Monday, April 18, 2016

PIPPA Short Film: How I Lit Moonlight Exterior Scenes using a 2.5kw HMI

Back in February I shot a short film titled 'PIPPA'. A simple story that follows a travelling circus worker and her ambitions to do more with her life than just being at the circus. A really lovely script to shoot, along with some fun locations to shoot at. I made use of as many practical lights as possible for this production, from colourful fluorescents at the fairground, to the tungsten lamp on the bridge at the pond. I knew the film included a lot of night exteriors, so I wanted the practicals to create the motivation needed to light certain scenes. In this first post I am going to discuss two night time exteriors scenes that we shot, with our key lights acting as 'moonlight' in both scenes. Even though we had a tight budget on this production, there was enough room to rent out a 2.5kw HMI along with a 12x12 frame with both options for Ultrabounce or a 1/2 silk diffusion.

Moonlight ambience: 2.5kw, Opal diffusion, 12x12 Ultrabounce

By examining the way night exteriors are shot on feature films, I realised that the audience won't question the way moonlight looks, as long as it looks like night, the way it's lit doesn't really matter. A lot of high budget American features make use of a large moonlight source overhead the exterior sets, which most of the time causes a fairly unnatural haze of light at the top of the frame, again the audience are never going to question this if they are engaged by the story enough.

In 'PIPPA' our protagonist visits a local manor house garden numerous times within the film. For the pond exteriors at night I bounced the 2.5kw HMI onto the 12x12 ultra bounce, this gave me a soft, yet large source of moonlight that filled the whole pond and manor house garden with an ambient level of moonlight. I placed this setup the other side of the pond to the camera, at a 90 degree angle to our actress. This ambient level was a couple of stops under exposed to what the camera could expose for at T2.8, ASA 1280, but it was still readable. With the shot being a medium close-up I was able to light our actress with a separate source. Our key light for this scene affectively became the LED flyer light, boomed out over the pond, this was something we hired from Greenkit. A bicolour LED light with a soft box, that attaches to the end of a boom pole. This was to highlight the actors face in a way more readable to the camera. I had my gaffer position the LED flyer soft box in the same direction as the Ultrabounced HMI light. We set the LED to 5600k to match the HMI. 

Framegrab: Arri Alexa Classic, T2.8, 5600k, ASA 1280

For some other scenes I took a different approach for the moonlight, I tried going direct with the lamp, whilst placing the lamp further from our action. This gave a different look, harsher shadows are visible, however by positing the lamp so it shines through a tree line it gave us some interesting effects. As our actor walks down the dark road, the 2.5kw HMI moonlight is hitting her through the various trees and branches in its way, creating a beautiful movement of patterns on her face. An observation the night before this shoot, in a pitch black field under full moonlight showed me that moonlight is in fact very harsh, even creating shadows on the field floor. So if a camera could exposed for moonlight, and it was to be shining through trees, then this effect of moving patterns is actually quite realistic.  Even though I used two different styles of moonlight in this film, both soft, and direct, the effect of 'night' is always apparent, and the audience will hopefully never question it.

Framegrab: Arri Alexa Classic, T2.8, 5600k, ASA 1280

I personally feel that for future shoots, I will request a larger lamp for these kind of setups. Something along the lines of a 4kw HMI would probably do the trick when it comes to creating a level of ambience in a large exterior location such as the garden pond I had to light. The only thing stopping us this time was budget and power. We were using a Honda UE70i generator. For the moonlight only setups the generator was fine, but for some of the larger fairground scenes we had to light later on in the shoot we were maxing out on the power being used, having to think carefully with my gaffer what we could and couldn't use for specific shots. Due to having a smaller HMI at 2.5kw, my gaffer, Dave Allen, spotted it full and positioned it closer to the 12x12 Ultrabounce to get the most out of it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ramblers Short Film: How I Lit a Cabin Night Interior

This is the second post on how I lit specific shots from the short film Ramblers, by Faroese director Hanus Johannessen. To read the first post on how I lit a sodium vapour street scene, click here. One of the first things we shot for the film was interior of a cabin, a hideout our two protagonists find towards the middle of the film, one of the more dialogue heavy sequences in the short film. This is a fairly intense scene, in which Marcus attempts to patch Dans heavily infected wound up. It's a low point in the film where our protagonists realise they probably don't have much of a chance of leaving the island they are stuck on.

