This topic is very complicated to discuss since making a feature is not like shooting your average corporate video. I can’t really get into detail since it would mean writing a book, but I hope these tips will help.
To begin, lighting a feature is different from corporate or commercial projects. For a corporate project, we might set up our lighting first and then place the subject or subjects within it. When lighting for a feature or documentary re-enactment, we need to light for the script.
This means, if you are hired by a director or producer to DP and/or to light a feature, you must get a script and you must read it carefully. If storyboards are available, get those too. You and the director must agree with how the scenes are to look. You must determine the feel or mood for each scene and location and what the director expects the audience to feel when watching the movie. It doesn’t matter what the budget is!
Next, determine what equipment you will need to light each location. This can be done by reviewing the size of the space for each location and then following the principles mentioned in our Lighting Class and DVD for choosing lights. You can do this by using the conversion charts supplied with the class workbook. If you haven’t purchased our DVD as yet; simply put, you will need to evaluate, in foot-candles, what each location will demand for shooting with a particular aperture setting and match that output to the lights that you will be using. By doing this well ahead of the shoot date, you can determine what lights you might need to rent or borrow.
Even though the shooting schedule might be tight, the crew small and the budget low, you still must maintain the overall quality of the lighting throughout the entire movie. If you are limited by budget, crew and lighting equipment, you must plan a look from the start, that will accommodate your resources. So, don’t plan complicated setups if you won’t have the time, equipment or crew to pull them off the right way. You may need to convince the director to broaden, but not limit, his expectations of his vision in order to render a pleasing mood throughout the entire script. You can remind him that the other alternatives to rendering the scenes, as he would like them, may be to increase the budget, extend the shoot time and get a larger crew.
I have found that when shooting a feature (especially a low budget on HD or Mini-DV) the amount of lighting and grip equipment ends up being a lot more than what might be expected so, we need to be prepared for the unexpected. You should think in terms of needing at least 8,000 – 10,000 watts of tungsten light to start with for a “no” budget feature on mini DV and at the very least a 3-ton grip truck with an extensive tungsten package for a low budget feature shot on HD, rather than thinking that a light kit with 2500 watts will do the trick.
You will need power distribution at each location as well. So, be sure to check each location to see if you have enough power to use the lights you are bringing.
8,000 Watts of light will need at least 4 – 20 amp circuits. Other considerations for power includes renting a generator or doing a “Tie-in”, if time and budget allow. The type of lighting instruments needed for each location and setup should also be determined prior to the shoot. You can rent special application lights like Flo-Banks or HMI’s for specific shoot days and can be returned when that location is wrapped.
Next, after reading the script, determine what daylight fixtures you might need and what you might need in grip equipment for both indoor and outdoor locations. When setting up outdoors, I have noticed that some of us forget to consider any other lighting but the sun, but that is a mistake. On a bright day you may need butterfly silks, along with 4’X4′ silks to diffuse the sunlight and shiny boards to reflect it. On an overcast day the sun may not be intense enough to use a reflector with, so you may need to rent HMI lighting. Depending on the output of light needed, you may also need a generator.
Don’t forget to bring enough sandbags to the location. I know this sounds a bit silly, but without enough weight on stands outdoors, one gust of wind can send an entire set sailing, and sandbags are cheap to rent.
Remember; on a feature you will have many setups to do in a very limited amount of time, so the more you can prepare for each location with floor plans and lighting diagrams, the faster and more accurate you will light.
• LIGHTING A GREEN OR BLUE SCREEN.
How to properly light talent in front of a green screen is one of the most asked questions that I get. When lighting a green screen, the screen should be at least 4 feet behind the subject, the more distance the better, and lit with an even soft source. I have noticed that many stations have hard bright lights on a green screen which causes most of the problems they encounter. I compare lighting a green screen to using a garden hose. If you stand near a wall and set the hose nozzel to get a hard spray, it will splash back drenching you with water. If you set the nozzel to a soft spray you can wash the wall without any of the spray reaching you.
Light reacts much the same way, the harder you light the green or blue screen, the more splash of color you will get on your talent. So, we need to diffuse the light hitting the green screen and light it evenly.
You should then be able to light the talent any way you want as long as the shadows do not hit the background. This should not be a problem if the talent is far enough away from the screen.
