that created it could have adjusted such things as catch lights etc but in this case the direction of the light sources are pretty clear.

In the next post I’ll be showing you the photo shoot but in the mean time if you have any questions / comments, feel free to make use of the comments section below.

In the mean time though, I hope this kind of stuff is useful.

Catch you in the next post,

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1 Comment

  1. Frank Docherty

    “I hope this kind of stuff is useful.” Mate – you have no idea how useful this “stuff” is!

    Reverse engineering lighting setups is something that I need to practice more & more, if I want to be able to recreate dramatic looks such as this. Reading your break down of the Arnie poster lighting setup is just plain awesome! I would never have thought to break down the lighting setup the way you have. It makes so much more sense to me now, especially the analysing of the visible detail in the shadowed areas.

    I can’t wait to see how this project evolves!


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