Framegrab: C500, 35mm Cine Prime, T2.8, ISO 850, 5600k
The opening shot of this sequence is a close-up of Dan that shows the pain he is currently in, along with Marcus searching the cupboards in the kitchen which is in the background of the shot. The lighting for this scene is very warm, again contrasting the daylight scenes that play before it. I wanted to suggest that the light is mainly coming from candlelight from within the cabin, and this is shown by numerous candle practicals hanging around the cabin. I began with placing two key lights, one 800w redhead clamped to the ceiling of the bedroom, and a second clamped to the kitchen ceiling. My gaffer Milo Cosemans did a great job creating a skirt out of blackwrap, to minimise the spill of light hitting the cabin walls, along with a layer of 1/2 white diffusion to soften the lamps output. I soon realised that having an 800w on in each room was way too much, and completely ruined the depth in the shot. I ended up keeping the kitchen light off, just using the light in the bedroom. The output was still a lot more than anticipated, in an ideal world I would go for a lower wattage light, or plug the lamp into a dimmer, however we had pretty much all of the lighting kit available in the Faroe Islands, kindly donated to the shoot by Klippfisk. I ended up placing a layer of ND .3 on the 800w to cut the output down by a stop.

Moonlight, HMI pocket par through the bedroom window, softer Kinoflo 4x4 through the kitchen window

With my cameras kelvin set to 5600k, I wanted the tungsten lighting to come across quite warmly, with my moonlight being white. I placed my 250w HMI coming through the side bedroom window, creating a harsh window pattern to the left of the opening frame. I also had a Kinoflo 4x4 (4x3 after the Faroese wind got hold of the light) shining through the kitchen window. The Kino acted as a soft key for later on in the scene when we see Marcus peering out of the kitchen window. I personally feel these lights are the most artificial aspect of the scene, once again in an ideal world I would have had a larger source such as a 2.5kw HMI positioned further away from the cabin. Potentially bounced off an ultra bounce or some poly board. This would have given me a larger and softer source of moonlight, which is more realistic to what the real moon provides in terms of lighting.

Framegrab: Candlelight practical, 60w house bulb on a dimmer in the corner of the shot adding to the candlelight
The kitchen ended up being a lot lower key than the bedroom. Candles where placed around the room as seen in the above cutaway shot from the scene. I placed a 60w house bulb on a dimmer (which involved a series of european to UK adaptors to put together) in the corner of the kitchen, this added to the light the candles by the string of animal bones was giving, and also provided a harsher fill light across the whole room. I then had two Dedo 150ws clamped onto various objects out of the top of my frame, positioned in ways that created streaks of light across the cabin walls and props, and dimmed them to almost 20%. With the stress of shooting inside a tiny cabin with a storm happening outside, I missed a lot of things in terms of lighting. Marcus is quite under exposed for a lot of the scene, whilst Dan is fine being positioned below my 800w soft toplight. My camera shadow became a problem in the kitchen whenever I went in front of the 60w bulb in the corner. With the quick pace towards the end of the scene, shooting handheld throughout the cabin, I struggled to avoid my shadow on numerous takes.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ramblers Short Film: How I Lit a Sodium Vapour Street Scene

I've just wrapped principal photography for the short film 'Ramblers', a suspense/thriller short by Faroese director Hanus Johannessen, mainly filmed on the island of Sandoy, and secondly the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn. By far this was one of my most challenging shoots I have ever been part of. Not only did the locations come with their own challenges, from miles of hiking along with climbing hills and waterfalls, the weather was also against us. What would start as a sunny day, could turn to rain, snow and wind, all within an hour or two, i've never experienced such unpredictable weather conditions. With a short film set mostly exterior, keeping crew moral (and my own) high was a struggle.