For exposure, the luminence of the green screen should render the same setting as your key light being usde for your subject or you can take the background down one half stop darker than the key if you prefer. Just remember to avoid overexposing the background and you should have a nice clean key.
• MORE ON THE “FILM LOOK!”
I often get emails asking how to light a scene in order to get the “FILM LOOK” I would like to begin by saying that the “FILM LOOK” that everyone is trying to achieve can only be obtained by actually shooting film since the “Look” is derived from the chemical process that takes place within the structure of the film its-self. But, the next best thing is to achieve a beautiful, soft image on DV or HD that is so inviting that people will perceive it as something other than video.
Getting a great looking image on video is a culmination of a few different elements. If we are going to try to get a film look, we will need to approach shooting a scene “Film Style”! Here are a few elements to remember.
A. Every setup dictates a proper focal length lens.
B. Will the camera be moving or is it a static, tripod planted firmly on the ground, shot?
C. Are there enough different shots planned to accommodate the needed coverage?
D. Do you have the right type and wattage lights to cover the area you are shooting in?
E. Are the light sources diffused and color corrected properly?
F. Have you established the ISO or working speed of your particular camera so that a light meter can be use to establish exposure levels?
G. Do we fully understand exposure control and are we familiar with the aspects of lighting that can effect exposure?
H. Do we have enough time to set up the needed lights and do we have the right tools or lights for the job?
These are elements that should be addressed in order to successfully obtain the “Film Look” or any other desired look. Our DVD covers these topics and more. Once you have studied the information on the DVD and answered the questions in the workbook, we can then discuss the approach to lighting for “FILM LOOK ” (one-on-one) over the phone.
• USING LIGHT METERS.
Any light meter that can read incident and reflective light will work when lighting for video. It can even be a photography meter, but choose a digital meter that displays the f-stops. This will allow you to read the meter quickly. I use a Sekonic 558 meter because it reads incident light and has a spot attachment built-in to read reflective light. I also recommend the Gossen Digital Luna Pro. It is the less expensive of the meters and is very small and compact and is just as accurate.
When using a light meter, it doesn’t matter what format camera you are shooting with. To calibrate the meter accordingly. You must refer to your owners manual to get the lux rating of your camera. With most new cameras, the sensitivity will be f-11 @ 2000 lux. If your camera sensitivity is f-11@2000 lux, set your meter at ISO 800 when shooting indoors and at ISO 500 when changing the color wheel filter for shooting outdoors. If you have an older camera that has a lux rating of f-8 @ 2000 lux, then your ISO will be 400 indoors and ISO 250 out doors. You will need to enter the ISO information into the meter along with the shutter speed (or frame rate if the meter is made for cine or Motion picture). The shutter speed is normally 1/60. ISO + Shutter Speed = f-stop
You will get a difference between the incident and reflective because the incident measures the light coming from a source and renders it as 18% gray. So what you are reading, when using an incident meter, is the uninterrupted light output that is reaching your subject at a specific distance (which is also foot-candles). Reflective readings render the amount of light that the camera will be sensitive to AFTER it is altered by the color or density of whatever it reflects off of. Darker tones will render a reading that will indicate that you should use a wider aperture setting while lighter tones will render a reading that will indicate that you use a smaller aperture setting. This is because the meter assumes you want, whatever you point it at to be 18% gray or the same as your key or subject light.
We are also able to use a spot meter to read luminance on a set. Once we establish, with our incident meter, what f-stop our key light will be set at, in order to render our subject at 18% gray or let’s say 80% on a waveform monitor, all we need to do to be able to control other reflective light in a scene is to measure it with a spot meter and adjust it’s output until it matches that of the key light or slightly over or under as desired.
By understanding the contrast range and capabilities of the format camera that you are using, and then using a light meter to measure the ratios of a scene, you will be able to control the high lights and shadows scene to scene so that little adjustment will be needed to be done in post.
• CONVERTING “MINIMUM LUX” TO ISO.
Trying to fiqure the ISO for a mini DV camera when all the manual gives as a reference is a minimum lux can be a bit confusing, so here is some math to help fiqure out what the ISO may be.
