Flags, cookies, gobos and diffusers are all pieces of filmmaking hardware used by professional filmmakers to control light. In this blog post we’ll discuss how to use flags, and other flag like modifiers in your films.
Flags, put very simply, help block and control light. They may also be called “cutters” and are usually made of foam core, metal or black fabric around a metal frame. Like barndoors, they help control lighting spill, but they give you a lot of flexibility over the larger lighting composition. Century stands (also called c-stands) are used to hold French flags because they are relatively light weight, very compact and easy to move.
You’ll often hear filmmakers say that a scene looks “sourcey” or a particular area looks“hot”. What they are referring to is abrasive lighting. Filmmakers often try to achieve a naturalistic look in their scene composition. This means that they want their lighting to closely mimic the direction, quality and intensity of natural lighting environments. However, there are ways to create nice creative highlights to a scene without noticeably taking away from the naturalistic tone of the composition.
Flags help filmmakers accomplish this by helping them keep lighting out of part of the shots composition. A “topper” is a flag that helps direct light away from the top of a shot. A “bottomer” is a flag that keeps light off the bottom of a composition. A “sider” is a flag that keeps light off one or both sides of the frame. Any combination of flags can be used for any particular scene.
It takes a lot of practice to become familiar with setting up and effectively using flags, but as a starter tip remember that the farther the flag is from the light source the harsher the shadow will be. On the other hand, the closer the flag is to the light source the more of a soft gradient effect the flag will have.
A French flag is different than a regular flag because a French flag is attached to the front of a camera by a metal arm and is used to keep light out of the front of the camera that may otherwise cause flare. French flags are usually quite small (a common size is 9 inches x 13 inches) while regular flags are usually much larger (i.e. 2 feet, 3 feet, 5 feet +)