Director Hanus Johannessen and myself

The final shooting day ended up including one of my favourite setups in terms of action and cinematography. A short flashback scene where our two protagonists Dan and Marcus, played by actors Chris Sherwood and Will Turner Roden, are escaping from angry locals after a scrap in the pub. The shot involves the characters running up an alleyway, whilst our extras run past in the background. As a shot I feel it has a lot of energy, and tells a lot for the narrative in only a few seconds.

Framegrab: Canon C500, 35mm Canon Cine Prime, T1.5, ISO 1000, 4500k

In terms of lighting for this shot, I knew I wanted the lighting to be more towards the sodium vapour quality of light. The majority of the film is quite natural in terms of lighting, with a lot of daylight scenes set in the vast landscapes of the islands. Towards the end of the film candles and fire motivate a lot of the lighting within the scenes. So I felt it would be good to foreshadow the warmth of those latter scenes, with the warmth and gritty visuals sodium vapour provides.

With great help from my gaffer Milo Cosemans, I lit this scene with 5 lights in total. Starting from the top of the scene, we had two 150w Dedos boomed in on a c-stand arm. These light the top corner of the street, where our characters end up hiding from the angry locals. I wanted the sodium to be more subtle on this setup, so we used High-Sodium gel on each Dedo. Secondly I had a 800w redhead clamped to guttering on the right hand side of the street. I used a stronger sodium gel on this lamp, Urban Sodium, and ended up removing the barn doors to get an uneven throw of light across the street. On the day no one had noticed we had even lit the set, as it seemed to blend into the environment so well, which I suppose is the best kind of compliment when going for naturalistic cinematography. Thirdly I placed another 800w redhead, again with Urban Sodium gel, in the far background of the frame, lighting the marina gangway and the boats along the back. This helped with creating depth in the shot, it provides the viewer with plenty of areas of interest to look at.

Behind the Scenes photo by Milo Cosemans

The final light was my 250w HMI pocket par. I wanted the HMI to be more towards the green of mercury vapour lighting, to be a strong colour contrast with the orange of the sodium vapour (something I first tried in the King Cobra music video). We firstly tried 1/2 +green gel, this wasn't enough, and doubling that still didn't produce the tone/colour I wanted. I had luckily bought some steel green along with me on the trip, so we tried that and decided it was the best gel for the job. I positioned the HMI in a way that when the actors and extras ran towards the alleyway from the adjacent road, long shadows are cast along the pavement. This works well in prolonging the effect of the angry locals chasing the two protagonists.

The greenish street lights in the far distance add another level of depth to the shot, these aren't seen until the protagonists make it to the top of the street, by then the background focus is so shallow it all blends into one. Some other practicals that I had to work with included a horribly magenta LED light that was positioned at the bottom of the alleyway, luckily this turned off by the time we had turned over on the shot. Secondly was the fluorescent light on the left side of the street, I didn't mind the light it was producing, it was more the level of exposure it gave, it was a couple stops higher than what I had exposed the scene for.

You can read about how I lit a cabin interior scene for this short film by clicking here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lighting a Poor Mans Process Driving Scene

The past month has involved the pre-planning of a short film titled 'Velox', directed by Jordan Paterson, it's a short film that is set in a moving car. For a variety of reasons, our first thing to happen with this production was that we had a 'studio' space to shoot a film in, the second idea was to shoot a car in the studio, and then the script came third. This project for me was an attempt at selling to the audience the effect of a car driving, when in reality it is sat solidly in a studio. This in the industry is known as the 'Poor Mans Process', and is used extensively on low and high budget productions to make cars, trains, and other automobiles appear to be driving.

I did a lot of research for this project to ensure it was shot to the highest standard possible. I started with basic online research, watching online behind the scenes videos on different poor man setups, reading and visiting various filmmaking forums, and primary research that included talking to the DOPs I work with on a regular basis. With this kind of shooting there is no one way of achieving the effect, I didn't want to copy exactly what another DOP did for his setup, I however took inspiration from a variety of sources, and planned my lighting in the way that would best suit Jordan's script.