Using my camera’s sensitivity of f-11@ 2000 lux and it’s established ISO of 800 as a reference, we can illustrate how to find the ISO from a minimum lux rated camera.
If we already know that f-11@ 2000 lux is the maximum illumination for an 800 ISO camera, and we want to find out at what f-stop and lux rating my minimum illumination is for that same camera, all we need to do is run down the math as follows:
2000 lux = f-11
1000 lux = f-8
500 lux = f-5.6
250 lux = f-4
125 lux = f-2.8
60 lux = f-2
30 lux = 1.6
15 lux = 1.6 with 6db of gain (every 6 db of gain = 1 stop)
8 lux = 1.6 with 12 db of gain
4 lux = 1.6 with 18 db of gain
It seems to me that If I were to include my maximum gain setting of 18db as part of my minimum illumination, my 800 ISO speed camera would have a minimum illumination of approximately 4 lux which would put a minimum illumination of 3 -5 lux. Our example is pretty darn close, if not exact.
• CHOOSING A BASIC LIGHT KIT.
The question regarding “what is a good, general light kit” is a common one and the answer is one that is sometimes a little different for each person depending on budget and need. First I suggest that you choose lighting that will last and that you can build from and not need to replace often. So, buying quality equipment from the start is important, even if you start with less and add to it later. Unlike cameras, computers and software, lighting and grip equipment hold their value.
You are most likely able to get back what you paid for quality lighting and grip equipment, if you ever need to sell them later. You can’t say that about digital equipment. It is almost like we need to think of cameras as being expendable and lighting and grip equipment as being permanent.
The sooner you put a good light kit together, the sooner you can begin to do the kind of work companies are willing to pay more for!
In our class, we demonstrate using an ARRI SoftBank I kit. This kit contains (1) 1000 watt open face light with a small Chimera soft box, (2) 650 watt fresnels, (1) 300 watt fresnel barn doors and steel scrims (full doubles, full singles, half doubles, half singles) and light stands.
In time you may want to add an additional ARRI 300 watt fresnel w/barn doors, scrims and stand and maybe a Source 4 Junior by a company called ETC, or the like.
In addition to a light kit, there is an array of grip equipment that you will need to add at sometime to compliment your light kit (C-stands, grip arms, flags, nets, silks, ceiling clamps etc.). I like the “Bogen/Avenger” line because they are made to hold up under heavy use and the machining of the grip equipment is of very high quality. This will make up a basic but fundamental light kit for handling most small jobs that you might encounter.
The largest problem in lighting is created by those who do not know how to light. If you use a hard, or undiffused light, you will create unwanted contrast and shadows. You will not be able to correct this problem by merely placing a diffusion filter over the lens.
KNOW THIS! DV needs as much light as any other video format if you are lighting an image correctly. The rule of thumb that we teach in our class is that you start out with a 1 stop, higher wattage key light source, than you think you need, so that by time it is diffused, you still have enough light to shoot at a decent f-stop with. Every time you add a layer of heavy diffusion to a light, you will lose about a stop of exposure. So you will need to have enough light to begin with before you can diffuse it.
I recently had the opportunity to try out the “BARGER-BAGLITE.” This is the perfect key light. And, it will go great with the ARRI soft kit, as the optimum combination. The “BARGER-BAGLITE GT-3″ holds (3) 650 watt bulbs on a small 13″x13″ square, flat face fixture that is 2” thick. It is very small and compact. The GE FCM 650W lamps, that can be obtained for the unit, put out more light than a conventional 650W bulb so you end up with about 2800 watts of light when all three lights are on. Each lamp has it’s own switch and when the entire fixture is on, it only draws 15 amps.
The advantage of this light is that the bulbs throw a soft, gentle light and once the key is set (using one or two of the lamps in a soft box) and you need to move back for a larger shot, you can accommodate the light loss by clicking on another lamp. This will save time when need to switch out to a larger light . The fixture is very rugged and is made to accept a number of different size soft boxes, which is great when you need to be versatile with your lighting setups.
You can access the companies mentioned by going to our sponsor page and clicking on to their logo.
• ASSESSING SETUP TIME FOR A “RUN & GUN” SHOOT.
