Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Competing with the Sun

Awhile back we were shooting for a short film outside in a parking lot on a bright and very hot day. Our character was stuck in a traffic looking through his rear view mirror at the girl of his dreams. It was a simple shot from outside of the car looking in on him as he gazed at the girl. However, the windshield of the car the character was in, blocked the majority of the light from the sun going into the car, leaving his face dark.

The dark face, but bright outside, created difficulty and frustration. If we exposed for the characters face the outside light would be blown out, but if we exposed for the outside light the characters face was dark. Our best option was to try and raise the characters face enough to get us proper exposure while the camera was properly exposed for the outside light.

Making due

This was easier said then done. We only had small tungsten production lights on set , and no flex fills or HMIs. We had some small poster boards whiched helped bounce a little light when used as bounce cards, but weren't strong enough alone. When using the tungsten lights we found that they had to be as close to the character as possible and could not be balanced to daylight with gels due to the loss of light. This combination brought the face of the actor up the few stops we really needed. We were able to get a better looking image, but still not optimal.

In some situations you just have to make due with the equipment you have.


Speed Racer

I recently watched Speed Racer, a movie based off the old Japanse cartoon. The movie is filled with bright colors and bright lighting. I noticed the filmmakers used strong key light, which put out soft bright white light on the characters and locations.


This strong white light is used throughout Speed Racer to bring out the bold colors, contrast, and emotion in the scenes.They also used bright light to create strong reflections off the cars to make them look sleek and fast.

Racer X

The creativity of the lighting and cinematogrophy in Speed Racer makes the movie fun and enjoyable to watch.


It Comes From Below

The direction of light on the character is very important and plays a large role in the emotion and subtext of a shot. If the direction of light is not motivated or comes from a strange angle, it can throw off the audience. Sometimes this is used by the filmmaker to envoke a certain feelings in the audience.

When the filmmaker wishes his character to appear evil or extremely angry they will sometimes position the light directly below the character. This is similar to the effect of placing the camera at a low angle. The character feels big, and since we rarely see light coming from the ground it feels unnatural and frightening. This type of lighting is also generally used when depicting the Devil.

Just something to keep in mind I guess.


Monday, October 13, 2008


I've been seeing more and more LED (Light emitting diode) Lights recently. Their small size and efficient output are making them very popular in flash lights, decorational lighting, and even film production.

There are many advantages for using LED lights on film productions.The first advantage is the fact that LEDs have a very efficient output.A large LED light panel can run off of very little energy.LED lights burn at a tempurature of 5600K, the color tempurature of daylight, making them sutable to use with HMIs and in outdoor lighting situations. LED lights are also very long lasting and durable, which is a big advantage over HMI's and Tungsten lights.

One of the disadvantages to using LED lights is they produce a soft light. This soft light can be hard to control and only appropriate for certain situations. However, given the right circumstances an LED can be the perfect light to have on set.

My small LED flashlight


Monday, October 6, 2008

Painters Drop Cloth

When setting up the lighting for some of the scenes in Mental house I used the natural light coming through a window as my key. There are positives and negatives to doing this. The big negative is it can be very hard to control and will change as time passes through the day.

For the closing scene of the film we had a shot of the Jesus character looking out the window and turning to address the other patients. The lighting on him was almost entirely provided from the window and was originally too harsh. We wanted lighting on Jesus to be soft to make his character comforting so I came up with a simple solution.

I cut a piece of painters drop cloth and taped it to the window. Painters drop cloth works very well for diffusing lights and I have used it frequently to tape on windows that are providing too much light. It softens the harsh light coming through the window and helps bring a smoother feel characters faces. You just have to be careful that it is not seen in the shot.

Painters drop cloth taped to the window in front of Jesus


Overhead Solution

Shooting for Mental house continued early Sunday as we arrived on set ready for another day of hard work. Our first shot was a long glidecam shot down the hallway following the nurse character as she walked to the room.

Preparing to shoot

This hallway shot was complicated to light for and took about 3 hours. We wanted the light from the doorway and window to be the strongest source and provide the key for the nurse when she hit her final mark. The hard part was getting enough ambient light in the rest of the hallway to have proper exposure through the rest of the shot. We used Kino flows and a 1k into a chimera hidden in some doorways to provide extra ambient light, but this left us with a gap about halfway down the hallway.

To fix the problem I had my gaffer rig up a 1k overhead to bounce the light off the ceiling over the underexposed area. After some careful rigging we had our light in place and the shot looked much better.

A big part of lighting is problem solving. There will be many unaccounted for issues that you won't notice at first. It takes time and creative ideas come up with the solution thats makes the shot perfect.

Gaffer rigging it up


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Just A Little Bit Of Baby Powder Goes A Long Way!

Today we started shooting for Mental House, a short film about a group of people who think they are famous actors being held against their will in an insain asylum. The lighting for the film uses a unique blend of natural and production lighting which brings some unique ideas and emotions to the scenes.

For the first scene we wanted a muddy and dingy sort of feel for the enviorment. We used the sun coming in from the windows as our key light and an HMI, as well as a few other lights to provide some fill on the actors and extras faces.

What really brought character to the lighting was the addition of baby powder in the air. Before each take two guys ran through with baby powder covered shirts, fluffing them in the air to catch the rays of light from the sun.

Zach powdering the shot

This gave the perfect dusty and dingy feeling to the lighting that we wanted. The baby powder that acumulated on the floor also added to the set design, making the room feel as though it hadn't been cleaned in some time. It was a great technique and really brought up the production quality of our shot. Although I'm starting to feel the effects of breathing baby powder for 2 hours...*cough*

Taking the first shot for Mental House


Friday, October 3, 2008

Big Ugly Diffusion Monsters.

It was a gloomy overcast day today, which will soon become coming as we go further and further into the fall and winter months. As I was driving up to school I was thinking about how gloomy overcast days effect shoots.

Whenever you have a cloudy sky, the light outside if very soft and there is little to no shadow. This lack of shadow kills much of the contrast when shooting,making shots look flat, an effect that can be possitive or negative depending on the mood wanted for the scene.

If the scene you are shooting depicts a man who is sad or depressed, cloudy overcast skys could be just the thing to bring out the underlying theme for the shots. The character will be lit very evenly, soft, and will blend in with the background due to the lack of contrast. The shot will feel dark and gloomy, a feeling that will also be mimicked by the light on the characters face as well.

However, if you wish for your character to be in a situation that is menacing, hopeful, frustrating, happy, heroic, ect, then you will need contrast and shadows in your shots.

Its a good idea to keep track of the weather forcasts before shoots so you have an idea of what to expect and can plan accordinly. If the weather seems like it will be perfect for a particular scene then rearange the scedual and try to take advantage of the opportunity.

What do we do if we need to shoot on a cloudy overcast day but don't want our characters to feel sad? Well,you will need to light! Get the bigest lights you can, and put them as close to the actors as you see fit. Even flex fills and bounce cards won't really cut it on really overcast days because you won't be able to get the punch out of them you will require. The big thing is trying to get some shadow back into the shots.

Shooting on a gloomy day