Pre-light and shooting the test shots before the day
This was by far one of the most complicated lighting setups I have ever planned, I spent weeks racking my brains over how I could get it all working in sync, with the minimal kit that I had, with the zero budget I also had to shoot it. My lighting diagram was changing daily, it was literally the night before the pre-light that I finally felt like it was finished. The day before our shoot day we had a pre-light day, which gave me the time to solve all of the problems there and then, and not on the day. I had my lighting crew set up all of the lights around the car, in the exact way I had designed it all on paper. It was quite something to see it all coming together so quickly, especially after having it in my mind for so long.


We ran a few technical rehearsals with all of the effects playing out together, and decided that it was working really well. Our passing street lights and cars looked realistic, and the traffic light stop worked nicely. A few things that I took away from these tests really helped improve the setup for when we actually shot it on the day. Some of the notes I had where that the car was too static, even though we had a grip bouncing the car with a plank of wood, it just didn't register on screen enough. So that was something we needed to address on the day to help sell the effect. Secondly the car headlight effect playing out in the background works well, however we need to keep the side to side movements more minimal on the day, otherwise it looks like there is a drunk driving behind our actors.

A video posted by samthomsa (@samthomsa) on

A big problem that we ran into during our pre-light was reflections in the cars window. For our wide reverse shot from the back seat of the car we had no problems. When we switched around for our medium two shot from the front, all of our passing lights above the car reflected in the window, showing the source of the light, along with the c-stand arm holding it. We solved this by pulling our street light effect back a few feet, making sure the source never comes past the front of the car. We then set up a large black drape on four stands above the car, and over the camera, this helped eliminate all of the reflections caused from the white ceiling.

On the day my final lighting setup for the main medium 2 shot was the same as what we had practised with on the pre-light, with the addition of one extra light that I felt would help sell the effect even more. Starting with my ambient fill lights, I had an Arri 650W fresnel with sodium gel, spotted and bounced off a large 4x4 poly board. This was positioned just to the front left of the car, and provided a soft, low key ambient level of street light for both the car and actors. I then placed on the opposite end of the set my Mitronic 250w HMI, with CTO 1/2, bounced off another poly board. This light was providing a soft 'moonlight' backlight, again both for the car and the actors. The reason for the CTO 1/2 on the HMI was that my camera was balanced to 3200K, so the daylight balance of the HMI became blue, looking unrealistic as moonlight in my opinion. I warmed it up slightly, whilst keeping it a lot cooler than the other sodium gelled and tungsten lamps in my setup to maintain the required colour contrast.

Our main lighting effect was a passing street light. I wanted the movement of this light to be more than swivelling on top of a light stand, instead I requested that my lighting crew rigged up a lamp on the end of a c-stand arm. This allowed us to swing the light in a larger circumference, which sold the effect of a street light swooping over and past the car. I had a Sachtler 300w with sodium gel for this effect. With the addition of being placed into a 500w dimmer, this effect combined both dimming and swinging to show the street light coming closer and moving further away. As we discovered on our pre-light, we couldn't have the street light effect playing out above the car, it had to be to the side to eliminate all reflections. This disadvantage of this was that it mainly hit our actress in the passenger seat, and didn't really do too much for our driver. I simply placed a 60w house bulb to the left of the car, the opposite side to the 300w light, and had that plugged into the same dimmer as the 300w swinging light. This meant as the street light dimmed on and swung by, the house bulb would also dim on and off at the same time, providing fill light for our actor. In conjunction with this effect, I had a 150w house bulb in a lamp holder positioned behind the car, as our street light dims off, the 150w was dimmed on and off quickly to add the effect of the street light passing further behind the car. The 150w bulb was snooted and gelled with sodium gel as well.