This tip is primarily directed toward producers who are constantly insisting that the production team move faster when setting up lighting for a scene. Even though we work in a high pressure field and most of the time under unrealistic time deadlines, it is important that the producer on a set has a full understanding for what it takes to light and shoot a job correctly. The fact is, no crew wants to take any longer to set up than what is necessary. But all producers need to understand that we live in a physical world and not a make-believe world.
It is not the crew’s fault that the producer did not schedule enough time to light and shoot a job correctly. A producer’s job is to assess the needs of a production and then plan a realistic approach and budget to accommodate those needs. Trying to squeeze a two day job into a one day shoot and then pressuring an under staffed crew to perform the task of “saving the shoot,” is not only unprofessional, but in most cases, will contribute to the end product being of inferior quality which is then, also sometimes blamed on the crew.
When we pull up to a job site, we will first need to unload the vehicle and load the gear into the location. This could take 20 minutes to a half hour for a small “run and gun” shoot depending on how much gear we have and how many are on the crew.
As a reference, time yourself and see in minutes how long it takes to open a light case, set a stand in place, go back to the kit for another light and then put it on the stand and affix the proper barn doors, diffusion or softbox. Now do this with the other 3 or 4 lights that you brought and now run the appropriate cabling for power to each light.
Now let’s begin setting the camera on the tripod, loading tape and running bars. Now, set up a monitor and start running back and forth to it as you adjust the lighting ( We can eliminate this “monitor shuffle” by using a light meter). OK, now look at your watch; How long did that take? Approximately 20-30 minutes to unload and park the car with about another 30 minutes to set up the first interview. And this is a small set!
An average interview set up just cannot happen in 10 minutes! Now, do you want quality with that, and is there time to adjust the lights once the talent gets in place? If you are using a standin to set lights to, it will help if the clothing, complextion, hair color and height of the standin can match that of the actual subject. Otherwise, you will need to re-light once the talent gets into place.
If I am doing a full blown production shoot with a 3 ton grip truck and full camera package (audio, dolly, track etc.) depending on the amount of crew (usually 3 – 4 plus myself) and the access to the location, we figure at least 2 hours for load-in and setup of the first shot. After that, the time per shot in the same location drops to about half once the equipment has been loaded into the site. To cut the setup time, you may want to talk the producer into budgeting for one other person more than your usual crew. This other person can pick up the pace considerably and move the shoot-day along as needed.
Try to plan the schedule with built in time for travel, set up & breakdown and bathroom breaks (other kinds of sub-contractors, like plumbers and painters, even get occasional breaks while on the job). Make sure the crew is treated with respect and are fed properly. A happy and energetic crew will accomplish more in a day than a resentful one.
• ARE YOU A SHOOTER OR A DP?
I often hear videographers referred to as “shooters.” I don’t know what that term means? A camera operator (camera-op) or camera-person is one who operates a camera in a studio or on location for an event and is linked to a director who gives instructions as to how to set framing etc. A stringer or news shooter usually runs out with a camera on his or her shoulder and shoots what is in front of the lens with no regard for lighting. OK, I know this isn’t true, but that is what it sounds like. With all the talk about film look, film this and film that, isn’t it time that the title of DP, or Director of Photography, be given to those who coordinate the camera setups with the lighting and then render the overall look of the scene regardless of what camera is being used? Yes!
So from now on, if it appeals to you, you can refer to yourself as a video DP. By the way, in the future we will address the topic of a Video Camera AC (or Camera Assistant). Just because we choose to shoot on video rather than on film does not mean that a camera assistant is no longer needed. As a rule, no matter what the format, I include a Camera AC (who is checked out on the particular camera being used) on all my shoots.
• LIGHTING FOR THE EDIT.
When shooting on DV or HD, and editing on a non–linear system, time in correcting light levels, by using filters in the software, can be greatly reduced if a light meter is used to measure output from key lights, fill lights and luminance levels during the actual shoot. A light meter can be especially helpful in keeping all light levels within a workable exposure range. With latitudes of video formats being around one half-stop (over or under the optimum exposure), using a light meter correctly can assure a constant, even lighting ratio from one scene to the next.