Dedo traffic lights being setup 
The next lighting effect that we had was our traffic light setup. This consisted of 3 150w Dedos, gelled with light opal diffusion, and then with Party Red, Deep Amber and Twickenham Green gels. The idea is that our street light effect starts to slow down, and one of the sparks dims the red Dedo up to sell the effect of driving up to a red light. We then cycle through the different colours, and once at green the street lights start swinging again. My gaffer Louis Berry had a suggestion that helped sell this effect, and that involved placing green gel onto an LED Icelight, and having someone walk away from the car with it, this made it look like the car was driving through and past the traffic light. A subtle effect, but it's all the little things like that, that keep the audience believing this is real. 

Bertha MK I, our car headlights rig. Bertha MK II was lower with the
300w lamps positioned closer. Credit to spark Louis Blakeny.
Our car headlights were from 2 Sachtler 300w fresnels rigged to a floor dolly, allowing us to slowly roll the rig around left to right, forward and back to sell the effect of a car driving from behind. We also had a practical effect with our picture car turning a corner, we had our headlights rig slowly move off to the side, and dimming off to make it look like our picture car had pulled away from the car driving behind. For our reverse shot from the back seat of the car, we simply gelled these lights with party red, and had them as the rear lights of the car driving in front. 

The final lighting effect was a passing car setup. We achieved this with two Dedos panning and dimming in synchronisation. When the first Dedo pans through and away from the car, the second Dedo pans it's light onto the back of the car. The second Dedo was gelled with red gel, to add the effect of the rear lights of a car passing by. With the tungsten one representing car headlights driving in the opposite direction. 

On the day we also added some practical effects. These included using a haze machine to help diffuse all of our light, which also helped hide the black backgrounds we set up, making the exteriors of our car seem more realistic. We also had water sprayed on the car windows before each take, to make it look like it had been raining. The lights all reflected beautifully on these rain drops, adding an extra layer of depth to the different frames. To solve the static car problem, I then asked if my operator Ellis Doig could go handheld to add some shake to the shot. He suggested loosening the tripod head up and adding a more controlled movement that way, it worked a treat and made the car appear to be bobbing around the frame. Everything combined, the lighting, practical and camera trickery, created a shot that we literally couldn't have been happier with. It just goes to show that putting the time into pre-planning a shoot is always valuable, especially with it as technically challenging as a setup like this one. I surprised myself this time.

I'd like to have tried a few more things, potentially I can try them if I ever do this kind of setup again in the future. One thing a lot of people told me when giving me advice before the shoot, was that I need to try and show that there is more outside of the car, for example fairy lights acting as building lights in the far distance. I didn't try this, the rain and haze however helped us out a lot in this instance, I feel I could have been more creative outside of the car. One idea was to use some flashing bike lights passing past the car windows on our close-up shots, they would have been out of focus, and would have helped sell that the car was driving by civilization, instead we have plain darkness throughout the film. The more of watch the rushes from the shoot day, the more I criticise the work. There are a lot of things i would do/try different the next time I do a poor mans process. I'm looking forward to giving it a go another time in the future!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lighting a Gritty Rap Video with Practical Lighting Changes

A couple of months ago I had my first DOP job with Riser Films, a fairly new production company based in London who primarily shoot music videos. The company founders wanted to take a step back from shooting, so that they could concentrate more on the directing and producing side of things, this is why I got the chance to shoot a video with them. The video was for a fairly new artist in the rap scene, and had the basic treatment which involved the artist performing to a crowd in an underground rave. Taking inspiration from a colour palette used by cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, along with some help from users at the forums, I decided to light this video using a sodium and mercury vapour palette. This involved the dark yellow/orange tones from sodium lights, along with the colder green tones emitted from mercury fixtures.

This was probably my biggest lighting set up to date, I spent quite a few days racking my brains over how to achieve the lighting in this video. I'd never lit such a large space, so had to go with my instincts when choosing which lights to use in certain positions when I did my pre-shoot lighting plan. The challenge for me with this setup, was that I decided to do practical lighting changes within the video. This involved the key light on the artist panning on at the start, along with two smaller side lights on the crowd, all of the lights dimming off at 1 minute into the video, and then at the drop all of the lights striking and pulsating with the beat of the song.

Ungraded still from the rave scene.

It all seemed simple once I had sussed out the lighting plan, but trying to pre-plan this was something that I found quite confusing. However since doing the shoot I have found doing these kind of lighting changes quite simple to pull off, and they do have a lot of power in terms of creating interesting visuals in a music video. I started off with the key light on the artist, I placed an Arri 650w with Urban Sodium gel to the left of stage, bounced off a poly board. This lamp was then swivelled left to right on the stand to dim the light on and off at the certain points in the video. I then placed a Dedo 150w with Urban Sodium as a quarter backlight to the right of stage. Two more Dedo 150w lamps with Urban Sodium were placed either side of the dance floor, spotted through two metal fences. Once dimmed on these two lights backlit the crowd, whilst still hiding their identity. The last part to light was the background, this is where I used my mercury vapour combination. I flooded a 250w HMI with 1/2 CTO and 1/2 + green onto the back wall of the warehouse, this created some really good depth and colour separation within the shoot, helping to separate the artist from the background. I then had another Dedo 150w, this time with 1/2 + green, pointed into the air in the background. Once the room was hazed up, the background had a really great mercury vapour tone to it.

Director Charlotte Regan talking to the artist.
The next thing to setup was the large key light for the crowd, for when the song drops. For this I used a 2kw blonde with Urban Sodium to the left of the crowd. When all of the lights dimmed back on for the drop, the 2kw was then switched on by one of my sparks creating a more vibrant ambiance to the shot. Along with the addition of the 2kw, a series of 40w Edison light bulbs were hung from the ceiling randomly. These bulbs where all hooked up to a series of dimmers, that I had my spark pulsating off and on for the drop of the song. The still image above is taken from this part of the video. We shot two other scenes for this video. ONe of them being an opening steadicam shot of the artist walking 'backstage' to the gig, and a second one of a drummer performing by firelight. The basement scene used the same sodium/mercury setup used for the main scene. The shots of the drummer performing by firelight was CTO 1/2 on a 650W as a base level for the firelight hitting the musician, and the mercury vapour recipe on my HMI as a background light again.

Gaffer Chris Broomfield setting up lighting for the opening basement scene

A challenge was finding the right gel to light combination to get the required look. I tested a series of gels purchased from Lee Filters, to find the best recipe of gels for the different lighting colours. For the sodium vapour effect, I tested Half Mustard Yellow, Hi Sodium and Urban Sodium gels on a tungsten 2kw. I ended up going with Urban Sodium, and this is what was used in the final video. For the mercury vapour look, I decided to try out Steel Green, on both tungsten and daylight sources. I personally found this gel emitted too much in the blue spectrum, and had too much of a theatrical tone to it. I ended up creating my own combination, with CTO and 1/2 +green on a HMI for the green mercury vapour look.

For this video I had the chance to work with the Sony FS7, along with Samyang cine primes. I shot in the Cine EI mode, at the native ASA of 2000. There isn't much noise reduction internally in the camera, so my grader had to reduce the noise quite considerably in post using Davinci. I chose to rate the camera at a kelvin of 3200 for this shoot. I felt the sodium vapour looked best with the camera set to 3200k, which is why I set the HMI mercury vapour light with 1/2 CTO, just to warm it up slightly to avoid it being too blue due to the daylight balanced bulb. If I was to balance the camera at 5600k, then I wouldn't have needed the 1/2 CTO on the HMI, however the urban sodium on the tungsten lamps would have been quite extreme in terms being orange.

As I say at the end of everyone of my lighting blog posts, I learnt so much from this shoot. It's always the case with whatever shoot I do, but with this one in particular, I took away so much valuable knowledge from what I had learnt. I got the chance to experiment with gels to create a pleasing colour palate, along with getting the chance to give practical lighting changes an attempt. I also got the chance to work with a full camera and lighting crew, which made a change as I usually have to/chose to do everything myself, which always gets too much for me. I will embed the video here when it is released, currently the artist is planning on releasing the single early December, so keep an eye out on the Riser Facebook page to keep updated.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lighting a Prison Cell with Kino Flo, Dedos and Haze

For the past month or so I have been working on the pre-production of a short film titled 'It Still Hurts'. Last week was principal photography for this short film, and I have to say it probably involved one of my personal favourite lighting setups to date.