The contrast range of DV and HD cameras can be greatly controlled through correctly lighting a scene and by using the right lighting instruments. I cannot emphasize enough that if your expectation is to render a beautiful, soft, warm image with your video camera, you will not do it using small, low wattage instruments with inadequate or no diffusion. Regardless of the camera format, regardless of misleading articles on lighting found in monthly video magazines, regardless of the pitches by light manufacturers for “DV LIGHTING” and regardless of all the magical software claims, the result will be nothing more exciting than a piece of news or wedding video footage unless your key light source is at least twice the size of your subject and properly diffused.
Small instuments are perfect when used for what they were designed for, kickers, rakes, rims etc, but when used as a key, small hard lights (even with a sheet of diffusion) can keep you chasing the problems that they create. Let Peter Pan chase shadows, our job is to light and shoot a scene quickly and accurately.
• ADDING FILL LIGHT UNDER FLUORESCENTS.
When shooting a large interior under fluorescent lighting; rather than turning the fluorescent sources off and creating a dark background, by intruducing a hard sharp light from a tungsten light kit, add a Rosco 1/2 CTB color correction gel to your tungsten lights and then balance the camera to the mixed source using the #1 or tungsten filter setting on your camera. The results should be a well balanced and pleasing color rendition. If you can keep the key light about 1/2 stop brighter than the amient light, the talent will stand out a bit more from the background without the background going too dark.
Another approach would be to use a fluorescent light bank fitted with the same Kelvin temp bulbs that are in the overhead fixtures (cool whites, etc.) as your key and fill lights. Tungten lights, with or without correction gel, can be used in conjunction with Flo-banks. Several companies, such as Kino Flo and ARRI, make professional Flo-banks that can be used for this application as well as with Tungsten and Daylight balanced setups.
• PAY ATTENTION TO CONTRAST IN A SCENE.
The distance from light to subject affects the contrast of a scene. The further away the light is from your subject, the flatter and more muted the tones will be. Don’t set up lights for a master shot at the back of a room and then zoom in to fill the frame for a close up under the same lighting. Always re-set the lights closer to your subject as the camera moves in. When increasing the size of a shot (going from a single person to a two shot or three shot), you will need to increase the output of your light source in order to maintain the same contrast that you had in your close up. Having larger wattage fixtures will assure you this type of versatility.
Merely moving a low wattage light back to fill a larger scene area, and then opening the aperture to accommodate the light loss, will render a well exposed flat looking image!
• FORM A STYLE FOR LIGHTING.
When determining how you want your lighting to look, you should first form a style of lighting that will accommodate the scene or job that you are about to shoot. I like to use a very soft light when I shoot, so I am prepared to use higher wattage lights to accommodate the light that will be lost when I add diffusion. You need to establish your own look and style.
• KICKERS & RIM LIGHTS.
Don’t over do hair and rim lights. Remember; the eye is attracted to the bright areas of a shot, so keep your selected contrast ratios in mind when setting rakes or kickers. Rakes or kickers should not be more than 3/4 of a stop brighter than your key if you want to stay within the contrast range of video. If you do not need a hair light, don’t use one. Sometimes it is best not to use a hair light on someone who is bald or who has blond or white hair. For this instance, maybe all you would need is a background or shoulder light to add separation between subject and background.
• LIGHTING FOR EYEWEAR.
When lighting people who wear glasses; keep your lighting more to the side and a bit higher than normal to eliminate light reflections in the lenses. Also, have your talent keep their chin lowered a bit. This will help eliminate reflections in their glasses and give them a warmer look by widening their eyes a bit. A soft high light from the key or fill in the lens is acceptable as long as it does not cover the subjects eye.
• USING FILL LIGHTS.
Do not get carried away with using fill lights or cards to light under the chin. Your shot should not reveal that you placed a heavy light below the camera lens. A fill light under the chin should not cast a dominant shadow. If adding an eyelight, keep it close to the top of the camera lens and about 2-3 stops less in brightness than the key light. An eyelight is used to fill the eyes and shouldn’t compete with the key light.
• NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS.
When shooting outdoors, you can use camera Neutral Density filters to limit depth of field. This will help keep backgrounds soft which will help focus attention to your subject. Auxiliary Neutral Density filters that attach to the front of your lens, come in a variety of densities that hold back light ranging from 1 stop to 4 stops. These filters can be purchased through your camera or lighting dealer.
You may choose to purchase a matte box to accommodate square filters. These auxiliary type filters also come in “Grads.” Auxiliary ND’s are great because you can use densities that may not be available on your particular camera’s filter wheel and they can easily be used indoors with the #1 or tungsten filter setting.
Sony camera users will notice that the daylight ND densities on their camera are in fractions. In case you were wondering how much light, in stops, each fraction represents, here is a reminder: 1/2=1 stop, 1/4=2 stops, 1/8=3 stops, 1/16=4 stops, 1/32=5 stops and 1/64=6 stops.
• CHOOSING A BACKGROUND OUTDOORS.
When shooting outdoors, choose a background that is not brighter or lighter in color than your subject is, if you can help it. Shooting your subject against a bright background will be difficult to light since it can reflect light as much as two or three stops brighter than what would be on your talent. Choosing a darker background outdoors to shoot against will allow you to light your talent without the background becoming over exposed. A great and simple way to light a subject outdoors is to first silk the talent from bright sunlight. Collapsible silks, that can fit into a stand bag, are made by a number of companies such as Bogen, Chimera and Westcott.
Using a grip arm to attach the silk to a C-stand (minimum size of silk should be 40″x40″) raise it above your subject to diffuse the intense sunlight. The silk will absorb about 1-2 stops of light. You may need to kick in some fill light and this can be done by using a white fill card or reflector board set at the opposite side to where the sun is being diffused from. I prefer using reflector boards over fabric discs because any moving light from a disc flexing in a wind will be very evident on video. These fabric discs were originally devised for still photography use and a more rigid reflector might be a bit more user friendly.
Once the talent is lit outdoors using a silk and reflector, the background can appear a bit bright. Introducing a double net just behind the talent, on another C-stand, can bring the background down a stop. Be sure that the C-stands are well sand bagged so they don’t fall over on the talent. You may need 2-3 bags on each stand or have a crew member hold the stand as a precation. Using a long focal length lens will help eliminate picking up detail in the net that is behind the talent. With larger sets, you will need larger silks and nets and more intense reflector boards or daylight balanced lights.
• CONTROL YOUR DEPTH-OF FIELD.
To get a shallow depth-of-field, when shooting indoors or outdoors,use a longer focal length lens and set your camera further away from your subject. If a shallow depth-of-field is desired when shooting indoors, you can white balance your camera under the daylight filter setting and use the built in ND filters to enable you to use a wider aperture setting. This will allow the background to go a bit more out of focus. It is not necessary to position talent 10 feet from the background to accomplish a shallow depth-of-field if the proper focal length lens is used. You may also be able white balance your camera indoors using the daylight filter wheel in order to use the ND filters. More about depth of field and lenses later!
• DIFFUSION FILTERS
Diffusion Filters, such as Pro Mist, Black Pro Mist and Soft F/X are available in various intensities. Choosing a diffusion filter for a particular job or scene should be well thought out. The more intense the effect of the filter is, the more distorted the image will become. This can make your scene look out of focus or “fuzzy.” It is always safer to choose a less intense diffusion filter, over a more intense filter, until you know exactly how your image will look after it is edited.
The camera settings that you choose to use with a particular filter can alter the intensity of the effect of that filter. The larger the aperture (i.e., f•2.8 – f•4), the more effect a filter will have. The smaller the aperture (i.e., f•11 – f•16), the less effect a filter will have. The longer the focal length lens is, the more effect a filter will have and the shorter the focal length of the lens is, the less intense the effect of the filter will be.
I hate to keep preaching this, but proper lighting will control the softness of an image more than a filter will. I shoot film various formats of video and I rarely use any filter on the camera lens. In a rare instance I will use an 1/8 or 1/4 promist, black promist or soft FX just to take more of an edge off, but never want the image to look like we used any kind of special effects filter over the lens.
Other considerations for choosing a diffusion filter can include camera compression, lens quality and resolution, chip size, tape format, edit process and form of distribution.
Remember; what you see on the field monitor is lacking the effect of tape format and editing process!
Tom Musto Productions
30 Hillside Road
Shavertown, Pennsylvania 18708
toll free 877.TMP-FILM / 570.696.4774 / fax:570.696.6765