The main shooting location for this short was in an old prison cell in Deptford, a great location as the series of four cells have been adapted to be used by film crews. Visually the cells are amazing, they are exactly how they where left ten years ago when the new police station opened. The main challenge for me as the cinematographer was how to film in the confined space. With the scene being around 12 pages long, with lots of blocking and movement by the actors, I had to plan a way to shoot and light this scene in a practical way. After the first recce at the location, I decided to rig my lights using an Autopole across the walls. Mainly to avoid light stands getting in the way, being a trip hazard, and to keep the lights out of my shots.
I managed to get some time the night before our shoot to head to the location to set up my lighting rig. This saved at least an hour on the shoot morning, which meant we could turnover a lot earlier. I managed to rig the Manfrotto Autopole lengthways across the top right of the cell. The first thing I rigged up was a Kino Flo Diva 401 with half diffusion as a general room ambience/soft key light for the two actors. I turned off the overhead fluorescent in the cell, which was flickering, the Kino Flo was producing a similar kind of top light, with a softer quality.

Autopole rig. Dedo 150w, Kino Flo Diva 401 w/ half diffusion & 60w chinaball
Because I was on a budget, I also rigged up my DIY 60w china-ball on a 300w dimmer. The china-ball was placed at the opposite end to the Kino Flo, and was there for the same purpose as an ambient fill/soft key light. The benefit of the china-ball was that I was able to lower and raise it really easily, depending on how high my top edge of frame was. For example we had a shot of our actor on the floor, so I simply lowered the china-ball to help me expose for that angle.

Croc clips placed on the kino, creating shadow and shape in the beam of the Dedo light.
The final light rigged to the autopole was a Dedo 150w. This was a harsher backlight that bought the contrast into the lighting that I needed to make the black and white shots pleasing to look at. I spotted the dedo around halfway, and closed the barn doors in slightly to direct the light to a specific point on the right hand side wall. The motivation for the spotted Dedo light is that it's a street light shining through the prison cell window. Because we shot the scene in daytime, I blacked out the existing window with a perfect fitting flag, taping the edges with 2 inch black gaffer tape (tape not shown in the above image) to block all of the excess daylight from spilling in. Once I added in the smoke machine for 'atmosphere', the spotted Dedo produced a beautiful beam of light shining into the prison cell. Something that I noticed when adjusting the KIno which was next to the Dedo, was that when objects are moved in front of that beam of light, interesting shadows are produced in the beam. I ended up clipping some croc clips in front of the beam to break it up.

Dedos have become one of my favourite lights to work with. As well as the one that I rigged up, I also had another two in the kit to play around with. For the wide shot of the cell that we shot through the cell hatch, I placed a Dedo 150w just to the right of camera to light up the left side of the hatch. I dimmed it down almost until the light was off, and closed the barn doors just to let the smallest amount of light out. I haven't got an example grab without this Dedo, but without it the cell hatch was just pitch black. By adding in the light I managed to create more depth in the shot.

I shot this scene using a Tiffen Pro Mist 1/2 softening filter. I discovered Pro Mist filters a few productions ago, and have been religiously using them as I love the look they give to a digital image. I personally am getting bored of using them now, and would love to venture out and use some other softening options. Soft FX and Glimmer Glass are the next two I will be trying. On a recent production I camera assisted on, the DOP used a Glimmer Glass 1/2 filter for the whole production. This was a fashion promo, so it softened the skin of the models, whilst creating a nice glow in the highlights. I have an on going post about filters here.

I shot this film on the C300, and stayed on the EF 16-35mm for the majority of the prison cell scene. I wanted to shoot with wider focal lengths, mainly due to the tight space, but also to really bring the audience into the film with handheld close-up shots that got close to the actors. Apart from the ending shot, I shot entirely handheld, which allowed me to follow the actors blocking throughout the sequences, allowing for some creative shot type changes within each take. I set the kelvin to 4500k in camera, even though we shot for black and white, I wanted the footage to work in colour as well, just in case the director changes his mind about black and white. I have to agree I prefer some of the shots in colour over being in monochrome. Maybe I should have shot on the Red Epic Monochrome, there would have been no going back that way! In terms of aperture, I stayed around F4/4.5 the whole day. I don't like shooting too wide open when I'm pulling focus and operating, as it just becomes too difficult to concentrate on everything if focus becomes my key concern. I tried to move the camera with the action to keep our actors in focus, this was easier than focus pulling as I was able to keep both hands on the camera rig.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Using Lens Filtration in Digital Cinematography

This year I have been very focused towards learning and understanding more about lighting in cinematography. Lighting is so key to know as a cinematographer, however I soon realised that I shouldn't have been focusing on that one aspect, a good director of photography has to be aware of so many other aspects of the art, for example knowing camera angles, lens choices, different operating methods. In this post I am going to be exploring and learning more about using lens filtration to achieve a specific look in camera. If you've read my blog before, you will have seen that I like to get the look I want in camera, this means minimal work is needed in the colour grade. I have been using specific lighting gels to get colours that I want, and now I want to try out certain lens filters to know how and when to get certain styles of shots.

The first range of filters that I am going to look at are the Tiffen Pro Mist range. Pro Mist are used as softening filters that create an atmospheric look, they soften the sharpness of the image, and takes that digital edge off of a shot. There is a range of grades for these filters as with any Tiffen Range, going from the lower grades such as 1/8 and 1/4, through to 3. The higher the grade the more extreme the effect is. Sometimes the more subtle it is the more affective it can be with cinematography, as you don't want the filter to call attention to itself in the shot.

C100, 50mm, 850 ISO, 5600k, Tiffen Pro Mist 1/4
The above shot is from the short film 'The Act of Flogging a Dead Horse' that I recently shot. The main bulk of the short is an interview between two politicians, set it in a grandiose room. This was great for me as obviously the shots would look great in terms of the set dressing and mise-en-scene. The above shot was captured later in our shooting day, however at the start of shooting this scene we had direct sunlight coming in from the windows, which was quite problematic for some of our shots. I moved to the 'Wide Dynamic' range picture style on the C100 for this scene. To help soften the highlights, I used a low grade Pro Mist 1/4. This lower grade helped the highlights fall off smoothly, as you an see on the left of the window frame, whilst not calling attention to the fact that I have used a filter. I'd be almost tempted to use a Pro Mist 1/4, or even 1/8 for anything that I shoot in the future. In terms of lighting for this specific shot, I kept it simple and used a daylight Kino 401 just to the left of frame, as motivated daylight backlighting the actress.

C100, 50mm at F3.5, 850 ISO, 5000K, Tiffen Pro Mist 1/2

One of the scenes was quite surreal, where the lead actress enters a room filled with darkness, walking towards a candlelit table. It's a unique scene, and the director requested an atmospheric feel, with a spotlight coming from the top of the shot. I ended up using a daylight Kino Flow 401 gelled with CTO full and CTO 1/4 as the top light, angled slightly behind the actress to create depth. I then chose to use the Pro Mist 1/2 for this scene. I chose to use a higher grade of Pro Mist for this scene as it needed to have a more atmospheric feel compared to the scene in the grand room. The highlights in the shot are glowing slightly more than the shadows. For example the light falling on and reflecting off the silver pen has bloomed out, and I personally really like this effect. I feel like this filter also helps with dynamic range, in terms of helping the highlights fall off a lot more smoothly than without the filter.

Something I've learnt is that some filters are pretty much pointless now that we shoot on digital, and have all the power in the world when it comes to post colour correction. I was searching the BBlist for second hand filters when I found a Tiffen Colour Enhancing filter for sale, so I put a low offer in and got it for a really good price. I'll be continuing this post in the future with more examples using different filters.